The Facts about the Jacksonville Runoff

The night of the March primary in Jacksonville, I wrote that Alvin Brown had a narrow path to victory.  The mayor needed to win over supporters of Bill Bishop, the moderate Republican who came in third place, and he needed to dramatically increase Democratic turnout.  When all was said and done on runoff night Alvin Brown narrowly lost re-election with 48.7% of the vote.  So what happened?

Bishop Endorsed Brown….kinda

Brown needed Bishop voters to back him.  However, once Bishop lost the primary, he opted not to endorse anyone at first.  Bishop had many socially-liberal backers that Brown needed to pull off a win, and an endorsement was key to that.  Bishop did finally endorse Brown, weeks later, after 24,000 absentee ballots had been returned. a poll days before the election showed Brown getting 42% of Bishop’s supporters while Curry got 46%.  If Brown wanted to win with 50% in the first round, he would have needed 44% of Bishop’s supporters.  With Bishop backers making a smaller share of the electorate in the runoff (due to increased turnout), Brown would either have needed to win Bishop backers by a larger margin or make the runoff electorate much more Democratic than the March primary electorate.  This leads me to point two.

Democratic Turnout Wasn’t High Enough

Over the last week, I was monitoring turnout very closely. Brown had won his election in 2011 thanks to Democrats outpacing Republicans by 10,000+.  However, in 2015 the Democratic turnout only outpaced the GOP by just over 3,000.  The data below shows how Democrats and Republicans did turnout-wise pre-election day, election day, and total.


Democrats saw the raw vote cast in 2011 fall while the GOP and NPAs saw increases. While Democrats still made up a larger share of the vote, it was not close to what they needed to win.   Both the share and raw vote margins were well below what Brown needed them to be.  As the 2011 data shows, much of the Democratic advantage came from election day while early/absentee was essentially a wash.  However, 2015 saw Democrats do much better in early/mail, while election day was worse.  Person-by-person turnout data (which I dont have yet) would likely confirm that many Democrats who voted on election day in 2011 voted early/mail this time, hence the Democrats doing so much better there.

For the last week, I monitored the shifts in partisan turnout daily to see how it shifted. Democrats started off in a hole due to the GOP’s strength with absentee ballots for Duval County.  Once early voting began, Democrats narrowed the gap and eventually took the lead.  By the end of early voting Sunday, they were at 5,500+ ballots over the Republicans.  Election day was critical for Democrats, they still needed a strong showing; which they did not get.

Democrats needed to be 48% of the vote, maybe a bit less depending on how NPAs voted.  However, while their share got to 47% by the end of early voting, it fell with election day’s numbers.


When examining the raw vote gap on a daily basis, the numbers showed Democrats making strong gains in the last days of early voting.  They stood at a 5,548 margin over the GOP by the end of Monday.  Considering Democrats netted 10K over the GOP in 2011 on eday, getting an extra 5K this time was entirely plausible.  However, the Democratic margin actually fell on election day.


There is one notable data point that has been overlooked.  Democrat’s share of the vote did fall from 2011.  However, so did the Democratic registration (as a percent) in the county.  NPA voters have surged from 14% to 22% between 2011 and 2015.  This meant that for Democrats to get 47% or 48% (optimal since NPAs make up a much smaller share of the votes cast) in terms of share of the vote, they would have had to dramatically outperformed their registration numbers.  In 2011, Democrats made up 47.4% of the vote despite only making up 43.9% of the registration. In 2015, Democrats made up 45.1% of the vote while making up 41.3% of the registration.


Democrats outperformed their registration share by 3.5% in 2011.  In 2015, they outperformed by 3.8%, so actually higher than before.  However, as the numbers/graph show, Democratic registration fell in 2015.

As for the GOP, they were 37% of registration in 2011 and did 5% better (making up 42% of the vote).  This year, they were 36% of the vote, and did 7% better (getting to 43% of the vote). So the GOP did even better than the the Democrats at increasing their share compared to registration shifts.

Who is to blame for the loss?

It was frustrating to see the anti-establishment folks instantly jump on the fact that Brown lost.  The Florida Squeeze, known for its attacks on the state Democratic Party, already has an article out slamming the party for the loss.  The article is wrong for a number of reasons.  The most important item is this.  It treated the election like Duval is a swing county and that the race was “toss of the coin” type race.  Well guess what, its not, and everyone knows it.  Duval is a moderate Republican county.  Obama aimed to win it in 2008 and 2012, coming up short both times.  The only major Democrat to win it (while running statewide) is Bill Nelson.  In fact, here is how Brown’s loss tonight stacks up against other major Democratic names.


Brown’s loss actually ranks better than Obama both times, Charlie Crist, and Alex Sink.  He only does worse than himself and Nelson.  Obama poured resources into the county but still came behind Brown.  Brown, meanwhile, was outspent by Lenny Curry by a large margin, anywhere from 3-1 to 2-1.

Does this mean Brown doesn’t share some blame for his loss? No he definitely does.  Brown’s acrimonious relationship with liberals, especially the LGBT community, did him no favors.  Brown also avoided Obama and Crist in 2012 and 2014, something that did not sit well with many.  Most importantly, Brown’s campaign was not as strong as it was in 2011 (you wont find many who don’t agree with that statement).  Fault lies with the campaign itself; not the State Party or any other Democratic group.  Plenty of blame can lie with the Brown campaign for not working harder to get Democratic turnout up and for allowing the coordination of it’s efforts with other groups/campaigns.

Individual Campaigns Matter

It should be noted that the night was not an overall bad night for Democrats.  Tommy Hazouri, the Democrat running for one of the At-Large City Council districts, won with 55% of the vote.  The Hazouri campaign had an all-star campaign staff and amazing consultants: including Eric Conrad, Jenny Busby, Karl Bash, Jessica Osborn, and Kevin Cate.  These talented folks ensured a Democratic victory county-wide despite the red tilt.  Individual campaign’s do…. in fact…. matter.

Equality Florida also backed Hazouri and several other Democrats and Republicans who backed a Human Right’s Ordinance.  In fact, with the results all in, HRO backers now have a majority on the city council.  Brown’s general opposition to an HRO resulted him not receiving Equality Florida backing/help.  Brown’s HRO opposition also hurt him with the business community, which wanted the ordinance passed to improve the county’s image.

Tommy Hazouri’s win compared to Brown’s loss can be seen in these two maps. Mayor Council 3 Part 2

Hazouri won all the precinct Brown did and won several others as well.  Meanwhile, Brown didn’t win any precincts that Hazouri’s opponent, Geoff Youngblood, won.

Mayor Council 3

Hazouri notably did better than Brown in Riverside and San Marco, liberal/arty regions of the county.  Hazouri also did better in the beach communities and in the Mandarin/upper class suburbs region.  Meanwhile, Brown did slightly better in some African-American regions, but only by a 2-3% margin.  Some of the Republican suburbs that bleed over from Clay County (the Orange Park region) also gave little more vote to Hazouri than Brown.  Considering Clay’s lack of elasticity, its not too surprising the margins weren’t much different between Brown and Curry there.  However, Hazouri did win several neighborhoods in that general area that Brown lost (areas less influenced by Clay).

Hazouri’s wins and where he did better reflect the strong campaign he ran.  I considered it a much better run campaign than Brown’s and the results bare fruit to that belief.

The nature of campaigns also brings up another point to remember about Alvin Brown. His win in 2011 was considered a major upset and his opponent, Mike Hogan, was widely considered to have run a bad campaign.  Hogan made many enemies with the business community with his opposition to investing in downtown Jacksonville, causing him to lose endorsements and money.  Hogan was also dragged down by Governor Scott, who pulled less popular than Obama at the time of the election.  Watching the race in 2011, I knew Brown had run a good campaign, but Hogan had also ran a bad one.  Curry’s campaign, imperfect for sure, was not as bad as Hogan’s.

I expect to see blogs jump up and down on the state party with no factual basis for the criticism.  We can all expect to see news articles on if this race has any national implications.  Honestly I don’t see it.  This was a bad campaign losing a race, with Brown still doing better than many past Democratic candidates.  If Hillary Clinton pulls similar numbers to Brown, then she will be winning the state of Florida.  The GOP should remember that.

Why the Wisconsin Supreme Court Election/Referendum Gave Conflicting Results

Wisconsin’s Supreme Court elections have been drawing a greater deal of scrutiny in recent years.  The state has been racked by partisan fights as Governor Walker and his GOP legislature have pushed the state further to the right.  The state Supreme Court has thus drawn more attention as it has become a decider on the constitutionality of several actions and laws pushed by the state.  Wisconsin elects its judges to 10 year terms, and currently conservatives hold a 4-3 majority.  The 2011 election, which nearly saw a conservative justice almost lose to a liberal challenger, drew a great deal of attention due to the narrow results and controversies regarding the reporting of those results.  Fast forward to 2015 and one of the liberal justices was up for re-election.  Justice Ann Walsh Bradley faced off against James Daley.  While the race was heated at times, it drew much less attention than the 2011 election.  Bradley led in fundraising, raising $380,000 to Daley’s $140,000.   Bradley won re-election with 58% of the vote; keeping the Supreme Court composition the same.

2015 Supreme Court

All the counties Bradley lost voted for Romney in 2012.  Meanwhile, the Justice won many Romney/Walker counties.  Bradley’s share of the vote was modestly tied to Obama’s, however, she did better than the President in nearly every county.


In addition the Supreme Court race, there was a referendum regarding the selection of the Chief Justice for the Court.  Before the referendum, the oldest member of the court, in the case a member of the liberal bloc, was designated the Chief Justice.  The referendum aimed to change the method of selection so that the Chief would be chosen by the justices themselves for two year terms.  In practice, this would ensure a conservative Chief Justice.  The measure was put on the ballot by the legislature with the backing of the Republicans and opposition of the Democrats.  The referendum was effectively a partisan fight, with many elected officials taking party-line stances for or against it.  However, the money race was largely one-sided, with the YES camp raising $600,000 and the NO camp raising just $80,000.  The referendum narrowly passed.

2015 Supreme Court Referendum

This meant split results for liberals in the state.  On the one hand, they held on to one of the Supreme Court seats.  However, they effectively lost control of the Chief Justice position.  Any effort for a Pro-Bradley/Anti-Referendum slate were clearly underfunded or poorly organized.  However, there is some trend in the voting.   When analyzing the county by county results, the support for Bradley and opposition to the referendum were modestly tied together.  As support for Bradley grew, so did opposition to the measure.  However, almost no counties fell on or near the red-line in the scatter-plot below; which would have indicated equal support for Bradley and opposition to the referendum.


The movement to reject the referendum did 11% worse than Bradley did.  Had the effort only done 8% worse, it would have succeeded in killing the measure.  The green shade in the above scatter-plot represents the 8% gap that the counties could have fallen in to ensure success.  No county needed to reject the measure more than they supported Bradley (putting them under/to the right of the red line), a sufficient number just needed to fall within the green by shifting further to the right on the plot (while staying at the same level on the y-axis).

The map below shows where the gaps between Bradley and a NO vote were strongest.   Some of the most Republican areas had the smallest gap.

2015 Supreme Court Difference

There are lose ties between the gap support for Bradley.  The trend is not especially strong, but it is there.  Counties heavily in favor or Bradley saw a larger gap between her support and a NO on the referendum.  As the map above and plot below show, no county gave NO a higher percent than it gave Bradley.


The most likely culprit is not a split in the Democrat/liberal vote, but rather that swing voters went more toward supporting the measure.  As mentioned, Bradley won several areas that are more Republican in traditional elections.  When I checked to see if the gap between Bradley and NO increased based on Obama’s support in 2012, I found no clear trend.  It was not the case that traditional Democratic counties were more accommodating the the measure, it was that many of Bradley’s strong counties were so strong because she was winning over GOP voters; not because the counties were so Democratic.  Dane County, home to Madison, was Bradley’s strongest county.  The county is always heavily Democratic, and also featured one of the smallest gaps between NO and Bradley.  The gap was higher in areas were Bradley outperformed the President.

When I compared the gap between Bradley’s support and NO on the referendum to how Bradley did compared to Obama, I found that as Bradley improved over Obama more, the more the NO vote under-performed Bradley.



So what appears clear is that many voters who would not support Obama were willing to vote for Bradley, but also for a referendum shifting the court’s leader to a conservative.  In fact, while there is a strong correlation between Obama and Bradley’s vote share, the correlation between Obama and a NO vote for the referendum were slightly stronger.  The scatter-plot below shows how the NO vote and the Bradley vote tie to Obama’s vote (the red line being a perfect match).  The NO vote runs under Obama for the most part. Statistically, the NO vote had a greater tie to Obama than Bradley, with a coefficient of 0.63 compared to the 0.59 for Obama/Bradley (1.0 being a perfect correlation).


From the data, it appears clear that some of the voters willing to vote for Bradley, perhaps due to issues were her opponent or support for the Justice, were also more GOP-leaning and thus willing to back the referendum.

However, it should be noted that some of the Pro-Bradley, pro-referendum voters were probably also moderates who felt the referendum sounded good.  The referendum backers had much more money and framed the issue as a more Democratic method.  Many supporters of the measure likely did not know the partisan intent.  Another factor in the successful package is likely that GOP turnout was higher than Democrats.

The results of the Wisconsin Supreme Court election and referendum do give conflicting results.  However, both races still saw clear partisan trends.  Bradley won by so much thanks to the support of voters who don’t normally vote Democratic.  However, those same swing voters put the referendum over the top, ensuring a conservative Chief Justice on the State Supreme Court.

Quick Thoughts on Jacksonville’s Upcoming Runoff

Jacksonville had its first round of voting Tuesday.  Democrat Alvin Brown, first elected in an upset win in 2011, is seeking re-election in a hard-fought contest.  Brown’s main challenger is Republican Lenny Curry, the former Chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.  The race has been heated so far.  Brown is facing stiff headwind due to the county’s Republican Lean.  However, the Mayor’s approval rating remains above 50% in recent polls.  With four candidates in the race, it was widely believed that Brown and Curry would advance to a runoff election.

As expected, Alvin Brown and Lenny Curry advanced to a May runoff.  Brown secured 42.6%, with Curry a few points back at 38.4%.  Another Republican, Councilman Bill Bishop, secured 16.8%.

Brown’s biggest base of support was the African-American community.  However, he did well in white suburbs as well.  Curry did especially well in the outlier areas and traditional GOP bases of support.  Bishop did best in his council districts, located on the northeastern edge of the county, and did well in many central duval precincts outside his district.


While the GOP vote passed 50%, it is incorrect to look at this race in a purely partisan lens.  In two of the five at-large council races, Democratic candidates totaled more than 50%.  Each race has its own dynamic based on the candidates and issues.  In the Mayoral race, Bill Bishop secured a good deal of support from non-Republican sources.  Bishop’s social liberalism and fiscal conservationism earned him a good deal of support from NPA voters. Bishop’s support for the proposed Human Rights Ordinance of Jacksonville also resulted in several LGBT groups endorsing him for Mayor. The general anecdotal story from the area was that Bishop was winning many socially liberal voters.

