ORLANDO, Florida — Florida Democratic Party leaders gathered Saturday to begin dissecting a miserable year and to try to figure out what it can do going forward to win elections.
While President Barack Obama and Sen. Bill Nelson have figured out how to win Florida, Democrats have had little success elsewhere since the 1990s. In 2014, Gov. Rick Scott narrowly defeated Republican-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist. Republicans picked up seats in the state House to earn a super majority, and while Gwen Graham beat a Republican incumbent to flip a congressional seat, Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia lost his seat.
Party Chairwoman Allison Tant told activists the results were heartbreaking.
"We're going to learn from this loss and find out what we did wrong so that we can improve on it," she said. "We are the voice for the voiceless, for our vulnerable, for our children, for our elderly and we have to continue to raise our voices and take our actions for them."
She and other leaders offered up a few reasons why the party wasn't successful last year. The biggest one was money. Party executive director Scott Arceneaux said Scott outspent Crist on television by $34 million — roughly the same amount that 2010 Democratic nominee Alex Sink spent on her entire campaign.
It also didn't help that Obama's approval ratings were low, and that nationally there was a Republican wave.
Tant said the party is going over 2014 election data to figure out a strategy for 2016, when Florida will be a key state in the presidential election. There also could be an open U.S. Senate seat if Republican Marco Rubio decides to run for president. The party is also looking ahead to 2018, when there will be open seats for governor and all three Cabinet positions. Tant said she is already recruiting candidates for those races.
Crist spoke to the group and also pointed at money being a factor in the election, which he lost by 1 percentage point. Like 2010, Scott won without a majority of the votes cast.
"We wouldn't have come that close without you, especially against all that money. It's crazy," Crist said. "We have the message, we just need to make sure we get out that vote. That's the key."
Despite another loss — Democrats haven't won a governor's race since 1994 — Crist told activists not to give up.
"We have to be hopeful and we have to lift each other and we cannot be discouraged. We must be determined. Determined to persevere. Determined to overcome. Determined to do better," Crist said. "And this is where it starts."
Crist, who served as a Republican governor from 2007 to 2011 and ran for Senate in 2010 as an independent, later said that he will continue to be active in the Democratic Party.
"There's some very important races next year. I want to be helpful in those. There's always more to do," he said. "I really do think that the Democratic Party of Florida has a very bright future but we have to remain engaged. That's why I thought it was important to be here."
Crist also didn't rule out a future political run, but said that's not on his mind right now.
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