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Florida Democratic Party establishment discusses task force report

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Among the headlines of a just-released review on what happened to Florida Democrats in 2014 is a familiar woe – a lack of financial resources to compete with the Republican Party.

The report, called the Leadership Expansion to Advance Democrats (LEAD) task force, is scheduled to be released to the public on Sunday, but the Florida Democratic Party released it to select reporters on Friday.

“We raised more money in this last election cycle than we ever raised,” said Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant on Saturday afternoon about the party’s $55 million in the off-year election. “Clearly that still wasn’t enough, (not) when you have someone can write checks from his own checkbooks,” she said, referring to Governor Rick Scott‘s own resources that he tapped into in the last 10 days of the race that some analysts (and many Democrats)maintain was how he was able to narrowly defeat Charlie Crist in last year’s gubernatorial contest.

The report says that the party spent $5 million last year on grass-roots organizing, but probably needed to spend $12 million.

“Where we had field, we were able to get the vote out,” added Tant, who was elected chair of the party in January of 2013 with the campaign pledge that she was a proven fundraiser. “We had 130 field operators vs. 800 for the presidential election. We had offices in key areas of the state but not in every part of the state, like the Obama campaign was able to have.”

“This is a clear example of how grassroots are critically important, but we also have to have the fund the grassroots,” Tant continued. “We were outspent four-to-one in the Northern part of the state on television … when you have that messaging going out with nothing coming back, it’s very difficult to overcome, and that’s another fundraising issue.”

Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz says the DNC intends to help fund different states to hire field directors, which she previously had not been part of their staffing concerns. “We’ll be able to provide resources to build out their found game.”

The two women were addressing a handful of reporters a few hours before the Florida Democratic Party was set to host a crowd of over 1,200 as part of their Leadership Blue Gala, the annual fundraising event held each summer in South Florida. Virginia Senator Mark Warner, Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard, and Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings were the scheduled keynote speakers.

Also, Tant and Wasserman Schultz strongly denied the perception that the Florida Democratic Party is rallying around South Florida Congressman Patrick Murphy as their standard-bearer for the nomination for Senate in 2016.

“Not that I’m aware of,” Tant said in response to a question about the thought that the FDP wants to clear a path for Murphy. When asked if they didn’t do the same for Charlie Crist last year, Tant said that wasn’t accurate, either. “We didn’t do anything for Charlie that we didn’t do for Nan (Rich).”

Warner, who was present at the news conference, said he personally thinks very highly of Murphy. He refused to comment about Alan Grayson, the Orlando firebrand Congressman, who is strongly rumored to be entering the race soon.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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