The maps show that Curry narrowly won the Riverside/San Marco areas (south/middle part of the county).  However, he won it with less than 50% and Bishop did better in this region than most areas.  The region has many white liberals who backed Bishop for his social liberal views.

Curry won the beaches, the upper class suburbs (Orange Park, Mandarin) and the west side, which is much more rural.

Public polling has been scarce, however, a February UNF poll gives a little insight into where Bishop might have been receiving votes.   In the poll, Bishop was the choice of 8% of Democrats, 14% of Republicans, and 21% of NPA voters. Among voters who felt they could identify Bishop’s ideology, 6% ranked him liberal, 10% ranked him moderate, and 5% ranked him conservative:  most not knowing what they felt his ideology was.  This is one poll and is outdated.  However, from it, it’s not hard to see Bishop taking in moderate voters, liberals, and conservatives.

This poll is backed up by precinct data from the primary.  I examined where Bishop did best and found as he did better, Brown under-performed Charlie Crist more.  Brown’s 42.6% outpaced Crist’s 41.5%.  However, many precincts saw Brown dramatically under-perform Crist; all the while outperforming Crist in other regions.  The biggest factor in Brown under-performing Crist was Bishop’s percent of the vote growing.

I looked at this factor on a scatter-plot.  I focused only on largely white precincts to get a better idea of the effect; leaving African-American precincts out of the scatter-plot.  African-Americans overwhelmingly backed Brown, giving Bishop and Curry next to nothing.  My goal was to see who Bishop was taking the most votes from among white voters.


The scatter-plot shows a clear trend.  As Bishop’s percent increased, Brown under-performed Crist more, while Bishop’s weaker precincts showed Brown beating out the former Governor.  The coefficient came in at 0.76.   The coefficient tell us how strong the correlation (ties) between two data points are, ranging from 0 to 1 (1 being a perfect correlation).   The result of 0.76 means the correlation is strong.

I also examined how Bishop’s strength would effect Curry as he related to Rick Scott’s percentages.  After all, a third person doing well would hurt both candidates as they related to the Gubernatorial results from several months back.  The results show that, indeed, Curry does worse than Scott as Bishop’s vote increases.  However, the correlation is much weaker.


When examining Curry’s under-performance, more precincts are scattered around, rather than falling on a clear pattern.  The coefficient is also much weaker, 0.26.

From both scatter-plots, it’s clear that Bishop took from both sides.  While it is tempting to say he took more from Brown than Curry, that can’t be known for sure.  The same UNF poll from February said that the second choice of Bishop supporters was Curry by a 48% to 31% margin.  This may have changed over the last month, especially since Bishop ended up with more than the 11% he was polling at.

For Brown, one thing is clear, he needs to get the support of as many Bishop voters as possible.  Brown would have needed 44% of Bishop’s votes to avoid the runoff (granted this does not factor in how the NPA candidate’s votes would have gone).  Heading into a runoff, Brown just needs to make sure the Bishop voters who are more aligned with him show up.  He cannot count on the Bishop voters more aligned with Curry to stay home.  Curry’s extreme conservationism should be utilized by Brown to ensure Bishop’s liberal supporters return for the runoff.  Brown definitely benefits from Curry’s unabashed conservatism, the same thing that derailed Brown’s 2011 opponent.

One final factor in how the runoff goes will be the turnout.  Democrats did a good job getting the vote out for this first round.  Over 3,300 more Democrats than Republicans showed up for this March primary.  This was a strong improvement from the 2011 primary where the Republicans outpaced Democrats by just over 1,000 people.

However, when Brown won the runoff in 2011, Democrat’s turned out more than Republicans by a margin of over 10,000.


Democrats made up around 44% of the vote in the 2011 primary, but made up to 47% in the runoff.  In this first round of voting, they reached 45% of the electorate.  For Brown, he needs to replicate that huge runoff surge as much as possible.

For Brown, there is a clear pathway for a runoff victory.  However, it will not be any easier than winning the 2011 runoff was.  A turnout push and securing Bishop backers are key to a victory in May.

Maps and Quick Thoughts on Broward’s Municipal Election Results

As a Broward County resident for the first 19 years of my life, Broward County and its politics are still very close to me.  The county, second largest in the state, has 35 cities and towns.  Many of these cities host elections in the fall of even-numbered years to coincide with major races.   However, many cities continue to hold elections in the spring of odd and even numbered years.  March 10th saw the latest round of municipal elections for the county; with eight different cities going to the polls.  The following article will contain a map of each race’s result and a quick summary of the results and events surrounding the election.  While some races were fairly quiet, others were major battles for the future of the cities.

Plantation Mayoral Election

Plantation’s mayoral election was the main event in Broward on election night.  This suburban city leans Democratic but is a swing city compared to many of its bluer neighbors.  Republicans had success in the city in 2013, with one Republican and one Independent winning seats on anti-tax platforms following a revolt over a large increase in property taxes.  The city has a strong mayor form of government and Republicans wanted to take control of the Mayorship in order to get stronger control.  Commissioner Jerry Fagden, who had been elected to the commission with 60% in 2013 as part of the revolt, challenged Democratic Mayor Diane Bendekovic.  Bendekovic and Fadgen squared off in 2011 for the seat as well.  After a closely fought battle in which the local Republican and Democratic Parties got involved, Bendekovic held on with a narrow in.  Fagden narrowly won election day voters but lost on the absentee votes.


Bendekovic ran up strong margins with the African-American precincts in the east and many western and central suburbs.  Many communities were split, with all precincts giving the mayor at least 40% but no more than 70%.  The narrow win was a victory for local Democrats.


Plantation Council 2

With Fadgen running for Mayor, he had to resign his council seat.  This gave Democrats a chance to take the seat after failing to do so in 2013.  Democrats had a problem, however, where four Democrats filed along with only one Republican, Rico Petrocelli, a former commissioner.  This left Democrats worrying that a split vote would lead to a Republican win.  Petrocelli, however, had a great deal of personal and financial baggage.  Many Democrats rallied around lawyer Louis Reinstein.  Democrat Peter Tingom, the commissioner who lost to an independent in the 2013 elections, also filed to run.


Tingom managed to eak out a win, no doubt helped by his name recognition, while Petrocelli came in second.  Reinstein’s loss was a disappointed for many Democrats.  However, the split field made the results hard to predict and shape.  Claudette Hammond, and Jeff Holness, both African-American, split the eastern end of the city.  Holness, the cousin of County Commissioner and wanna-be kingmaker of Broward, Dale Holness, had garnered 34 of the district in his 2013 run against Fagden, but this time finished fourth.


Miramar Mayoral Election

The Miramar Mayoral Election was right behind the Plantation Mayoral in terms of major implications.  Longtime Mayor Lori Moseley was seeking re-election against an incumbent commissioner, Wayne Messam, and former commissioner, Alexandra Davis.  Moseley has served as mayor for the city since 1999.  Since that date, the cities’ population tripled from 40,000 to over 120,000.  The city has become much more diverse, with the largest growth being among African-Americans.  By 2010, Moseley, who’s white, has been representing a city that is 46% black, 37% hispanic, and 11% white.  Both Davis and Messam where African-American, and the cities’ last white commissioner, a Republican, was ousted in 2013.  The race was seen as close by most observes, with each candidate having a chance at winning.


Moseley ended up losing the election, coming in second to Messam.  Moseley did best in the western end of the city, which is predominantly white or Hispanic and did worse in the eastern, African-American side of town.  Davis only won a few precincts on the eastern end.  Moseley’s loss can be partially attributed to race and the desire of African-Americans to be represented in the Mayors office.  This no doubt moved some votes.  However, the cities population growth also likely helped aid Moseley’s loss, as newer residents had little reason to support a mayor they didn’t know.  In addition, issues over a city bond to fund new projects was a key debating point.  Moseley did not favor a large bond while her opponents did.  Messam praised Moseley as a good mayor but argued for a new direction as the city continues to grow.  With 16 years on the commission, many voters who liked Moseley may have thought it was simply time for a new vision for the city.  With the results for mayor and the city council elections, the entire commission will be African-American for the first time in the cities’ history.


Miramar Commission Districts 1 and 4

Two city council seats for Miramar were up for election.  District 1 had been vacated by Alexandra Davis.  Davis had initially left the seat to run for county commission in 2014.  Davis was badly beaten in the Democratic Primary by Incumbent Barbara Sharief that August.  Davis initially decided to run for her empty city council seat again.  However, Sharief’s husband, Maxwell Chambers, opted to run for the seat.  The move was no doubt influenced by a dislike for Davis.  Davis eventually decided to run for mayor, where she came for third.  Chambers was the front-runner for the crowded city council field, getting a good deal of support from local leaders and donors.  Chambers went on to win with 35% of the vote.


Chambers won by winning many African-American areas, splitting the African-American vote with Norm Hemming.  Alejandro Casas, the only Hispanic in the race, did well in the west and came in third.

In the district 4 race, left open by Messam running for Mayor, three candidates faced off for the seat.  All three had local ties to the area, but none had key regional support.  With all three candidates being African-American, the east-west split the city has seen in other elections did not manifest itself.  Darlene Riggs, a businesswoman, won the seat by a fairly comfortable margin.


Riggs won the seat by winning in African-American and Hispanic/white areas, winning all but four precincts.  She had the strongest win in Miramar that night.


Coconut Creek Commission District E

Only one commission seat was contested in 2015 in Coconut Creek.  The seat was opened up when Commissioner Lisa Aronson filed to run for the 2014 county commission election, which she lost to Democrat Mark Bogen (whom you’re truly worked for).  The race pitted Steve Harrison, a past candidate, against Joshua Rydell, a young newcomer to coconut creek politics.  Rydell racked up the backing of the political establishment, including former Representative Jim Waldman, current Representative Kristin Jacobs, and many members of the city council.

Coconut Creek

The results were a resounding win for Rydell.  He won all but one precinct.  Over half the vote came from the Wynmoor Condo Community (the second most-southern precinct on the east side of the city), which also gave Rydell over 80 of the vote.


Davie District 1

Davie only had one election on its ballot, with incumbent Mayor Judy Paul unopposed for another term.  Commissioner Bryan Caletka beat James Moore in a rematch from 2012.


Caletka held on to his seat with a comfortable margin, similar to his 2012 re-election.  Moore only one the eastern edge of the city.  Moore made traffic issues a key theme of his campaign.  The area includes University Blvd, an area known for heavy traffic issues. The road actually divided pro-Moore and pro-Caletka precincts in the north.  This is the last election where Davie will host elections in the spring.  Future elections will coincide with statewide races.


Deerfield Beach Districts 1 and 2

Deerfield Beach has been home to some contentious politics as of late.  Mayor Jean Robb has been feuding with the city council over several issues (quick summary, the council is right).  Robb won the mayoral election in 2013 by 27 votes.  Two council members were up for re-election, with Robb hoping both would lose.  Commissioner Joe Miller faced off against Ron Coddington.  Coddington was very flawed, having been removed from the Marine Advisory Board after he accused Miller of using his elected position to benefit his business (of which there is no truth or even suspicion).  Coddington’s campaign was filled with controversies and mis-steps and he handily lost to Miller.


The district 2 race saw a greater likely hood of the incumbent losing.  The seat lies in the African-American area of the city the white incumbent, Ben Preston, was facing off against Gloria Battle, who is African-American.  This was also the same region that had backed Robb heavily in her Mayoral Campaign.  Battle garnered controversy when residents in the retirement community, The Deerfield Beach Palms, complaining of over-zealous individuals trying to collect absentee ballots in favor of Gloria Battle.  Issues of absentee collection and even fraud permeated in the mayoral election and seemed to be rising up again here.  It could be argued the Mayoral election was won via questionable absentee ballots.  The issue is way too complex to discuss here.  However, Battle ended up winning by a large margin, enough that any fraud issue is unlikely to have effected the result.  Battle won in the same areas that backed Robb in 2013.


There has been some talk that Preston didn’t listen to his consultants and didn’t take the threat seriously enough.  Even with Preston’s loss, Robb is still outnumbered on the city council.


Lighthouse Point Districts 2 and 3

Lighthouse Point is a quiet bedroom community, and one of the few solidly Republican areas in the county, on the upper coast of the county.  The city of 10,000 has its own police force and likes to maintain its own closed in community where everyone knows each other   Both council elections saw former commissioners run for seats.   In district 2, Incumbent Commissioner Michael Long defeated former Commissioner Tom Hasis. Hasis initially lost his seat years back and had since run for and lost in another district race. Voters are clearly wary of Hasis, who has a contentious demeanor that conflicts with the quiet city.  He lost by a large margin.


In the district 3 race, which was open, former commissioner Susie Gordon, who had lost her seat in 2012, opted to run again.  However, the election went to 35 year old lawyer Jason Joffe.  Gordon came in third.


Not a good night for former commissioners.


Hillsboro Beach Commission

Hillsboro Beach is the definition of small town.  The city is a strip of land that goes along the coastal A1A road.  The town is home to many wealthy coastal homes and part of is often refereed to as Millionaires’ Mile.  The town is home to rich residents and is one of the few Republican areas in the county.  It is right next to Lighthouse Point and population is just over 1,800.  The city is just one precinct.  Voters go to the polls and everyone runs for the council, with the top three candidates getting spots on the commission.  Several incumbents and new candidates ran for the council.  The biggest issue for the town has been beach erosion, which has sparked much debate in terms of a viable solution.

Hillsborough Beach

In the results, Deb Tarrant, a newcomer who has argued the commission needs new leadership, came in first, commissioner Victoria Freaman came in second, and former Mayor Carmen McGarry came in third.  The current Mayor (commissioners select the Mayor) Claire Schubert, came in second to last.  Tarrant says her first goal is to see about getting a city manager appointed to handle the issues before the city, especially regarding beach erosion.  The idea is likely to spark debate and would require a referendum.  Even in small towns like this, the local politics is never quiet.


Ft Lauderdale District 2

Ft Lauderdale Commissioner Dean Trantalis had an easy re-election over local businessman, and political newcomer, David Tabb.  Trantalis was the first openly gay commissioner in Ft Lauderdale history when he was first elected in 2003.  Trantalis won his current seat in 2013, beating former commissioner Charlotte Rodstrom, after being off the commission for a few years.  In a quiet campaign, Trantalis was easily re-elected.


The February mayoral election for Ft Lauderdale drew more attention over the cities ban on feeding the homeless.  Even though Trantalis supported the measure, the issue did not appear to affect the narrative of the city council campaign compared to that of the mayoral election.



Several elections in Broward were sleepers and saw the status-quo maintained.  However, Miramar saw major changes in its city Government.  Democrats struck back in Plantation after an awful 2013.  The contentious politics of Deerfield will continue on, with both sides of the debate likely to clash in the Mayoral Election in two years.  As more cities move their elections to the fall to coincide with statewide races (Davie and Plantation will be doing so), there is a chance these local issues will get drowned out by the larger campaigns.  Until then, Broward always provides some interesting observations with its spring elections.

