As much as we would like to think otherwise, in politics not everyone can be a winner.
To put it another way, as Judge Smails did in the eminently quotable Caddyshack: “The world needs ditch diggers, too.”
Few will disagree that 2014 was a particularly fertile political year, one that produced a bumper crop of political winners – most of them Republicans. Nevertheless, the political calculus is always the same. For every successful campaign, there is an equivalent loser. As the political stakes rose in 2014, so did expectations.
And the higher they climbed, the further they fell.
In Florida, a handful of those politicos turned out a number of spectacular, albeit entertaining, failures.
That’s not to say each one deserved, or was particularly unworthy, of their ultimate fate, but some did truly disappoint. A few even won their respective campaigns but lost in other substantive ways.
Here is my list of the year’s most disappointing Florida politicians, in ascending order of disappointment.
Steve Southerland – In an election cycle when Republicans seemingly defeated Democrats at every level of government, the North Florida Tea Partier is on his way out of Congress after blundering his way to defeat against Gwen Graham, one of the few bright spots for Florida and national Democrats. Southerland might have been able to squeeze out a victory were it not for committing what may be the gaffe of the year when, after holding a male-only fundraiser, he told a reporter to ask Graham if she had “ever been to a lingerie shower?”
Alvin Brown– While the mayors of Orlando and Tampa are lauded for bringing jobs, development and change to their cities, Hizzoner has faced year-long criticism on a number of issues, from his handling of the city budget to his decision to have Bill Cosby help raise money for his re-election campaign. It’s no surprise Brown now faces a sharp challenge from former Florida Republican chairman Lenny Curry, who has already won the support of many of the same people who supported Brown in 2011. Brown “does not know how to manage. That’s clear,” were the words of former supporter Peter Rummell. “He has no courage … He’s wimped out. He’s deferred to City Council. It’s embarrassing the way he’s handled himself.” Ouch!
Charlie Crist– Remember when the Republican-turned-Independent-now-Democrat began 2014 with a double-digit lead over incumbent Rick Scott? Some Democrats were already measuring for curtains in the Governor’s Mansion. But an awkward, sometimes cringe-worthy campaign effort, including an abandoned promise to visit Cuba and a bizarre selection for his running mate, contributed to Crist’s third statewide loss. Crist’s supporters are still bemoaning how much money was spent on negative ads against him, but didn’t they expect that going into the race? Florida Democrats are in such bad shape that Crist is already being mentioned as a congressional candidate in 2016, while more than one forecaster has suggested he may be President Barack Obama’s ambassador in Havana.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz– After POLITICO reported in September that DWS was in a behind-the-scenes struggle with the White House, congressional Democrats and Washington insiders who had lost confidence in her as both a unifying leader and reliable party spokesperson at a time when they needed her most, the writing on the wall was that the South Florida Democrat was being set up to take the fall for Democratic losses at the polls. Most embarrassing was her appearance on ABC’s “This Week,” where she predicted that the Democrats would hold the Senate and the Democrats had a ground game the “GOP would take over theirs any day of the week.” Any day, that is, except Election Day. Despite the historical drubbing Democrats suffered in November, Wasserman Schultz still has her job and is mentioned as a possible 2016 candidate for the U.S. Senate.
Pam Bondi – Many friends of the attorney general who have known her since her days at the Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office wonder aloud how the kind, telegenic, ambitious, savvy prosecutor has morphed into a modern day Bull Connor, standing in the way of progress and full civil rights for Florida’s LGBT community. This past year, Bondi was also exposed as the poster girl for a disturbing trend of states’ attorneys general being “paid-to-look-away” from controversial cases by national lobbying firms. Bondi has also involved Florida’s taxpayers in several legal issues that have no relevance to the state, such as when she joined other GOPers in filing a legal brief supporting an appeal by the American Farm Bureau to kill a plan to clean up the waters of Chesapeake Bay. And let’s not forget that Bondi remains one of the most visible obstacles to full implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Yes, Bondi was re-elected by a healthy margin after defeating the avuncular George Sheldon, but unlike her counterparts on the Florida Cabinet – Jeff Atwater and Adam Putnam – it’s likely that’s the last time she wins a statewide election.