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Catching up with Florida Democratic Party chair Allison Tant

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An Allison Tant rant was featured in a House Republican video produced for the annual Capitol Press Corps Press Skits. The segment set to rap music was taken from a news conference when Tant used strong language to head off a potential House Democratic eadership fight.

It was unclear whether it was included to get laughs at Tant’s expense or to encourage the Democrats to get their act together; after a while a string of 81-39 victories get kind of redundant — just ask the Harlem Globetrotters.

Tant is a former lobbyist and advocate for children who has demonstrated a Tom Petty-like resolve in an attempt to make the minority party relevant at the state Capitol.

Tant assumed the chair of the Florida Democratic Party in 2013 and her task is complicated by two factors. One, although Democrats have more than a 430,000 voter-registration advantage over Republicans statewide, many of those Ds are reliable R voters. And Floridians are losing interest in the status quo; no-party affiliated and minor party registrations are surging –- now comprising the second largest segment of voters in 11 counties.  A Division of Elections report is here.

Tant gave Florida Politics five minutes before addressing a group of Leon County Democrats to discuss party building and candidate recruitment.

Q: Given Republican dominance in the statehouse, do you see your job as the rebuilding of a state Democratic Party or the building of a party?

Tant: a little of both, actually; we have members of the Legislature who have only been here since term limits so it’s a very different culture than what it was say 13 years ago when I was involved in the process.  

It is building and rebuilding, it is both; we have the House Caucus, with House leaders, and we have the Senate Caucus, with Senate leaders, and then we have the Party and we obviously work together as much as possible.

Q: There are districts where neither party might not field a candidate but from an organizational perspective how does a party chair address a situation at the grass roots where no candidate stands up to wave the flag in a legislative race.

Tant: First of all we are not going to field a candidate in every race. We’re going to field  candidates, and we are very aggressively working on that now; we’re going to field candidates where we think it makes sense we can win.

And not necessarily does a numerical advantage (voter registration) mean a win. We look at trending performance. We look at demographics, look at several factors when we are talking about fielding candidates.

What we are doing right now for example is: on the previous election we are doing a deep dive legislatively. We are looking at at least 10 races; what happened? We are looking at everything; mailing, polling, communications, field and money spent, etc., to see what the results were, what happened and how we can improve.

Obviously, in some of those we are aware things are great in a presidential year but not great in a non-presidential year. What we are looking for is staying power; making sure we are playing in districts where we can recruit somebody in a presidential year who is able to get elected in a non-presidential year.

Q: What is the most difficult job for a party chair?

There are two aspects that I have found frustrating from the beginning; one is the candidate recruitment piece. If you look in Miami where we had someone running in every district, it could be argued that drove Republican turnout so that actually backfired on us.

Now on the other hand, I loved the fact that we had people running in every race and that is something that I wished we could see everywhere but it’s just doesn’t happen.

The issue is this: I can go talk to – I have been all over the place in every part of the state and I have talked to everybody I can about running for office and what it comes down to is it’s easier sometimes to not run then to run.

It’s a hard task to run. You are putting yourself up for the 24-hour cycle; you’re putting yourself up for media bashing. You got to be able to fund raise. You got to be able to put your own effort in. I mean there are folks who think, ‘I’m just going to run and the Democratic Party is going to come and push me through’ – we just don’t have the resources for that and we’re not going to do that. Every candidate has to do some of his or her own work.

So, the candidate recruitment piece has been very difficult and getting people to cross the line and getting to yes –- the folks who are savvy, who are really qualified who have a shot at it know the difficulties will say, ‘I’m going to wait until the demographics are a little better. I want to run but not this cycle.’

 

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