Florida Senate District 7: A Case in Compact Gerrymandering

Redistricting History

In Florida, a great deal of attention has been paid to the issue of gerrymandering during the 2012 redistricting process.  The state has been subjected to lawsuits over its Congressional and Legislative Maps by a coalition arguing the legislature violated new redistricting rules passed by voters in 2010.  A lawsuit in the summer of 2014 forced the legislature to alter several of its congressional districts.  The changes were small, but the lawsuit opened up a much larger can of worms.  Through the lawsuit, the consulting firm, Data Targeting, which has worked with the legislature and Florida GOP, was forced to turn over 500 pages in emails and documents detailing its involvement in the redistricting process of 2012.

In 2010, Florida voters approved constitutional amendments to bar partisanship from factoring into redistricting.  Districts were to be compact where possible, not designed to protect incumbents, drawn to protect communities of interest, and be drawn in a non-partisan manor.  The Florida GOP did not want these amendments passed.  However, once the results were in, they pledged to abide by the rules. However, when the 500 pages of sealed documents from Data Targeting were released, they showed the legislature had used firm to submit maps using average citizens in order to mask the firm’s involvement.  Email correspondence showed the firm working to make sure districts kept incumbents in strong districts and to ensure a GOP dominated map.  Emails showed the firm intended to keep discussions off email when possible to avoid a paper trail.

The Florida Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the case of the state legislative districts and whether the fair district amendments of 2010 were broken.  Meanwhile, the legislature, knowing they have been caught red handed, intend to argue that the fair district amendments were not legal; even though they are in the Florida Constitution.

The Issue of Compactness

One of the main focuses has been the “compactness” of the districts.  Florida has been known for winding districts that stretch for miles.  When the legislature passed its new redistricting maps, the Supreme Court actually invalidated eight of the forty senate districts for not adhering to the compactness rules. In Southeast Florida, the districts out of Palm Beach and Broward were questioned.  Specifically, district 29, which was supposed to be Ellyn Bogdanoff’s district, was thrown out.



The district was designed to save Bogdanoff’s re-election by creating a coastal district that took in GOP communities.  However, the State Supreme Court said the district violated compactness rules and a redraw was forced.  The final map forced Bogdanoff into a much more compact district, labeled number 34.



The district put Senator Bogdanoff against Democratic Senator Maria Sachs in a member-on-member fight for the seat.  With the district more Democratic due to taking in Democratic area’s further off the coast, Sachs won the 2012 election.  This as not what Republican leaders wanted.  However, the State Supreme Court had forced their hand

The Fair District Amendment’s Compactness requirement put a damper on the legislature’s redistricting strategy.  With the legislature’s ability to create odd districts curtailed, except in case of minority districts, many may have thought the resulting maps would be free of partisan intent.  However, the legislature, or should we say its consulting firms, managed to create a Republican-leaning map that featured districts much more compact than the map from the last decade.  There are several examples of compact districts that were still clearly designed with a partisan intent.  I like to call this process Compact Gerrymandering.  This article will focus on perhaps the most simple and effective version of compact gerrymandering in the state:  Senate District 7.

Senate District 7

Senate District 7 lies in North Central Florida and is made up of just three counties:  Alachua, Clay, and Bradford.  It is one of just two senate districts to not split any counties.


The district’s shape is reasonable and by keeping three counties contained in one district, lawmakers get to argue they are preserving communities by keeping entire counties from being carved up. After all, the voters of a county have a common interest and want that voting power as strong as possible as a unit. A county has limited power when its voter are split among several legislative districts.

However, Senate 7 is still a prominent example of partisan gerrymandering. The district takes Alachua, a Democratic county that is home to Gainesville and the University of Florida, and pairs it with Clay County, one of the most Republican counties in the entire state.  Alachua has slightly higher registration that Clay, however, Clay’s much more Republican that Alachua is Democratic.  Bradford rarely decides elections in the district due to its low population size.  The Party registration breakdown is below.

FL SD7:  Compact Gerrymandering

Clay County is made up of the Jacksonville suburbs and other high-end communities. The voters there never vote Democratic.  Despite being just over 50% Republican, the county rarely gives Democrats more than 30% of the vote; meaning the NPAs vote GOP much more than Democrat.   In 2006, Clay was one of only nine counties to vote against Bill Nelson in his landslide re-election. Clay’s voters have little in common with Alachua’s. Alachua is made up of students, African-Americans, white suburbs, and rural whites. Alachua would be better paired with Marion county or several of the rural counties around it. Clay fits better with Duval and St Johns. However, by linking the two counties together via small, rural Bradford, the legislature has created a district that is modestly, but stubbornly, Republican. Bill Nelson narrowly lost the district in his 2012 re-election (while winning the state by double-digits) thanks to Clay’s rigid Republicanism. This district shuts out the voters of Alachua, who can never override Clay’s partisan bent.

I examined several recent elections in the district to get a feel for just how strong the partisan bent is.  First, lets look at the 2012 Presidential Election.


While Obama won Alachua with 57.9% of the vote, he lost Clay with 26.7% and Bradford with 28.6%.  The dark red of Clay stands out on the map.

In that same election, there was an open state senate contest.  However Democrat William Mazzota lost to Republican Rob Bradley.  The map barely looks different from the Presidential contest.

3State Senate

Mazzota ran into the same problem that Obama did, a big brick wall in Clay county, where he only received 25.8% of the vote.  Obama and Mazzota ran fairly close to each-other in most parts of the state.  Mazzota managed to over-perform Obama mostly in Bradford.

Obama Mazzota Compar

Unfortunately for Mazzotta, the one place he did better than Obama in was also where the least vote comes from.

Jumping ahead to 2014, the Gubernatorial race told a similar story for the district.  Democrat Charlie Crist lost the district, doing worse than Obama thanks to Clay county.

1 Governor

Crist got 56.4% in Alachua, around 2 points worse than Obama.  Meanwhile he got 23.4% in Clay, 3 points worse than the President.  Crist did manage 30.4% in Bradford, the one county he improved over Obama in.  Crist also suffered from Clay being worth more of the vote than it was in 2012 thanks to turnout disparities in the midterms.  Clay was worth 42% of the vote in 2012, but went up to 44% in 2014.  With such bad margins in Clay, that slight uptick can make a big difference.

The worst Democratic performance in the district was the CFO race, where Democrat Will Rankin fell below 40% in the district.

0CFO 2014

.Rankin got 52.4% in Alachua, 25.5% in Bradford, and completely tanked with 20.5% in Clay.  Rankin’s results serve as a basement in the district for the last two cycles.

The only Democrat in recent years to come close to winning the district is Bill Nelson.  Nelson won re-election by 13 points in 2012.  However, he lost the district by 56 votes.

4US Senate

Nelson got 62% in Alachua, 39.5% in Bradford, but only got 33% in Clay.  Clay’s Republicanism held despite Nelson’s strong statewide win. Nelson managed to win a few precincts in the county, but still was crushed in much of the area.  Clay’s Republicanism kept Nelson down enough to just narrowly lose the district.

Back in 2006, Nelson won the district thanks to improved margins in Alachua and Bradford.  However, even in the 2006 landslide that saw Nelson get 60% statewide, the Senator only managed 38% in Clay.

In 2012, Nelson got close to winning because he over-performing Obama across the district.  Nelson’s gains were weakest in Alachua and strongest in Bradford.  Nelson did 4 points better in Alachua, 6 points better in Clay, and 10 points better in Bradford.

Obama Nelson

Alachua may be Democratic, but it is not elastic enough to give Democrats the large margins they need to win the district.  While recent Democrats peak at 62% in Alachua, they crater to 20% in Clay.  Clay is actually more elastic than Alachua, but in a bad way: giving Democrats margins from bad to terrible.  Nelson’s 06 win (and 38% in Clay) is a fluke caused by a disastrous Republican opponent.  Nelson’s 2012 percentage of 33% in Clay is the best the party can hope for, and with Alachua not willing to break higher than low 60s, winning the district is extremely unlikely.

Elasticity in the District

For a Democrat to win SD7, they would need to run ahead of the President.  Any winning Democrat would have to be a moderate that could win over rural voters and Republicans even while they vote Republican for other races.  Too see if enough of these voters exist in the district, I took at the look at the elasticity (the willingness to cross party lines) of the district.  Looking at the results for the five elections examined above, I examined each of the five Democrat’s precinct results and mapped the gap between the lowest and highest performing Democrat in each precinct.

Diff Gap

As the map shows, the precincts in Alachua often see the lowest gap between the best and worse performing Democrat.  Clay and Bradford have the biggest gaps.  In most of these instances, the gap is caused by Nelson doing much better than other Democrats.  However, Nelson is still badly losing most of these precincts.  The precincts that performed best for Democrats have some of the weakest elasticity.   The scatter-plot below shows precincts by their percentage for Obama and the gap between the worst and best performing Democrat.


As the plot shows, as precincts become less favorable toward Obama, they generally have a greater gap between Democratic candidates.  Now this can mean some Democrats managed to run ahead of the pack (like Nelson).  However, it also means other Democrats (like Rankin) fell off even more in dark red territory.  Meanwhile, strong Obama areas (60%+) did not give a strong Democrat like Nelson a much higher share of the vote.

The scatter-plot below shows how Nelson, the strongest performing Democrat, and Rankin, the weakest performing Democrat, compare to Obama’s percent of the vote.  The red line signifies a perfect correlation (same percent).


As the plot shows, Rankin runs worse than the President in most precincts while Nelson runs ahead.  However, the gap between Rankin and and Nelson is highest in the least Democratic areas.  In the heavily GOP region, Nelson is able to run higher than Obama while Rankin runs worse.  Rankin stays below the President as precincts become more supportive of the President while Nelson’s advantage narrows.  By the time we reach the precincts with the strongest Obama percent, Nelson is barely doing better than the President, all the while Rankin still trails.  So what does this mean?   It means that while a weak Democrat like Rankin can do worse than the President in a very dark red part of the district, a strong candidate like Nelson cannot do better than the President in heavily Democratic territory.  Therefor, there is limited room to improve but always room to do worse.  This is not unique to just District 7.  In general, some of the most Democratic areas have limited elasticity because they are heavily African-American, and already have voters casting straight-Dem ballots.  In some of the most Democratic areas, there are simply too few swing voters for someone like Nelson to get.  Therefore, a moderate candidate like Nelson would need to wrack up even stronger improvements in red territory; most likely moderate white suburbs or rural ancestral Democrats.  Bradford, an ancestral Democratic territory, has the right type of voters to carry this feat.  Bradford, like many rural counties in the state, is still Democratic at the local level and has voters willing to split tickets and vote for a Democrat they like; even while giving Democratic candidates for President very little support.  Despite losing Bradford, Nelson did 11% better than Obama did in 2012. However, the problem is that Bradford is too little of the vote, often around 5% of ballots cast.  Nelson only managed to do 6% better in Clay and 4% better in Alachua, were most of the vote takes place.  Clay is not going to provide the level of ticket-splitting that a moderate Democrat needs to win SD7, making a Democratic win there almost impossible.

Before redistricting, the Senate district based out of Alachua, then District 14, was a swing seat.  The district had narrowly voted for Obama in 2008 but voted GOP on other occasions.  The old district boundaries can be seen below.Old14th

The key to the district’s swing nature was that it paired reliably blue Alachua with several rural ancestral Democrats.  The voters of the surrounding counties are largely Democratic in registration and vote Democrat at the local level and largely Republican at the top of the ballot.  However, Obama could muster some votes out of these areas and candidates like Nelson could improve on Obama’s margin by a significant amount.  In 2012, Obama would have lost the district with 47.8%.  Nelson would receive 54.5% thanks to major improvements over Obama in the rural counties.  The key to that district being in play is the lack of Clay and the inclusion of the rural counties.

Clay was willing to give Nelson better marks than Obama, but only by a few points.  The county’s suburban Republican voters are brick wall for Democrats, even for moderates like Nelson.  There is no Democrat I can think of who can break that brick wall in Clay.

The Growing Problem of Clay County

Clay’s strong Republican lean makes any race in SD7 a fight between it and Alachua. The bar graph below shows the Democratic candidate margins for the three main elections in 2012 (President, US Senate, and State Senate).  Democrats rack up huge margins in Alachua, lose in small Bradford, and shed tens of thousands of votes in Clay.

Election Bar graph

For Obama and Mazzota, the problem was was they lost Clay by more votes than they won Alachua, despite the fact Alachua cast more votes than Clay.  Nelson’s race was the one instance were Bradford decided the election.  Nelson actually managed to win 2,000 more votes in Alachua than he lost in clay.  However, by losing by just over 2,000 votes in Bradford, he narrowly lost the district.  Nelson got close to winning by severely cutting the number of raw votes lost out of Clay.  While Nelson netted 10,000 more votes than Obama in Alachua, he also lost by 16,000 less votes in Clay.

The problem for Democrats, though, is that Clay is likely to become a larger share of the vote than Alachua with time.  Clay’s voter registration has been slowly increasing over the last eight years at a faster rate than Alachua.

Voter Reg Growth

Since 2006, Clay’s voter registration has increased from 113,000 to 136,000, an increase of 23,000 voters.  Meanwhile, Alachua has gone from 147,000 voters to 157,000, an increase of just 10,000.  Bradford, meanwhile, has hovered around 14,000 to 16,000 the entire time.

One of the problems for Alachua is that the student population of UF comes and goes, causing wild fluctuations in its registration.  In some years Alachua has actually fallen in registration as students graduate and move on while newer recruits are not registered to the county quick enough.  The bar graph below shows increases or decreases in voter registration over two year intervals since 2006.

Shifts in Voter Reg

Alachua saw increases in registration heading into Presidential years and then saw drops in the midterms.  No doubt part of this was OFA in 2008 and 2012 registering students and then midterms not seeing as much of a well-funded effort to update the registration of UF students who arrived in midterm years.  Clay saw its biggest registration increases in Presidential years.  However, before anyone thinks those gains were because of the Obama campaign, it should be noted almost all gains from 2010-2012 were from Repiblicans or NPAs and gains from 2006-2008 were more Republicans than Democrats.  Alachua relies on gains from students who eventually leave while Clay’s gains last; giving Clay a strong likelihood of eventually passing Alachua in registration.

In addition to registration gains, Clay has been slowly increasing its share of the vote in the district.


The bar graph above shows each counties share of the vote.  Alachua still has the largest share, staying above 50% in 2014 while Clay contributed 44%.  However, going back to 2006, Alachua had a higher share while Clay’s share was just under 40%.  The gap is slowing narrowing.  While Alachua increased in 2012, it fell back down in 2014, below 2010 numbers.  Bradford, meanwhile, always hovers around 5%.

