There was an awful lot of ticket splitting in Florida, including a lot here in Pinellas County.
Obama hit 54% in Pinellas – and I had told candidates I was working with that I thought that 55% was needed for him to have coattails enough to carry some local candidates to victory over either Republican incumbents or Republican candidates who, in a normal year, would be considered to be in a stronger position.
I could say that, well, I wasn’t wrong – if Obama had hit 55%, I would have been proved right in some of these races.
But that wouldn’t be true. The truth is, I was wrong. I misjudged the situation. I didn’t have a solid baseline poll to work with, but that doesn’t erase the face that my judgment was wrong.
So what happened?
In some cases, gerrymandering won out – as in Nehr’s victory over Zimmerman in HD 48.
In most cases though, I think we can make an argument for some candidates that were not well prepared to take advantage of the situation.
One of the few bright spots was in Hillsborough, where Kevin Beckner defeated Brian Blair for County Commission. Beckner was a strong candidate who had on of the area’s best operatives, Mitch Kates (who is batting pretty darn well in Tampa Bay), to manage his race.
Phyllis Busansky was also a win, but not a bright spot, because she only narrowly defeated that blisteringly incompetent embarrassment known as Buddy Johnson.
Races like Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections, where Deborah Clark earned a lot of late negative publicity for not opening up the facilities to deal with the huge demand for early voting, and Pinellas County Property Appraiser, where Jim Smith’s deputy, Pam Dubov managed to comfortably win election to her disgraced former boss’ seat.
The Democratic candidate, I fear, were simply not up to the task. Clark was not expected to be vulnerable, but when an opening was created, her opponent was unable exploit it. And it sometimes seemed that the race for Property Appraiser (much like the Supervisor of Elections race in neighboring Hillsborough) was not being taken seriously enough.
There were only three Democrats, that I can think of, challenging for GOP held seats that had previously held elected office – Dunedin Mayor Bob Hackworth, St. Pete City Councilwoman Rene Flowers, and Hillsborough County Commissioner Phyllis Busansky.
Not that they all did well – in fact, only Busansky won and then barely – but the lack of more locally elected Democrats running for county, state, and federal office is a worrying sign. Recruitment must focus on finding candidates who come out of elected office – city councilmembers, school board – even water and soil conservation districts.
The Pinellas County Democratic Executive Committee had the right idea with their Vote Local campaign, but it also, clearly, did not work. It would take some money and research to find what went wrong, but I think that the party could benefit from more narrowly focusing their efforts. Carl Zimmerman and Rene Flowers were both strong local candidates and if the efforts had focused on turning the voters they needed, perhaps the results, locally, would have seemed less one-sided.
I hope that the Pinellas DEC does not give up on efforts like Vote Local, but that they use the information collected to improve their future outreach and that they don’t wait until 2010 to start up again. The local candidates elected from either party in some of the city elections in 2009 will be the state, federal, and county candidates in 2012. And they should start by recruiting to run for local office some of the candidates who lost in November.