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Senate candidate Pam Keith sounds off on ‘paternalistic’ Florida Democratic Party leadership

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Last weekend in South Florida, the Florida Democratic Party released its LEAD Task Force Report, a look at what went so wrong for the party at the ballot box in 2014.

Better messaging is listed as one of the recommendations.

“While this message proved powerfully persuasive to many groups, it failed to connect in north and rural Florida, where Democrats fell to new lows,” the report reads. “In 2014, Democrats did not talk to Floridians clearly enough, long  enough, or specifically enough about their real-life economic circumstance.”

Democrats being Democrats, however, some in the party have blasted the report for a variety of different reasons.

Among those criticizing it is Pam Keith, a 46-year-old black attorney who previously served in the U.S. Navy and has lived in Palm Beach County for the past four years. She’s also a candidate for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate next year, but is a decided underdog in the early going in that contest. Jupiter U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy entered the contest in March and has been fundraising heavily since then. U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson has been teasing the political establishment for months that he’ll join Murphy, but has yet to do so.

“My biggest problem (in 2014) is that it didn’t have a platform,” Keith says of the FDP in an interview with this reporter on WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa on Thursday. “What it had was a ‘don’t vote for Rick Scott’ platform. Which quite frankly is not a platform. A ‘don’t vote for that guy’ is not the solution, and when people are struggling with day-to-day existence, they’re looking for people to find solutions.”

Keith says she’s been asked why as a first-time candidate she’s running for Senate, eschewing a local race. She says that being relatively new to Palm Beach County, her knowledge base is much more solid on federal issues, and when she decided she wanted to run a year ago, Murphy was firmly ensconced as her congressman. So she said she wanted to go after Marco Rubio, who has since announced he won’t run for re-election, focusing on his presidential ambitions.

Keith is angry that Democratic party leaders are ignoring her and putting their chips all on Murphy, as she uses terms like “disrespecting voters” and “paternalistic and condescending” when describing party bosses.

When asked for an example to back up those charges, she says that the party’s stance on protecting voting rights fits the bill. Currently, she claims, party leaders are actively working “to make sure the voters don’t know who the candidates are,” a dichotomy she labels “inconsistent.”

“When you put out press releases, and you continue to make it sound like there’s only one candidate in the race, that is that sort of paternalistic kind of thinking,” she says.

When asked if she believes the Florida Democratic Party led by Chair Allison Tant is rallying around Murphy for the Senate nomination now, Keith said, “That’s beyond evident.”

“That’s not respecting voters, and that’s not respecting the role of primary and of voter choice,” she adds.

Hours before the Florida Democrats hosted their Leadership Blue Gala from the Diplomat Hotel in Hollywood last Saturday, both Tant and Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz vehemently rejected the idea brought forward by reporters that the party was trying to grease the skids for Murphy, the 32-year-old former Republican who was able to raise large amounts of cash in both his races for Congress in 2012 and 2014, and is already doing so for his Senate run. That question was posed in regards to a lack of enthusiasm for Grayson, the firebrand liberal whose style has been known to alienate some people.

When asked about her ability to fundraise competitively in the race,  Keith said she won’t be able to keep up with Murphy, but says she won’t have a problem getting her message out across the state over the course of the next year.

“The bigger question is, what is the prioritization here?” she asks. “If you start with the priority of raising money, and figure out whether you have a good candidate or  a good message later, then you tailor your message to your money, and that unfortunately, does not work,” citing Charlie Crist‘s 2014 gubernatorial candidacy as such an example.

The FDP did not respond to Florida Politics’ request for response.

To hear more of our interview with Pam Keith, you can go here.

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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