If we were to subtract Clay’s vote share from Alachua’s to see the gap, we see that the gap has narrowed with recent elections.

Vote Share Gap

While Alachua managed to improve the gap in 2012 after a huge drop in 2010 (thanks to bad turnout in Alachua), the 2012 gap is still lower than 2008 Presidential and the 2006 midterm.  As Clay’s registration grows, strong Presidential turnout in Alachua will not be enough to keep the gap high.  I expect to see the gap continue to narrow with more elections.  The 2016 gap will probably be higher than 2014, but it won’t be as high as 2012.

With Clay slowly but surely creeping up on Alachua in registration and vote share, Democrats will only have a tougher time winning the district.

Possible Replacement Districts

The current boundaries of Senate District 7 are problematic in two ways. First, they are designed to ensure a Republican Senator.  The legislature knew of Clay’s steadfast Republicanism when they pared it with Alachua and knew the effect it would have on elections.  The other issue is that the district matches two communities very different from each other.  A suburban county like Clay fits in better with St. Johns or Duval.  Alachua fits in better with Marion County (home to Ocala) to the south.  In fact, it is easy to create a Senate district that links Gainesville to Ocala.

Gainesville Ocala District

Such a district shares much in common, linked by small communities and I-75.  Ocala and Gainesville would be the two main population centers of the district; with a Senator able to come from either area (most likely a Gainesville Democrat or Ocala Republican).  This would be a swing district that gave Obama around 50.7% of the vote and Nelson 56.5%.  The moderate suburbs of Ocala give moderate Democrats like Nelson the ability to run up a much stronger win that Obama does, giving Democrats plenty of opportunity to win the seat.

Another possible district continues the tradition of the old 14th, pairing Alachua with rural counties.  Alachua is fairly rural outside of Gainesville and its not crazy to pair it and other rural counties together.

Gainesville Rural District

In this case I try to split less counties, putting all of Putnam in and leaving Levy out.  Rural Marion gets added to even out the population and I leave sparsely populated Northern Columbia county out to be added to Baker or Hamilton counties.  This district would be influenced mostly by Alachua but give a Putnam politician a chance.  Like the old 14th district, it is a lean GOP swing seat that gives Obama 47% and Nelson 54%.  In this case, improving margins in the rural areas is key to victory for any moderate Democrat.


Regardless of what replacement district is offered, the fact is the current district screams of partisan intent.  The legislature, through its consulting firm, drew a district linking a moderately Democratic region to a hyper-Republican county to ensure no Democratic Senator came out of Gainesville.  The Jacksonville Suburbs of Clay County and the city of Gainesville have nothing in common are are not linked in any way except for the Senate District.  The goal is clearly to ensure a Republican seat; and that goal is achieved by putting a college town with one of the most Republican counties in the state.  The district serves as an important reminder that not all gerrymandering looks like it was drawn by a five year old.  Some of the cleanest looking districts can also have the most partisan of intentions.

How Florida Democrats fared in 2014′s Local Elections

In 2013, I wrote an article on Democratic Party Strength at the local level.  The article examined areas where Democrats were strong and weak on down-ballot races for county commission and constitutional officers.  It has long been my view that local elections are critical to the future of any political party.  Local elections allow parties to build benches for higher office.  In addition, local elections can be used to help measure party strength in different jurisdictions.  With the 2014 elections now over, I decided to take a look back at how Democrats fared at the local level.  While Florida Democrats did not take back the Governorship and six State House Democrats lost re-election; elections at the local level were not a Democratic defeat.  Despite losses further up the ballot, Democrats managed to take control of two county commissioner chambers and defend several targeted seats.   This article will look at some of those contest races and how they fared compared to the top of the ballot.

Local Control Heading into 2014

While there are many races for city government that took place in 2014; some of the biggest cities host their elections in high profile spring elections.  For 2014, I decided to focus on the county commission races, all of which, except in Duval, occur during state and federal elections.  Constitutional officers (Tax collector, Superintendent, Sheriff, Property Appraiser, Clerk of Court, Supervisor of Elections) are elected in Presidential years while county commission seats are rotated between midterm and presidential cycles (like Senate seats).  Therefore, this article largely focuses on the County Commission races and a few special elections for Constitutional Officers.

Before the 2014 elections, Democrats controlled 23 of the 67 county commissions.  This may seem low, but keep in mind Obama only won 13 counties in 2012 when he won with 50%.  Democrats controlled a large chunk of North Florida and rural counties that used to be reliably blue but have drifted away from state and federal Democrats.  Republicans, meanwhile, controlled several blue-leaning urban counties despite weakness at the top of the ballot.  The breakdown of county commission control as of December 2013 is below.

2013 County Commission Control2

Key Races in 2014

Heading into November 2014, there were several key races brewing for county commission seats and constitutional officers.  I profiled several of these races the day before the elections.  Please give it a read through for more background details on each race.  Some races that were not covered in that article will be covered now.  In some races, I went into much more detail about how local candidates performed compared to Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Charlie Crist.  Any images for any race are uploaded in a minimized size.  However, if you click the image, it will load larger.

Alachua Commission and Tax Collector
Alachua had two major local elections.  Neither of these got coverage in my initial article due to an oversight.  Alachua Commissioners are elected at-large and Democrats held a 4-1 advantage on the commission. Crist won 56.1% of the county in the Governor’s election.  The lone Republican on the commission opted not to run again in 2014 and both parties fought for the seat.  In the end, Democrat Ken Cornell won with 56.7% of the vote, beating Republican John Martin.  In addition, the Tax Collector position was up in a special election for the last two years due to the death of the incumbent Democrat Von Fraser.  The race saw Democrat John Power and Republican Jon C. Costabile face off.  Both candidates worked in the Tax Collector office and pledged a positive campaign; claiming to be friends and colleagues.  Power won with 58.85% of the vote.  The votes for all three Democrats (Crist, Power, and Cornell) all correlate highly with each-other.  Both local Democrats performed slightly better than Crist, likely thanks to a lack of third party candidates siphoning off votes.

The scatter-plot below shows Crist % as they relate to Cornell and Power.  All three candidates had strong correlation.  The black line represents a perfect correlation with Crist’s percentages; which both local candidates come close to having.  As precincts became more Democratic, vote totals came closer together; while Cornell and Power outdid Crist (running above of the black line in the scatter-plot) in less Democratic areas.  The map below shows which precincts had the largest/smallest gaps between candidates.

Alachua Scatter    Alachua Difference

Bradford County Commission: Districts 2 and 4
Bradford had two competitive county commission elections.  Before the election, Democrats had 5-0 control of the commission.  Incumbent Danny Riddick was able to beat a Republican challenger who outspent him $3,000 to $13,000 with 53% of the vote.  Meanwhile, Incumbent Doyle Thomas lost to his Republican challenger with only 46.7% of the vote.  The elections took place in different districts of the county; both heavily backing Scott.  The result is Democrats holding 4-1 control of the commission.

Broward County Commission:  District 4
One big blow for local Democrats came out of Broward County.  Until 2010, Democrats controlled all 9 of Broward’s county commission districts.  Democratic Incumbent Ken Keechel lost to Republican Chip Lamarca in 2010.  However, the commission redrew the lines in 2012 and made the district more Democratic.  However, Keechel, seeking a rematch, fell short of taking back the seat 47.1% to 52.9%.  Keechle framed the races as Democrat vs Republican.  However, he was outspent by $300,000.  Keechel’s votes were heavily tied to Crist (as the scatterplot below shows).  However, he under-performed Crist in most precincts and especially in the heavily white, Republican coast.  The loss in county 4 is a blow for Broward Democrats. LaMarca is strongly positioned to run for congress or state legislature from his coastal district.  LaMarca benefited from Keechel having less funds and Keechel being seen as too much of a typical politician; he had run for a different county seat in 2012.

BrowardScatter2    BrowardMap

Calhoun County Commission:  Districts 2 and 4
In Calhoun, NPA commissioner Darrell McDougald was re-elected in a four-way fight with 34% of the vote against two other NPA candidates and a Democrat.  The Democrat came in last with only 17.5% of the vote.  In the other district, Democrat Dennis Jones won re-election of an NPA candidate with 63% of the vote.  The district was largely based out of the one heavily African-American precincts in Calhoun, the only one to vote for Charlie Crist.  Democrats shouldn’t be too excited about Jones’ hold since the seat was African-American.  They should be worried that a Democrat came in last in another district in county with overwhelming Democratic registration.

Columbia County Commission:  District 4
Democrats made another under-the-radar pickup, this time in Columbia County.  With Republicans previously controlled the commission 4-1 and only one seat being contested in November, Democrats could not gain control of the chamber. County Commissioners are elected on a non-partisan ballot, and party ID does not seem to play a major role in commission matters.  In an open seat left by a retiring Republican, Democrat Everett Phillips won the seat with 52.6%.  The district gave Rick Scott over 65% of the vote.  The chamber now stands at 3-2 Republican control.

Dixie County Commission:  District 4
Dixie County has made a stunning transformation in the last few election cycles.  The commission used to be heavily Democratic.  However, NPA candidates began winning the commission races and before long, the commission was 4 NPA candidates and 1 Democrat.  In 2014, that last Democrat ran for re-election as a NPA candidate.  Every candidate for the elections in district 2 and 4 were for NPAs despite candidates having the option to run with party affiliation.  Democratic Incumbent Jason Holifield won re-election as an NPA with 66.5% of the vote.

Escambia County Commission:  District 4
Local Democrats had hoped to make gains in the Escambia County Commission.  However, those efforts ran into the wall of Crist’s unpopularity in the panhandle of Florida.  Republican Grover Robinson managed to rack up 70% of the vote in his county commission district as the upper-income suburbs remained steadfastly Republican.  Crist did slightly better than Democrat Mike Lowery.  The two Democrat’s voters were fairly close together.  However, as precincts became less hard-line Republican, Crist did slightly better.


Franklin County Commission:  District 2
Democrat Cheryl Sanders was re-elected with 52.3% in a district that went strong for Rick Scott.  Sander’s win was in spite of Franklin shifting further right, rejecting Crist and Graham by more than 15 points despite its history of supporting Alex Sink for Governor and Bill Nelson for Senate.  This race serves as an example of a local Democrat surviving despite the top of the ballot shifting further red.

Gilchrist County Commission:  Districts 2 and 4 
Gilchrist’s commission became more Republican in 2014.  The commission was already 3-2 Republican, all elected at-large.  In November, Democratic Incumbent John Rance Thomas lost to Republican challenger Marion Poitevint 47.8% to 52.2%.  Crist, meanwhile, got just under 25% of the vote.  The Gilchrist tea party made it a point to oppose Thomas, and Thomas went out of his way to separate himself from national Democrats.   There were local controversies as well, involving business development and county administrative costs and salaries.  Both local and national politics likely contributed to Thomas’s defeat.  In another county commission race, Republican Incumbent Ray Harrison won re-election with 60.5% against a conservative Democrat, John Yencho.

As the scatterplot shows, Yencho and Thomas over-performed Crist.  Only one precinct gave all three candidates similar percentages.  That precinct has a large African-American population.  The remaining precincts gave the two democrats varying levels of support while never giving Crist more than 30%.  Both Democrats managed to keep their votes separate from Crist despite both losing.


Glades County Commission:  Districts 1 and 4
Democrats risked losing control of the Glades county commission in 2014.  However, Democrats managed to hold the District 4 open seat, and won back district 1; beating a Rick Scott appointee.  The result was Democrats returning to the 4-1 majority they held after the 2012 elections.  In district 4, Democrat John Ahern got 51%.  In district 1, Democrat Weston Pryor got 52%.  The raw vote difference between both Democrats was only 36 votes.  Despite having close vote totals, both candidates did better/worse in different precincts.  As the scatterplot shows, the two Democrats’ vote was far from a perfect correlation (which the red line represents).  The map below shows how Ahern and Pryor did compared to Crist.

Glades Scatter   Glades Compare

Gulf County Commission:  District 2
If I had to bet on which county commission would switch from Democratic to Republican control, I would have bet on Gulf.  The 3-2 Democratic commission seemed poised to go 2-3 as Democrat Ward McDaniel fought for re-election is a district that gave Rick Scott 61% of the vote.  McDaniel, however, managed to win with over 64% of the vote; even after being outspent 3-1.  The result is a testament to local politics trumping national.

Hillsborough County Commission:  At-Large
One of the heartbreaking local losses of 2014 was the Hillsborough County At-Large race.  Democrats were hoping to pick up this seat with Pat Kemp.  However, Republican Al Higginbotham narrowly won the seat by 2,000 votes.  Kemp managed to get 49.7% of the vote, but was likely weighed down by Crist getting a very weak 48.2% plurality win in the county.  15,000 less votes were cast for the county commission race than for Governor.  Kemp got 5,000 less votes than Crist.  However, Higginbotham got 7,000 more votes than Scott.  Higginbotham who served on the commission in a single-member seat, likely won some Crist voters and votes from 22,000 who votes for third party candidates for governor.

Crist and Kemp’s percentages were tied closely together.  Kemp outperformed Crist in most of the precincts.  Kemp’s over or under performing Crist had little to do with racial makeup of precincts.   In addition, precincts with a larger under-vote (people skipping the county race) were split among precincts that gave Kemp more support and those that gained less.  Kemp did under-perform Crist among the most heavily Democratic precincts (which were heavily African-American).  However, she beat out Crist in most of the heavily Democratic areas and other African-American precincts..

HillsKempCrist2    HillsboroughMap

Jackson County Commission:  Districts 2 and 4
In my view, one of the most consequential local elections of 2014 where in Jackson County, where a political earthquake resulted from the election of two Republicans to local office for the first time in Jackson County’s history.  District 2 Incumbent Democrat Edward Crutchfield lost re-election with 49.4% of the vote in a 2010 rematch against Republican Clint Pate.  In the seat left open by Jeremy Branch, Democrat Alvin Roberts only received 36.5% of the vote to Republican Eric Hill’s 50.9% (the rest going to NPA candidates).  Both districts were heavily Republican, with district 4 giving Crist around 28% and district 2 giving him 38%.  The county splits its precincts between county commission districts, making precinct-comparisons imperfect.  However, in the four precincts that were entirely in one specified district, the votes for Crist and the Democratic candidate for commission were not tied together.  Jackson County stood out as the last county in Florida to never elect a Republican to county office.  With 2014′s results, Republicans could begin to make a play for other commission districts and constitutional offices.  Jackson County should serve as a wake up call for North Florida democrats.  As Republican strength grows down ballot, upper ballot races in the region will become even tougher than they are right now and Congresswoman Gwen Graham cannot afford to see Jackson county trend further to the right.

