Hillsborough Democrats sound defiant in defeat

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In the wake of the Democratic Party of Florida’s shellacking at the polls two weeks ago, state Party Chair Allison Tant has convened a task force to find out where the party needs to go to be more competitive in the future. But the party’s Vice Chair, State and National Democratic Committeeman Alan Clendenin, says he hopes that doesn’t translate into the party becoming more moderate to respond to the party’s continuing struggles to win elections.

“Our values…were something that was not on the ballot on November 4,” he told the monthly gathering of the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee Monday night in Ybor City. “We did not lose because of our values. We only lost because we were not able to motivate enough people to turn out to vote for our candidates that share our values,”  he said, adding that “there are competing interests behind the scenes that you do not readily see, that pull us in one direction or another, and you’re going to start seeing this narrative play out by talking heads or people who are pontificating of why we lost, and why we did this, or why we did that.”

“People are going to say we have to run to the center,” Clendenin continued. “We have to attract this small group of people in the center. Well, I’m sorry, you’re going to hear a lot of that. And a lot of that is based on the money folks. Because a lot of people are making a lot of money on these campaign operations and things that are happening out there. But if you want to hear from me – that’s bullshit. We need to stand up for our values, stand up for our President….we cannot win elections, by running to the right.”

Those sentiments were echoed earlier in the evening by Alan Cohn, the party’s unsuccessful congressional candidate in the District 15 race against Republican Dennis Ross.

“Democrats in Washington and Tallahassee let the Republicans wrote the narrative of this election,” he said to applause from his fellow Democrats. “The Republicans were loud. They were unified. And they were persistent. The Democrats,  nationally, were not as loud, not as persistent, and did nothing to point that out to the public,”he said, taking a shot at Kentucky Democratic Senate candidate Allison Lundergan Grimes, who famously refused to declare whether or not she had voted for President Obama for president during her losing campaign to Mitch McConnell. “Not only did I vote for President Obama once. I voted for him twice!” he said to more sustained applause.  But he warned his fellow Democrats that they can’t expect to have another charismatic candidate at the top of the ticket to bring more victories for the party in 2016. “If we want to win then, we have to say what we are for, and why we are for it, and that it’s the other side that doesn’t give a damn about the rest of us.”

The disappointment felt by Democrats throughout the state was doubly felt in Hillsborough, where the party lost a state House seat when Shawn Harrison defeated Mark Danish in District 60, and on the County Commission, where there were four seats up for election this year. All four were taken by Republicans, and in two of those races, the Democrats failed to field an opponent.

Attorney Pat Kemp came the closest to victory, losing a heartbreakingly tight race to Al Higginbotham in the District 7 county commission wide seat vacated by Mark Sharpe. She addressed her fellow Democrats by looking ahead to 2016, comparing it to 2012 when the local party had a number of victories (like Danish over Harrison). “It’s a whole other election come the presidential time, and I expect it will happen again here in Hillsborough County and in the state of Florida.”

But like Cohn, Clendenin warned that depending on who else the state Republicans have running on the ballot in 2016, Democrats can’t assume anything come Election Day in two years.

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.