Jefferson County Commission:  District 4
In an off-the-radar race, Democratic Incumbent Betsy Barfield won re-election against NPA Troy Avera 53.2% to 46.8%.  Jefferson leans Democratic thanks to the ancestral white Democrats, some state employees, and a large African-American population.  The county often gives competitive Democrats between 50% and 55% of the vote.  Local Republicans have been making inroads, taking Superintendent and nearly taking tax collector in 2012.  One NPA commissioner already serves with four democrats.  The district, comprising of only 3 precincts, narrowly voted for Scott.  Barfield’s vote was modestly tied with Crist, with Barfield over-performing him in all three precincts.


Lafayette County Commission:  Districts 2 and 4
Lafayette produced a mix bag for Democrats, who held control of the commission 5-0 before 2014.  In district 2, the Democrat won with 59% of the vote, while in district 4 the Democratic candidate only got 43% of the vote.  The winning Democrat won all 5 precincts, while the losing Democrat only got 1.  The result is Democrats retaining control of the commission 4-1 and both did much better than Crist.  However, the loss of one Democratic seat shows a continued Republican growth down-ballot.

Liberty County Commission and Superintendent
North Florida Democrats have been feeling the pressure from NPA candidates in recent elections. In addition, Liberty trended further right in 2014.  Both Gwen Graham and Charlie Crist got around 34% of the vote (Gwen getting 34.7% to Crist’s 33.7%).  The county had voted for Sink in 2010 and Nelson in 2012.  However, it remained stubbornly Republican in 2014, giving Graham the second weakest gain over Crist of any county in CD2.  Despite upper-ballot troubles, Democrats managed to hang on at the local level.  Both County Commission seats stayed Democratic against NPA opposition.  In district 2, Incumbent Dexter Barber won with 66.4% of the vote.  In district 4, James Sanders won the open seat with 56.7%.  In the Superintendent race, Democrat David Summers won with 35% of the vote against 3 NPA opponents.  Summers’ win is especially notable since he only spent $700 in the race.  For now, the Democratic near-monopoly at the local level holds with 5-0 commission control and 5 of the 6 constitutional officers.  However, top of ballot woes have gotten worse.

In the county commission races, the two Democratic candidate’s percentages were not closely tied to each other.  Barber, an incumbent ran stronger, but Sander’s did better in the two most African-American precincts (the top two in the northwest corner of the district).  In the superintendent race, Summer’s won despite an African-American NPA candidate winning the counties lone African-American majority precinct.  While local Democrats did very well in Liberty.  Their individual wins were not because voters cast ballots by party straight down the ballot, but rather individual dynamics in each race.  The scatter-plot shows that Barber and Sander’s percentages did not correlate, while the map shows how each Democrat won.

LibertyScatter  Libertymap

Manatee Commission At-Large
Manatee was a dark horse county that could have gone to Crist in the right environment.  However, as the Crist campaign faltered across the state, Manatee wound up giving Crist just 41.3%, worse than Obama had gotten in 2012.  As a result, Democratic commission candidate Terry Wonder got 40.3% after being outspent by a large margin.  In this suburban county, both candidates had their votes tied fairly close together.  However, in several suburban precincts, Crist or Wonder beat out the other.


Miami-Dade Commission:  District 8
Miami-Dade hosted its non-partisan elections for county commission in August.  Most races do not get excessively partisan in the county.  However, the August race for district 8 (located in the southern part of the county where Homestead lies), became extremely partisan.  Democrat Daniella Levine Cava defeated Republican Incumbent Lynda Bell 52% to 48%.  Unions and the local Democratic party heavily back Cava while Republicans pushed for Bell.  Her win resulted in a commission of 6 Democrats, 6 Republicans, and 1 No Party candidate.  The commission recently named Jean Monestime, a Democrat, its new chair.

Orange County Commission and Clerk of Courts, Amendment C
Orange county was bad for Democrats in 2014.  Three House Democrats in the county lost re-election and Crist got a weak 53%.  Democrats failed to pick up County Commission Seat 2, receiving only 41% despite Crist receiving 54%.  However, the race being non-partisan on the ballot likely did not help matters.   Democrats also failed to pass Amendment C, which would have made county commission races partisan.  In a cruel irony, another amendment that would make Constitutional Officers non-partisan did pass.  Democrats did manage to win the Clerk of Courts race.  Democratic candidate Tiffany Moore Russell got 52% to Republican Incumbent Eduardo “Eddie” Fernandez’s 48%.

Russell won the Clerk of Court race by sticking close to Crist in most precincts.  Both candidates vote’s strongly correlated with each other.  While Crist was white and Russell is black, Russell did not do especially better with African-Americans.  On the same notion, some areas where Russell did better than Crist were largely white.  Crist actually did 0.8% better than Russell in her county commission district.  Amendment C did correlate to smaller degree with Crist votes.  However, as the scatter-plot shows, it under-performed Crist and Russell in more Democratic areas.  That said, Amendment C had its strongest support in the African-American areas; with precincts voting Yes being almost exclusively African-American majority/plurality.  The second scatterplot shows that Amendment C support grew as African-American percentages increased.  However, Amendment C failed because it was weaker with white and Hispanic voters, and wasn’t strong enough with African Americans.  In the County commission race, Democrat Alvin Moore under-performed Crist across the precincts.  However, as the scatter-plot for the race shows, Moore’s percentages did increase as Crist’s did.  Despite not having a D next to his name, Moore and Crist still had a respectable vote correlation.  However, many voters clearly defected away for the county race.

OrangeScatter Orangemap OrangeBlackScatter  orangecountyscatter

Osceola County Commission:  Districts 2 and 4
Democrats succeeded in taking control of the Osceola county commission after picking up two seats in 2014.  Districts 2 and 4 were both held by Republican Incumbents facing strong Democratic challengers.  In district 2, Democrat Viviana Janer beat Republican John Quinones 51.2% to 48.8%. The district gave Crist 61% of the vote, which was too much for Quinones, a popular local Republican, to overcome.  Democrats will be glad to be rid of Quinones, who could have been a major threat for CD9 in future elections.  Meanwhile, in district 4, Democrat Cheryl Grieb beat Republican Incumbent Frank Attkisson 47.6% to 46.7% (with the rest going to a third candidate).  District 4 gave Crist 49.3% of the vote to Scott’s 44.5%.  Just last week, as the ban on same-sex marriage lifted, Grieb and her partner were the first same-sex couple to marry in Osceola County.

As the scatter-plot’s below show, Grieb and Crist had strong vote correlations in district 4.  However, in district 2, Janer and Crist’s vote totals were not correlated.  This could be largely thanks to Quinones’ strong popularity.

OceolaJaner   OsceolaGrieb


Palm Beach County Commission:  District 4
Republican Commissioner Steven Abrams defeated Democrat Andy O’Brien with 59.2% of the vote.  Charlie Crist won the district with 50.8%, however, O’Brien was unable to capitalize.  Abrams’ 2-1 money advantage no doubt helped.  O’Brien’s vote share had a modest correlation with Crist’s.  However, O’Brien under-performed Crist in nearly every precinct.


Pinellas County Commission:  At-Large and District 4
Democrats took control of the Pinellas commission by winning their third at-large congressional district in two years.  Before 2012, Democrats controlled 1 of the 7 commission districts (4 are in single-member districts, 3 are at-large).  Democrats initially held just the African-American majority district.  Then, in 2012, Democrats won the two at-large districts that were both up that year.  In 2014, Democrats were making a play for the last at-large seat.  Democrats nominated Largo Mayor Patricia Gerard, while Republicans nominated State Representative Ed Hooper.  Hooper actually beat the incumbent Republican commission in the August primary.  When the general election came, Gerard won 51% of the vote. The same day, Charlie Crist won 52%; actually a fairly mild showing considering Pinellas is his home county.  Gerard and Crist’s percentages were closely tied together.

Meanwhile, in district 4, Republican Dave Eggers won with 60.9% of the vote against Democrat Mark Weinkrantz’s 32.9% (the rest going to NPA candidates).  Crist won lost the district 45.8% to Scott’s 47%.  Weinkrantz percentages had some correlation with Crist’s, however, he under-performed Crist across the board.  The two scatterplots below shot how Gerard and Weinkrantz’s percentages related to Crist.  The map shows Crist’s win in Pinellas next to Gerard’s.

PinellasAtLarge   PinellasMapPinellas4Scatter

Suwannee County Commission:  District 4
Democrats picked up a seat for the Suwannee County Commission.  This race was off my radar, as Republicans maintained a 4-1 advantage and a pickup wouldn’t have shifted control.  Democrat Larry Carl Sessions won the district with 50.4% to Republican Harry K. Weaver’s 49.6%.  Every precinct in the district voted heavily for Rick Scott.  Sessions spent $9,000 compared to Weaver’s $3,000.  The result gives Republicans 3-2 control of the commission.

Taylor County Commission: District 4
Democrat Pam Feagle won re-election to the Taylor County Commission, winning 65.6% to Republican David Woods’ 34.4%.  Feagle sits in an overwhelmingly Republican district, but managed to win every precinct despite Crist loosing them all.

Final Result

As a result of the county commission elections, Democrats took control of two chambers; Pinellas and Osceola.  In addition, Republican-controlled Miami-Dade was put into a tie.

2014 County Commission Shift

The gains and losses are visualized in the map below.

2014 County Commission Gain

Democrats gained 8 seats while Republicans gained 5.  On paper this means Democrats made a net gain of 3 commissioners.  However, compared to where things stood after 2012, the math isn’t so simple.  First, Republicans made a gain in Putnam county when Rick Scott appointed a Republican to a Democrat-held seat and that appointee was not challenged by a Democrat for November.  This ended Putnam’s 5-0 Democratic commission.  In addition, the Democratic gain in Glades was to take back another Rick Scott appointee from a previously dem-held seat; so the gain just reverted things back to pre-2014.   This leaves Democrats with just one more seat than they held after 2012.  However, the independent gain in Dixie county was a Democrat retreating from his party to run as an NPA candidate.  That brings the increase in Democrats on the county commission to zero.  However, that seat goes to an increase in NPA held districts.  Unless I am missing any mid-cycle changes (possible considering there are alot of commissioners), the final party gains in terms of raw commissioners between 2012 and 2014 is

  • Democrats <Even>
  • Republicans -1
  • NPAs +1

Final control of county commissioners can be seen in the map below.

2014 County Commission Control2

Looking Ahead

Considering 2014 was such a bad year for Democrats across the board, the gains by Democrats in local office is a silver lining for the party.  Democrats took control of two major counties in the state; Pinellas and Osceola.  Democrats seizing control of all three at-large congressional seats in Pinellas over the last two years is especially notable and gives the party three prime candidates for David Jolly’s congressional seat.  Meanwhile, many Democratic-held seats in North Florida did not fall to the GOP.  However, Democrats suffering defeats in Jackson County may be a sign of future problems.  In addition, failures by Democrats to pick up seats in Broward and Hillsborough continue to give the GOP a foothold in counties they should not have.  That said,  Democrats were the clear winner in the local elections of 2014.  They gained control of commissioners and won critical and non-critical races.  In many instances, local Democrats were closely tied to races going on at the top of the ballot.  In other cases, Democrats outpaced or under-paced the top of the ballot.  Indeed the results were contradictory.  Some counties showed an amazing level of partisanship; yielding similar party results regardless of the race or circumstance.  In other instances, Democrats could win or lose regardless of party fortunes further up the ballot.   The urban elections such as Palm Beach 4 and Orange 2 showed a strong level of correlation between Democratic votes even if the Democrat lost. Meanwhile, the rural counties showed votes less tied together; with local dynamics mixing with national trends.

The notion that all politics is local is slowly giving way to increase nationalization of elections.  However, several counties in 2014 showed that local circumstance can still beat out national trends.  How long local Democrats and Republicans can hold off increased partisanship in the counties it has not already taken hold is something to watch in 2016 and beyond.

The North Florida Way: How Gwen Graham Won FL-02

November 4th, 2014 was a bad night for Democrats across the nation. Democrats fell short in several Gubernatorial elections, lost nine Senate Seats, and lost over ten House seats. Democratic fortunes in the South were abysmal. The Arkansas Governors Mansion went Republican, Senators Prior and Hagan lost their re-elections, and Senator Landrieu in Louisiana was forced into a runoff. Republicans also finally knocked off Congressman John Barrow and Democratic efforts to win seats Congressional seats in Arkansas, Virginia, and North Carolina came up short.

Democrats had bad news in Florida as well. Democrat Charlie Crist failed to win the Governors Mansion, Congressman Garcia lost re-election in Miami, and Democrats lost six seats in the state legislature. However, despite the bad results in Florida and in the South overall, there was one bright spot for Democrats; and it came from Florida’s 2nd Congressional District.

The District

The 2nd Congressional District is quite large, the largest geographical district in the state, and is made up of scattered rural voters and a few urban centers in North Florida. The district contains 14 counties, with the bulk of the population located in Tallahassee-based Leon County and Panama City-based Bay County.


The district is primarily Democratic, with only Bay County having more Republicans by registration. The district has a long Democratic heritage and loyalty. Most of the county commission and constitutional offices in the various counties are controlled by Democrats.  However, local party strength has not stopped Republicans from gaining the advantage further up the ballot.

2014 reg

The district is around 71% white, with the remaining voters largely African American and a small Hispanic and Asian population. For Democrats to win the district, they must overwhelmingly win the African-American vote and win between 35% and 40% of the white voters (depending on turnout). The African-American voters are heavily concentrated in the northern areas of the district.

2014 race


History of the District

Florida’s 2nd congressional district is your classic southern, ancestral Democratic district. It’s a district that is Democratic in registration and in control of local offices, but has become more Republican further up the ballot. Democratic strength is tied to heritage and loyalty. Rural residents feel that they are average working-class Democrats, and are moderate to conservative on most issues. They still identify with the Democrats of generations passed, but have grown more disillusioned with the national party. This disillusionment has not gotten any better with Barack Obama as President. While the numbers indicate race has played a small role in Obama’s weak showings in North Florida, the trend toward Republican support predates Obama’s election.  While Obama has not done well in the area, many white candidates have done poor as well.

The major liberal center for the district is Leon County, home to Tallahassee. Tallahassee features two universities, a community college, a large African-American population, and white suburbs filled with liberal white voters who are government workers or work with the University system. Gadsden County, the state’s only majority African-American county, also votes heavily Democratic in elections.

For decades, Democrats managed to hold onto the 2nd district. Democrat Allen Boyd held the seat from 1996 until 2010 when he lost re-election to Republican newcomer Steve Southerland. Southerland benefited from the red wave of 2010 as well as local fallout from Boyd’s tough votes in favor of the Affordable Care Act, Cap and Trade, and the Economic Stimulus Bill. With Boyd’s loss, the 2nd Congressional District was held by a Republican for the first time in over 100 years. That same night, Southern Democrats across several states lost their re-elections as well and several southern state legislatures became GOP for the first time since reconstruction. This Southern Democrat wipe-out was indeed an acceleration of the  southern realignment that has been happening in American politics for decades.

With the loss of Boyd, taking back the district proved over the next several cycles to be a monumental task. Former State Senator Al Lawson, who had almost beaten Boyd in a primary in 2010, challenged Southerland in 2012 but lost by 5%. Obama only got 46% in the district in 2012, winning just the urban Democratic Leon County, majority-African-American Gadsden County, and lean-Democratic Jefferson County.


Meanwhile, Democratic Senator Bill Nelson got 54% in the district in 2012, winning Liberty and Franklin Counties in addition to Obama’s wins, and getting better margins in the other counties.


As such, Nelson’s win serves as an important blueprint for Democrats in the 2nd Congressional District. While the district also voted for Democrat Alex Sink for Governor in 2010, the district typically has a federal bias when it comes to Democratic candidates. On average, Democrats running for state offices manage to get larger shares of the vote than those running for federal offices- the only exception being Nelson.


The main reason for this federal bias seems to be rural voters in the district are hesitant to send a Democrat to Washington. This hesitation has grown as federal elections become less about local issues and instead become proxy wars for the national parties and their leaders.  The counties listed below are the ones which have demonstrated a bias against federal candidates on average.  The chart also shows the average percent federal Democrats under-perform their state counterparts.  More analysis on the federal versus state issue in North Florida can be found here

Calhoun -2.77%
Franklin -3.84%
Gulf -0.34%
Holmes -4.46%
Jackson -2.37%
Jefferson -2.15%
Liberty -5.60%
Madison -0.07%
Taylor -1.81%
Wakulla -4.51%

Nelson’s 54% in the district certainly indicates that Democrats still have a chance in the area, but the path to reclaiming the seat was still considered a daunting task leading into this cycle.

2014:  The Emergence of Gwen Graham

Heading into 2013, there was a great deal of speculation on who would run, or should run, against Southerland in 2014. One daunting issue was that 2014 would be a midterm during Obama’s second term, which historically favors the party out of power. Speculation centered around several local officials in the Tallahassee area. However, one name began to emerge in early 2013: Gwen Graham.

Graham, an attorney who worked for the Leon County School District, began to be floated as a possibility early on. As the daughter of former Governor and Senator Bob Graham, a legend in Florida politics, she seemed like a strong choice for office. However, Graham was fairly unknown in the beginning. There was also a very real threat of a primary challenge, particularly from Al Lawson, that would have likely stopped the candidacy in its tracks.

However, Graham started the campaign at a fever pace, going to Democratic events, meeting voters, and winning over activists and average voters early on. The campaign brought on a talented campaign manager with a strong fundraising background, Julia Gill Woodward, 18 months out from Election Day. The campaign raised over $300,000 in its first fundraising quarter, immediately garnering major attention in the national press and establishing Graham as a formidable candidate for the district. While critics tried to claim Graham was trying to ride on her fathers name, those critics were silenced by her strong
work ethic, impressive fundraising power, and personal likability. Graham, committed to running a true 14-county campaign, wooed crowds in the summer of 2013 across the entire district.

Meanwhile her campaign continued to build a powerful finance team to raise money through the fall of 2013. The campaign hired Elizabeth Davis as its Finance Director and Brendan Olsen as its Deputy Finance Director. With this team in place, the campaign continued to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars at an impressive rate.

In early 2014, the campaign began to build a field team as well, bringing on Jenn Whitcomb, the Obama Regional Director for the region in 2012, as the Field Director. With this unusually early investment in Field, the campaign began registering voters, collecting petitions for ballot qualification, and grassroots communication with voters. The field program quickly established itself as one of the best operations in the nation.

The campaign continued to grow into a juggernaut in North Florida throughout the year. The field operations were poised to surpass that of the Obama campaign of 2012 within the district. Graham’s personal commitment and discipline as a candidate allowed the campaign to continue raising money at an astonishing rate, out-raising Southerland nearly every single quarter. The campaign also brought on Eric Conrad, a seasoned communications guru in Florida, as Communications Director. Graham accomplished early on perhaps one of the hardest tasks for first-time candidates: bringing on smart strong hires and then trusting them to execute.

The campaign and its communications staff came up with what may be the best campaign slogan of the cycle: The North Florida Way. By summer of 2014, when Gwen Graham decided to go on air (and had the airwaves to herself for several months), the slogan was used in every spot. Graham promised to work across the aisle and derided the partisan nature of both Congress and Congressman Southerland. She promised to work for the betterment of the community and to always represent North Florida’s interests in Congress.

This tactic was brilliant. By going on television early and ensuring the voters she was “one of them,” Graham had helped inoculate herself to the eventual attacks that would come from Southerland and his allies, as well as subdue the district’s bias against electing federal Democrats. The eventual attacks that came were predictable– that Graham was just a Tallahassee liberal who would support Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi. Graham pushed back, saying she would not back Pelosi for speaker and argued that new leadership was needed in both parties. Graham also hit Southerland for his partisan voting record, for not voting to end of the Government shutdown, and his vote against the Violence Against Women Act, after he claimed to have supported it.

Southerland did himself no favors when it was revealed he had organized a ‘mens only’ fundraiser for his campaign. When confronted on the issue, Southerland laughed off the concern and asked the reporters if Gwen had, and I am quoting here, had ever gone to a “lingerie party” before. The national press seized the story and Southerland was painted as a sexist. As election day got closer, the national press declared Southerland one of the most endangered GOP incumbents in the nation. Republicans quoted off the record were furious that the seat was in play at all, much less the campaign’s responses to Graham’s attacks. By the time election day came around, everyone knew it would be close.

The Results

Election night was a roller-coaster when it came to Florida’s 2nd District.  Gwen racked up a strong margin as the first returns came in from the eastern region of the district. Leon County counted quickly and at one point Graham had 55% of the total counted vote in the district.

The concern, of course, was the western region and the rural counties. The Graham campaign didn’t need to win the rural counties, they just needed to not get killed in them and mitigate Southerland’s wins. The biggest concern was Bay County, stationed in the west. Bay was Southerland’s home base and it only gave Lawson 27% when he faced off against Southerland in 2012. In fact, in 2012 Bay’s raw vote margin for Southerland had cancelled out the margin Lawson got from Leon (despite Leon’s population being higher). The Graham campaign had hoped to both increase its Leon County margin and narrow Southerland’s Bay County margin. While there were many different paths for the Graham campaign to achieve victory, getting 30% in Bay, 65% in Leon, and slightly better percentages than Lawson and Obama in the rural counties was the most likely strategy for winning.

As the western counties began to come in, it was clear Graham had a real chance of doing just that. Bay’s turnout was only 51%, while Leon’s was 57%. By the time Bay really started reporting, Leon was largely in and was giving Graham 65% of the vote, just where she needed to be. Bay was hovering around 30% for Graham. With the higher support and lower turnout, the Bay margin failed to erase the Leon margin. Graham netted 32,000 votes from Leon, while Southerland netted 22,000 from Bay. This left Graham with a net 10,000 votes. Graham netted an additional 8,000 votes from Gadsden and 800 more from Jefferson.

As the rural counties trickled in, voting for Southerland but not by the margins they had in 2012, the lead began to slowly shrink.  Graham’s improvements in the rural counties made it so that they could not completely erase her lead, and with only a handful of precincts left in rural counties and Graham still leading by 3,000 votes, it became clear Graham would win.  When the final numbers were in, Graham had won by just over 2,200 votes.

Florida Congressional District 2 Results

Map Note:  The margin factors in a write-in candidate, and Jefferson precinct results are election day only.

Graham’s win served as one of the few bright spots for Democrats on election night. In Florida, Democrat Charlie Crist failed to beat Rick Scott in the Governors Race, and lost the 2nd district with only 46% of the vote.  Both candidates won the three Democratic Counties, but Graham had better percents than Crist in every county.

Cd2 Compare

Graham over-performed by 7 points in Bay County.  This is especially notable considering that Graham’s opponent hailed from Bay County.  Crist under-performed Graham across the board, only doing better in select precincts.


Graham’s near-universal improvement over Charlie Crist is also notable for the fact that as a federal Democrat, she had the disadvantage.  The gap shows the strength of Graham and the weakness of Crist.

Crist’s under-performance of Graham was not due to people skipping the Gubernatorial race either.  In fact, more voters were cast in the 2nd district for Governor than for Congress.  Around 4,000 more votes were cast in the Gubernatorial Election in the district.  This number is slightly inflated by the fact that Holmes and Madison split precincts (in districts 2 and 3), so in those precincts, the numbers for Governor are for the whole precinct, not just within the 2nd District.  However, even taking those precincts out, slightly more voters were cast for Governor.  The map below shows the percent of the voters who cast votes for congress as well as for Governor by precinct.

2014 Undervote

As the map shows, a vast majority of precincts had vote totals for congress than were at least 98% of those cast for Governor, indicating few left either race blank.  The green precincts show where more voters were cast for Congress than for Governor. There was no clear partisan pattern in whether more votes were cast for Congress or for Governor.

Despite Graham’s improvement in the margins, there were still many Democratic areas that rejected both Graham and Crist. The map below shows precincts over 50% in Democratic registration, but voted largely Republican.

2014 Southern Democrats

Graham’s win is amazing, but it hasn’t stopped the red slide of Southern Democrats in North Florida just yet.

Looking at a precinct map of Graham’s win and Obama’s loss from 2012, the precinct map is largely the same.  Graham only won a few precincts that Obama lost.  Meanwhile Obama won two precincts Graham lost.

2014 Loyalty

Map Note:  It should be noted that the Madison precinct that voted for Obama but not Gwen is a split precinct, and its Presidential (and any Gubernatorial results) represent the whole precinct, not the section that was in Congressional District 2.  Any comparisons in the 5 or so split precincts in Madison or Holmes are imperfect for this reason.  

The key for Graham wasn’t winning areas the President had lost.  It was simply doing better than him across the board, regardless of the precinct being red or blue.

2014 Gwen Obama Compare

Graham over-performed President Obama across the board in the district. She only under-performed him in scattered precincts.  The precincts where Obama did better were 37% African-American. The loss of support can be attributed to the white voters moving more Republican or higher Republican turnout in those areas.   Graham actually over-performed the President in many African-American areas, particularly in Leon County.  Graham did better than Obama in Tallahassee’s southside, beating the President in precincts that were over 90% African-American.  One particular note, Graham got a higher share of the vote than Obama had in Florida A&M University, a largely African-American college.

Graham’s biggest bases of improvement from Obama were with white voters.  As precincts became whiter, her increase from the President’s percent grew.

White Gwen Gain

Still, Graham’s over-performance with African-Americans was something even Bill Nelson could not do.  Nelson won the district by limiting losses with white voters.  However, he did not get as high of percentages as Obama in the African-American areas.  While Graham did not do as well with white voters as Nelson had, she did better with African-Americans than both Nelson and President Obama.

The scatter-plot below shows Graham (blue), Nelson (red), and Obama (green) percentages by precinct and how they fluctuated as precincts became whiter.  The left end are the least white precincts (essentially African-American) while the right side are the whitest.  As the plot shows, Graham and Obama started off higher than Nelson in the African-American precincts.  As precincts grew whiter, support for all candidates fell.  Graham and Obama fell at a quicker rate than Nelson.  However, Graham did not fall as far as the President.

graham nelson obama white

Graham starting off high with African-Americans and not falling to far with whites were instrumental to her win.

Graham’s improvement of Nelson with African-Americans can be seen in the map below showing where Nelson or Graham performed best.  Nelson, who has long been popular in rural Florida, did better than Graham in most of the rural parts of the district.  However, Graham did better than Nelson in African-American precincts and in several white suburbs in Leon County.  Graham improved over Southerland in swing Leon suburbs like Betton Woods and Waverly Hills, in addition to Republican suburbs like Killearn Estates and Southwood.

Graham and Nelson

Nelson’s strength in the rural regions of Florida date back over a decade, so his over-performance of Graham shouldn’t be surprising.  Nelson’s stronger over-performing areas were in Taylor, Franklin and Liberty; in very low populated precincts.  Meanwhile, Graham’s improvement over Nelson in the well populated suburbs were instrumental in increasing her needed margins in Leon County.

Where Graham succeeded, Crist failed.  Despite being a former Republican, Crist ended up as “just another Democrat” in North Florida.  Crist over-performed Obama in the eastern end of the district, but lost ground further west.  This was especially notable in Bay County.

2014 Crist Obama Compare

Crist lost ground to Obama in all of Bay and in scattered rural precincts.  In addition, he lost ground to Obama in much of the African-American community.  Crist’s losses with whites in Bay and African-Americans throughout resulted in him getting a lower percentages than Obama had in 2012.

Crist’s percentages-by-precinct closely correlates with Obama’s. The red line in the scatterplot below would represent a perfect correlation (Crist gets a certain percentage, Obama has exact same). Nearly all the precincts, and the yellow line representing Crist’s trend, falls close to that perfect correlation line. Overall, whether it was under or over-performing the President, the differences in percentages between the two were minimal.

Crist Obama Scatter

To show again how Graham did better at separating from Obama’s weaknesses in the 2nd district, lets look at a scatter-plot of Graham and Crist percentages compared to Obama’s.

The plot below shows Obama’s percentages by precinct from right to left, and Crist’s (red) and Graham’s (blue) up and down.

Graham Crist Obama

The plot shows a great deal of correlation for both candidates.  Overall their support was closely tied to the President’s support.  However, the big difference is Gwen got a higher percentages in the weak Obama precincts (the bottom left).  Precincts where Crist and Obama might only get 20%, Graham would manage 30%.  Graham over-performed Crist and Obama in the redder precincts.  The gap narrowed as precincts became more Democratic, but Graham managed a narrow over-performance until the they reached the most Democratic precincts.  Those gaps in the red areas were very important for Gwen’s win, as the race came down to margins.

One final piece of analysis in the second district revolves around Nan Rich.  Rich, a liberal, Jewish, former State Senator, did best in the conservative panhandle counties thanks to opposition to Crist.  A vast majority of voters didn’t know who Rich was and their vote for her was a reflection of the conservative Democrats’ opposition to Crist.  Rich got 31% in the second district, higher than her statewide total, winning several precincts.

2014 Rich Crist Precincts 2nd

Rich’s precincts where 42% Democratic and over 85% white.  These were not liberal enclaves, but rather areas filled with very conservative Democrats who had grown disillusioned with the party and voted for the unknown Rich as a protest.  Crist got 20% in those precincts compared to the 26% Graham got.  In fact, as precincts supported Rich by a higher margin, their support for Graham or Crist went down.

2014 Crist Graham Rich

Graham managed to bleed support less than Crist in the heavy Nan Rich precincts.  This stands out as another example of Graham outperforming Crist in the heavily conservative areas.

Field Wins Elections

Field doesn’t get nearly as much attention or money as TV and direct mail do, but it is a critical component of any well-run campaign. While field got more attention than usual in the course of the Obama campaigns, it is still not the fixture of others. Most campaigns use field operations, but often with limited financial resources, or outsource entirely. The former was seen in the Crist Campaign this cycle, where field programs outside of southeast Florida were lacked resources and goals. In fact, the Crist campaign’s lack of presence in North Florida resulted in them losing the district despite Scott’s immense unpopularity with state employees, a major voting block in Leon County.

The Graham campaign, meanwhile, had one of, if not the, largest congressional field programs in the country.  The program included efforts focused on volunteer recruitment, voter registration, persuasion and get out the vote drives during Early Vote and on Election Day. In addition to that, Graham’s campaign focused Vote By Mail, signing up a record number of supports to use that method of voting in CD2.  The campaign was successful in registering over 11,000 new voters in the district.   The campaign’s hiring practices were also commendable.  The field program hired staffers based on skill, knowledge, and how they reflected the communities they would be responsible for working in, with a great deal of diversity throughout the field hierarchy.  The campaign maintained a presence in every county of the district and left no area neglected.  The campaign’s dedication to reaching all voters and community involvement can be seen in Graham doing better in the African-American community than even President Obama.

When looking at the final margins for Graham, just over 2,000 votes, it is clear that if any one piece of this massive operation had gone wrong, Southerland would have prevailed. But the field campaign was a well oiled machine that worked to get out Democratic voters as well as persuade rural whites. Without the field program, Leon’s turnout would have fallen lower. The campaign’s early investment in Bay also ensured Graham got 7 points higher than Crist.

The Graham and Crist numbers truly highlight the importance of field.  Both candidates had good name recognition by election day, ad both has large sums of money on TV and mail.  Crist was known in the area, had won the district in 2006 as a Republican, and had won Leon as an Independent in 2010.  Both Graham and Crist were running against flawed GOP incumbents. Graham’s margins over Crist, and path to victory, was thanks to the well-oiled machine that was its field program.  That cannot be stated enough.


Gwen Graham’s win is important for two reasons.  First, it is a testament to how good campaigns can matter.  Anyone who has worked in campaigns knows the sting of running a good campaign but falling short due to outside circumstance.  The Graham campaign, however, managed to defy the Republican year and the Republican lean of the district to be one of the few Democratic pickups in 2014.  Second, the Graham win has slowed the tide that has been growing stronger in the 2nd congressional district.  The region is still trending Republican.  Crist’s loss in the 2nd district is a reflection of both its lack of investment and a Republican trend.  Republican gains in local offices in North Florida on election night are a reflection of the continuing realignment in the area.  Graham’s win stands completely counter the the growing Republican sentiment in North Florida.  It stands as a testament to what can be accomplished with a strong campaign.  She will need an equally strong operation in 2016.  Demographics and electoral trends can be hard to overcome.  However, as Gwen Graham shows, good campaigns matter.


How and Why Crist lost in Florida

A great deal has already been said about the results of the Florida’s Governor’s Race, While Charlie Crist was considered the slight favorite to win leading up to November 4th, Republican Rick Scott managed to eek out a 1% win.  I have a great deal to say about this result as well.  However, before we get into the postmortem of why Charlie Crist lost, lets take a look at the numbers themselves.

The Numbers of the Loss

Charlie Crist’s goal was simple, close the 62,000 vote gap that Alex Sink had lost by in 2010.  However, things did not go as plan.  A good deal of blame has fallen on Southeast Florida and its low turnout.  However, I feel blame is responsible in other areas as well. Crist lost by around 65,000 votes (numbers may change slightly as the oversees ballots return).  Crist ended up over-performing Democrats in key counties, but badly under-performing elsewhere. Below is a map of Crist’s percent of the vote compared to Obama in 2012 and Sink in 2010.

FL Gov Compare

Crist lost ground compared to Obama almost everywhere except part of the southeast (where Scott was very unpopular and Crist invested a great deal of resources), and North Florida, where President Obama has never been popular.  However, Crist actually under-performed the President in the western edge of the panhandle, most rural counties in the central part of the state, and especially in the I-4 corridor; with the exception of his home in Pinellas.

Compared to Alex Sink, Crist bled support in North Florida at an alarming rate.  I have written about how Democrats have been losing ground in North Florida for over a decade, and Crist’s results furthered that trend.  Crist lost ground in most counties, including the I-4 corridor (except Pinellas and Osceola).  Crist’s gained ground in the Southeast, which was an important goal.  However, the loses elsewhere erased the gains further south.

A good deal of focus of the postmortem has been on turnout.   Again, fingers point to low turnout in Southeast Florida.  However, this ignores that turnout was down in many parts of the state.

2014 Turnout

Turnout was indeed low in Southeast Florida.  However, it was also low in Democratic Orange and Osceola, as well as scattered Republican rural counties.  Democrats, however, did manage to increase turnout in most of their blue counties.  The map below show’s increases in turnout since 2010.

2014 Turnout Growth

Turnout was up in Broward, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Hillsborough, and Osceola.  Despite having both Lt. Governor candidates from Miami-Dade, the counties turnout reduced by less than 1%.  Turnout was also down in Leon and Orange.  Orange is problematic considering it is surrounded by turnout increases.  Leon’s fall in turnout speaks to a dramatic failure of the Crist campaign to galvanize state workers behind him.  In 2010, Alex Sink got 67% of Leon County, losing only one precinct.  In 2014, Crist only got 62% while Democratic Congresswoman-elect Gwen Graham got 65%.  Turnout was down in many counties in North Florida, no doubt sparked by voters not liking either candidate.

However, it is a mistake to look at turnout percent increases/decreases in a vacuum.  Between 2010 and 2014, many counties saw mass increases in voter registration thanks to the Obama campaign operations of 2012 and Democratic operations in 2014.

2014 Registration Increase

Turnout increased by over 90,000 in Miami-Dade and Orange, while other blue counties like Leon, Palm Beach, Osceola, and Broward saw 10,000s of new registrants.  In Congressional District 2, the Graham campaign registered over 10,000 new people for 2014.  Increases in registration mean higher numbers must show up to keep turnout percentages on par.  While many blue counties saw turnout percent decreases, they all saw increases in votes cast.

2014 Vote Increase

Only a few counties, all conservative, saw raw votes fall from 2010.  The problem wasn’t that Democrats stayed home.  Yes if turnout was better in the blue counties Crist could have won.  However, he also could have won with the turnout he was given.  The problem was he lost support that Sink had in 2010.

The map below shows where Crist netted votes compared to Alex Sink.  For example:  If a county gave Sink a margin of 12,000 votes and Crist won it by 15,000, then the map below would show Crist’s net as 3,000.

2014 Crist Improve Margin

Crist netted large numbers of votes in Southeast Florida.  He netted 49,000 in Broward alone, another 29,000 in Maimi-Dade, and 22,000 in Pinellas.  Broward and Miami-Dade alone netted him the votes he needed to overcome the Sink deficit.  The problem for Crist was he did not net large numbers in Democrat counties like Orange and Osceola.  Crist actually lost net votes in Democratic counties like Leon, Alachua, and heavily-populated Hillsborough.  Crist netted votes in assorted light Republican counties like Pasco, Hernando and Sarasota, but these were small gains erased by loses elsewhere.  Crist lost over 19,000 votes in Duval and another 10,000 in St. Johns.   Crist’s decimation in the north further erased gains made further south.

Crist’s gains in Orange and Osceola also mean little considering their massive registration increases.  Another way to look at the net vote increases is to see them as a percent of the registration increases.

2014 Margin Increase as Percent

In Broward, Pinellas, Pasco, and Hernando; Crist’s net gains were higher than the increases in registration.  His gains were also modest percentages of the registration increases in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach.  In DeSoto and Monroe, Crist netted votes even when registration fell.  Crist’s problem was his net increases were a small percent of the registration gains in big population centers like Orange and Osceola.  Not only did he not net votes votes in Tampa-based Hillsborough, he lost ground.

In addition to using a map, lets use a scatter-plot to highlight this point. The scatter-plot below shows the increases in registration (top to bottom) and the increases in net votes (right to left).

Scatterplot of Gov2

Broward stands out on the scatterplot, gaining 49,000 votes for Crist after registration increased by just 25,000.  Orange and Miami-Dade under performed considering their registration increase.  Crist’s biggest problem was many counties fell under the block of registration increases and Crist losing net support compared to Sink.

Why Did this Happen?

So we noq know what happened.  The question is, why did it happen?   A great many people have offered their thoughts on why.  Some items are true, others are complete nonsense.  Always, always vet the author of anyone writing these postmortums.  Many have their own personal agenda.

So let me focus on a few key takeaways on what went wrong.  First, a shout out to SaintPetersBlog.  While I have not agreed with everything written on the site, I respect it. Peter Schorsch’s postmortem is the closest thing to reality I have read yet.  Again, I dont agree with every point, but I agree with most.  Anyway here is where I think things went wrong.

Charlie being Charlie
This is something that has been said by countless papers before and since the loss. Charlie Crist’s insistence on doing things his way was a major problem.  It is no secret that Crist-world doesn’t take well to outside opinions and claims that run contradictory to their world view.  This was seen when Bill Hyres (the man who got Bill De Blasio elected in NYC) came on to be campaign manager but was gone before it began.  Another prominent example was when Eric Conrad was brought on for communications but was gone in a week.  In Eric’s case, he went to work for Gwen Graham and craft a message strategy in a seat that went Democratic.  Crist has been known to believe his instincts were greater than they were.  This manifested itself during the campaign when the Crist camaign would not listen to the Florida Democratic Party when it came to strategy decisions.  All those people saying FDP are to blame for Tuesday night either 1) have personal agendas or 2) don’t know the real dynamics that were in play.   The Crist campaign did what it wanted to do, and did not listen to calls for more investment outside of Southeast Florida.

Bad Messaging
I am not a messaging expert, but I do have some thoughts here.

Did you know Rick Scott plead the fifth over 70 times?  Yeah so does everyone else.  The Crist campaign’s focus on Scott’s problems was, in fact, a problem.  No, I am no saying they shouldn’t have attacked Scott.  However, they acted as if Scott was popular and had to be dragged down.  Scott was unpopular when elected, was unpopular when the campaign started, and was unpopular when it ended.  The only thing that changed is Crist got unpopular thanks to a wave of negative attacks.  The problem for the Crist campaign was it waited to long to go on TV and when it did it didn’t focus enough on his positives. This amazing ad featuring Mike Fasano should have been on TV in the summer and in every media market.  However, as SaintPetersblog notes, Fasano was kept away from Crist World for far too long. The campaign had positive ads about Crist, but they were secondary to the attacks on Scott.  If Crist had held his popularity higher up, he would be Governor now.

Halfhearted efforts in I-4
In 2010, Alex Sink ignored South Florida and it cost her.  In 2014 Crist focused like a laser on South Florida at the expense of everywhere else.  The Crist campaign put offices in Orange, Hillsborough, and Pinellas; but every account indicates a lackluster effort in the counties.  Major canvassing efforts never came to fruition, offices often with few inside, and a lack of resources for the people there to carry out their goals.  This was the same region where 7 state house democrats were being targeted for defeat.  While many will claim the Florida Democratic Party dropped the ball, I can tell you they did not.  Efforts to get the Crist campaign (which contrary to what people think, was a separate operation from the FDP), to invest more in the Orlando/Seminole region were ignored.  The result was Crist under-performing in I-4.  Orange county was a major source of porblems for Cirst.  His support was lower than Sink’s and four house democrats lost in Orange/Seminole house seats.

Duval County
The same issues for I-4 apply to Duval County.  Crist had offices there, but little else.  No major operation existed.  Keep in mind this is a county that leans Republican but has an African-American Demoratic Mayor, Alvin Brown.  However, Brown, forseeing Crist’s loss, did little to support or help Crist.  Crist ended up losing losing Duval by 19,000 more votes than Alex Sink.

All of North Florida
North Florida is dear to my heart at this point in my political life.  While I grew up in Broward, my time in Tallahassee and the rural surrounding counties have made North Florida a fascination and focus of mine.  That is why it pained me to know that the Crist’s North Florida campaign was drawn on the back of a napkin.  The Crist campaign in North Florida was nearly non-existent.  This on paper might make sense considering it is a red and sparsely populated area.  But it has now been seen what kind of damage can be done.  Crist’s losses in North Florida added up to 10s of thousands votes less than Alex Sink got.  Crist also knew he had a problem in North Florida from the primaries.  Crist did worst in North Florida during his primary against liberal Nan Rich. This was a sign of voter distrust of Crist; something I predicted would happen in North Florida in the primary.  The voters of North Florida gave Rich support despite not knowing her, they just didn’t trust Charlie.  This didn’t mean Crist was doomed in North Florida though.  Bill Nelson and Alex Sink both underperformed in the region against token primaries.  However, both did much better in North Florida in the general election than Crist did.

The problem was Crist’s decision to forgo major investment in the region.  The campaign appointed a North Florida director, Ramon Alexander.  Ramon was a major figure in the Southside of Tallahassee, tied to FAMU, and former candidate for county commissioner in Leon.  Ramon’s ties to FAMU and the African-American churches in Leon and Gadsden indicated the campaign’s main focus was the African-American community.  However, the north Florida operation had little resources.  Meanwhile, rural whites, a vast majority of the voting block, were ignored.  The campaign did not hire a Leon director and open a Tallahassee office until weeks before the election and invested little resources in it.  Efforts into Pensacola were underfunded or non-existent, and those appointed to the area had little experience.  None of this was smart.  The Crist campaign should have invested in North Florida early on.  A director should have been tasked with organizing efforts county-by-county to persuade voters (via canvassing and phone banking) that Crist’s party switch was because the GOP had become to extreme and that he was still the Governor they had supported and liked from 2007-2011.  The North Florida campaign should have had an African-American focus and a rural white focus.  I don’t blame the people put in charge of the North FLorida operation.  They had no money or real investment to work with.  However, the under-performance is clear.  Just look at the Crist support campared to the Gwen Graham support in Congressional District 2.

Cd2 Compare

The same day that Crist lost Congressional District 2, Gwen Graham beat incumbent Steve Southerland to take the seat in congress.  The two campaigns stand as the ultimate example of good versus bad campaigns.  The Gwen Graham victory is the talk of the political world right now.  A Democrat won in a Republican district in a Republican wave year.  The Graham victory is thanks to its disciplined messaging and a field organization that ran like a well oil machine.  Graham overperformed Crist in every county in the district.  Most notable is that Graham overperformed Crist by 7% in Bay County, the home of Graham’s opponent.  It is further notable when considering that based past performances, Democrats running for federal office in most of the counties in CD2 under-perform compared to their state-level Democratic allies.   Below I list the counties of CD2 that on average give federal democrats less support and how many percentages they on average lose simply by being federal candidates.

Calhoun -2.77%
Franklin -3.84%
Gulf -0.34%
Holmes -4.46%
Jackson -2.37%
Jefferson -2.15%
Liberty -5.60%
Madison -0.07%
Taylor -1.81%
Wakulla -4.51%

The main reason Democrats running for federal offices loses this support is because these rural voters do not want to send a Democrat to Washington.  However, in 2014, they were more willing to send Gwen Graham to Washington than they were to send Crist to Tallahassee.

Lack of Coordinated Campaign
Crist may have won if a few things had gone different, but he failed the party that welcomed him with open arms.  The campaign did little to help the state house democrats fighting for their lives in the I-4 corridor.  Instead, the George Sheldon field operations and data targeting did what it could to aid both the Attorney General candidate AND the state lawmakers who were fighting for re-election by focusing on those vulnerable districts.  The Crist campaign did nothing to help vulnerable members by ramping up field operations in these lean-Democratic and swing seats.  The effects of this lack of investment were felt the most in District 49, where Democrat Joe Saunders lost re-election.  This was the most Democratic seat (59% Obama) to fall to Republicans.  However, the mistake was thinking this district was not in play.  The district’s heart if the University of Central Florida.  In addition, it is 30% Hispanic.  Students and Hispanics, two Democratic constituencies less likely to vote in midterms.  While Obama got 59%, Crist fell all the way to 52.8% in the district, and Saunders lost by just a few hundred votes.  The loss is partly thanks to the wave year.  However, turnout, thanks in part to lack of focus by the Crist campaign, was another factor.  Turnout was only 40% in the district, and the precincts that supported Saunders the most had lower turnout.

saunders turnout

I have zero idea what the Saunders campaign did or planned for, so it is unfair of me to make assumptions about the campaign’s operations.  What I do know is that the campaign that would have been the most well equipped to increase turnout would have been the Gubernatorial Operation.  However, as I have stated, the Crist efforts in I-4 were weak at best.  Saunder’s paid the price for the top of the ticket of his party dropping the ball in Orange County.


A great deal more could be said about what happened with the Crist campaign.  This is the basics and it is data-heavy as always.  A great deal will be said about the loss in the future.  Myself and others are still digging through data to find out what went wrong on a more person-by-person level.  However, it is important to remember, as we read different accounts, to always question the people doing the writing.  Articles that turn their fire on the Florida Democratic Party are from people who have an interest in upheaval in that same party.  The blames falls on the Crist campaign itself.  It’s problems were well known for months, but sometimes little can be done when the campaign won’t listen.  The Crist campaign will stand out as a great opportunity lost and a good example of why good campaigns matter.

The Local Elections Florida Democrats Should be Watching

Democrats across Florida are eager to see the results of the Governors Race between Charlie Crist and Rick Scott.  In addition to the Crist v Scott match up, Democrats are invested in the Attorney General Election between George Sheldon and Pam Bondi, two major congressional races, and a handful of state house and senate elections.  Democrats are hoping to win the Governor and Attorney General elections, knock off Steve Southerland in CD2, and keep Republicans from getting a veto-proof majority in the state house and senate.  All of these races are important.  However, there are also a great deal of local races that Democrats should have an interest in.  Below are a listing of county commission and constitutional officer elections that I believe Democrats should keep an eye on Tuesday night.

It should be noted that this list if not of every Democrat versus Republican race at the county level.  Rather, this list if of the races that have implications for control of commissions, or serve as a sign of party strength.  Democrats have strong local bases of support in rural and North Florida Counties that are being increasingly threatened. Meanwhile, Democrats are hoping to make gains in blue counties that they have traditionally under-performed in at the local level.

Below are maps of the partisan control of county commissions and constitutional officers (tax collector, property appraiser, clerk of courts, supervisor of elections, sheriff, and superintendent) in Florida.  The data in the images is current up until December 2013.  You can read my article on local party strength in the link.  In addition, I invite you to read my article on the southern realignment coming to North Florida. The article includes looks at Republican growth in North Florida at a state and local level.

County Commissions

Constitutional Officers

Now onto to the races Democrats should be watching…. (Disclaimer note:  I have done work for the Democrats running in Escambia 4 and Manatee At-Large).


Bradford County Commission: Districts 2 and 4
Bradford County still serves as one of the ancestral Democratic rural counties of Florida.  It is 45% Democratic registration and currently has an all-Democrat County Commission and all constitutional officers are Democrats.  However, the county is a reliable red vote in most statewide and legislative elections.  Bradford might elect its first Republican commissioner in district 4, where Republican Helen Hersey has put $13,000 of her own money into an election that normally has only a few thousand spent.  She is challenging incumbent Danny Riddick, who has raised $3,300.  If Riddick wins, it will be thanks to incumbency and the ancestral Democratic nature of the county.  In district 2, Incumbent Doyle Thomas has a Republican opponent who has raised $2,500 to Doyle’s $1,400.  If both Democrats win, then Bradford’s local-democratic strength stands.  If both were to lose, it would be a sign of a growing GOP strength down-ballot.  An important note, Bradford commissioners are elected in single-member districts.  Only a handful of votes will decide the winner.

Broward County Commission District 4
Broward County is the great blue savior of Florida.  The county is overwhelmingly Democratic and the second largest county in the state, always ready to pad the margins of statewide Democrats.  Broward’s only issue has been turnout in midterm elections.  Turnout in 2010 hovered around 40%.  However, Democrats are optimistic by increased early voting and absentee voting in 2014.  Democrats used to control all 9 county commission districts.  However, Republican Chip Lamarca won District 4 in 2010 over Democratic Incumbent Ken Keechl.  Lamarca benefited from a bad year for Democrats and the fact the district, which covers the Republican coastline of the county, leaned GOP — having voted for McCain in 2008.  However, the Democratic commissioners redrew the lines in 2011 as part of redistricting and made Lamarca’s district more Democratic by adding in African-American precincts.  The new district gave Obama 53% in 2012.  Lamarca is facing Keechl again, and has out-raised the Democrat $400,000 to $100,000.  However, Keechl is framing the race as D v R, and it might be enough to take back the district if he can ride Crist’s coattails.  Lamarca stands as a threat to Lois Frankle for CD-22, and his ouster must come sooner rather than later.

Calhoun County Commission:  Districts 2 and 4
Democrats still dominate in Calhoun County.  The couny is 65% Democratic, but votes overwhelmingly Republican for state, federal, and most legislative elections.  Cracks in the Democratic monopoly at the local level have begun to show in 2012.  Calhoun elected NPA candidates to the Sheriff, Supervisor of Elections, Clerk of Court, and Superintendent positions.  The Clerk of Court winner was a registered Republican while the others were Democrats.  In addition, an NPA candidate (registered as a Democrat) was elected to the county commission.  The election of NPA, personal registration aside, shows that the voters are no longer willing to just elected Democrats to these seats.  There is still no strong local Republican Party, and the election of NPAs shows voters wavering on Democrats at the local level.  The fact that Democrats are also running as NPAs may represent a discontent they have with being identified with the national party.  A similar phenomenon occurred in Dixie county a few years ago where an all Democratic commission shifted to an majority NPA commission.  In 2014, two commission seats, 2 and 4, have Dem versus NPA challengers.  NPA wins would signal a further eroding of Democratic strength down-ballot in Calhoun.  Commissioners are elected in single-member districts.

Escambia County Commission:  District 4
Escambia County, home to Pensacola, would normally be seen as a prime opportunity for Democrats.  However, in Escambia District 4, a dogfight is going on between Democrat Mike Lowery and incumbent Commissioner Grover Robinson.  The district sits on the counties eastern border, overlooking Escambia Bay.  The district is home to some small Democratic strongholds and many upper-income Republican suburbs.  The district gave Obama less than 40%, but backed Democrats for Tax Collector and Property Appriaser with over 60%.  Lowery has hit Robinson for his close ties to BP, whose oil spill is still fresh in the mind of local residents. Robinson’s lack of support for environmental concerns and water quality have hurt him with beach-side residents who care about their view remaining pristine.  Lowery, meanwhile has run an aggressive door to door ground game to persuade voter.  In addition, he kept the money fight essentially tied with Robinson.  While top of ballot democrats will fail in Escambia 4, Lowery may well squeeze through.

Franklin County Commission:  District 2
Franklin County has one county commission district advancing to the general election, district 2, held by Democrat Cheryl Sanders.  Sanders faces a Republican in a eastern rural district that gave Obama 31% and Bill Nelson (who won the county) 38%.  The Republican Party of Franklin County gave Sanders’ GOP opponent, Mark Nobles, $2,500, showing a commitment to the race.  Both candidates have raised just over $3,000.  Franklin only has one GOP commissioner and an all-Democrat slate of constitutional officers.  However, this rural panhandle county counties to trend red.  If Sanders loses, it will be a further sign of growing GOP strength down-ballot in North Florida.

Glades County Commission:  Districts 1 and 4
Two commission districts are up in Glades county, and the winners could determine control of the commission.  This rural, agriculture-dominated county in south-central Florida as been leaning Republican more and more, voting against Obama by a wide margin and rejecting Bill Nelson after giving him previous support.  While Democrats are 52% of the voters, they, like their north Florida counterparts, are moving further away from the party of their ancestors.  However, the commission was 4-1 Democrat and all its constitutional officers are Democrats.  A vacancy on the commission allowed Governor Scott to appoint another Republican and a special election is being held in November to fill the remainder of the term. If Republicans hold the seat for the special election (district 1) and pick up district 4, where the incumbent Democrat is retiring, they will have 3 of the 5 seats.  Commissioners are elected county-wide.  Fundraising reports are unavailable, but money is likely low in this rural county.

Gulf County Commission:  District 2
If there is one county commission most at risk of falling to Republicans, its Gulf County.  Gulf, like its North Florida neighbors, is a ancestral Democratic County that has been growing redder on the top of the ballot.  The county is 51% Democratic, but rarely gives its votes to federal, state or legislative Democrats anymore.  Gulf only gave Democrat Bill Montford 51% of the vote in 2012 in the State Senate race; even while Montford beat an unknown opponent with 72% district-wide.  Four of the six constitutional officers are Republican and the county commission is currently 3-2 Democrat.  In the August primaries, one Democratic commissioner lost his primary.  In the general election, incumbemt Ward McDaniel faces a tough fight from Republican Tom Semmes.  Ward has only raised $2,000 (all his own money) while Semmes has $9,000.  The Gulf Republican Party gave Semmes $3,000.  Ward McDaniel seems like a clear underdog in this northern Gulf district that only gave Obama 25% of the vote.

Hillsborough County Commission:  At-Large
Despite the fact Hillsborough voted for Obama in both 2008 and 2012, and Democrats holding a 60,000 person registration advantage, Republicans control the county commission by a 5-2 margin.  Democrats do, however, control 3 of the 5 elected constitutional officers in the state.  This year, a GOP incumbent is retiring from one of the at-large seats and Democrats have a strong candidate to win with.  Democrats have nominated Patricia Kemp, a prominent lawyer and former Hillsborough Dems chair.  Republicans have nominated Al Higginbotham, who serves on the county commission as the representative for district 4, which represents eastern Hillsborough.  Higginbotham is termed out from his district and has opted to run for the countywide seat. However, Higginbotham’s past conservative votes (his district was more Republican than the county) are being used against him,  Higginbotham has used his ties to raise over $360,000 dollars to Kemp’s $100,000.  Kemp may win thanks to party ID and Crist’s lilikelihoodo win the district.  Winning this seat should be a priority for Hillsborough Democrats.

Jackson County Commission:  Districts 2 and 4
Jackson County has never elected a Republican to local office in its history.  Ever.  Or so I am told.  It is another one of the North Florida ancestral Democratic counties that have been growing redder at the top of the ticket.  With a large African-American population in its north and rural white Democrats in the south, the county is 60% Democratic in registration.  The large African-American population allowed Obama to manage 36% in 2012 while Bill Nelson got 46%.  All six constitutional officers are Democrats and the 5 member board are all Democrats.  In district 2, Incumbent Edward Crutchfield is in a heated 2010 rematch against Republican Clint Pate.  Pate nearly knocked off Crutchfield in 2010, losing 53% to 47%.  Pate is aiming to finish the job, and has raised $15,000 to Crutchfield’s $7,000.  Pate has also received $4,000 from the Jackson County Republican Party.  The district gave Obama around 33% of the vote.  In district 4, vacated by retiring commissioner Jeremy Branch.  Democrat Avin Roberts has out-raised his Republican opponent Eric Hill — $18,000 to $2,200.  Three NPA candidates are also running.  The districts is dark red, giving Obama around 24% of the vote.  However, the Democrat appears better positioned over his Republican challenger.  Either district going GOP would be a major event in the political history of Jackson County.

Lafayette County Commission:  Districts 2 and 4
Lafayette is ANOTHER one of the rural, North Florida, ancestral-Democratic counties that is fighting off growing Republican sentiment further down-ballot.  The district is solidly Republican at the top of the ballot but retains an all Democratic commission and all Democrat constitutional officers.  Democrats make up 65% of the registration in the county. The August primaries were intriguing, as both Democratic commissioners up for re-election lost primaries with less than 30% of the vote.  The primary winners face Republicans in the General.  Information is scarce, so it is hard to say if both commissioners lost due to controversies or other reasons.  Republican wins would be another sign of cracks in decades-long democratic dominance in local contests in North Florida.

Liberty County Commission and Superintendent
Liberty County is perhaps the ultimate of the North Florida ancestral-Democratic counties.  The county gave Obama less than 30% of the vote, yet is over 80% Democratic in registration.  Liberty swings between red and blue for Governor and state legislative races, even giving Bill Nelson its votes in 2012. However, its Republican-lean is clear in most elections.  The county has an all-Democrat commission, and until 2012 all its constitutional officers were Democrats.  Liberty elected an NPA over the Democrat for Sheriff in 2012, marking the first crack in the local Democrat monopoly.  Now in 2014, commission seats feature Dems versus NPAs.  Both races show neither side with major money advantages (no candidate has raised up to $3,000).  On the same ballot, a special election for Superintendent features three NPA candidates and one Democrat, David Summers.  The Democrat would likely be favored, except he has raised the least money — $700 to the top raising NPA, Kathy Nobles,’ $4,100.  Like Calhoun County, local Republicans are unorganized and NPAs often serve as an opposition or alternative to the Democratic Party.

Manatee Commission At-Large
Manatee County is rarely on the radar of political  observers.  The county is part of the Republican suburban coast of southwestern Florida.  However, Manatee is less Republican than its southern neighbors; 42% Republican, 32% Democrat, 26% NPA.  The county gave Obama 43% and gave Nelson 49% — a plurality win over Connie Mack.  The Crist campaign is no doubt hoping for a win or strong showing in Manatee, as it servers as a suburb for Pinellas, Crist’s home county.  In the at-large county commission race, Democrat Terry Wonder faces off against Republican incumbent Carol Whitmore.  Whitmore has far out-raised Wonder, $25,000 to $100,000, but the Democrat is running a fierce ground game.  Manatee has a large batch of NPAs and moderate Republicans for Wonder and Crist to pull from, making the numbers in Manatee worth watching.

Orange County Commission and Clerk of Courts, Amendment C
The only Republican Constitutional Officer in democratic Orange County (home to Orlando) is Clerk of Court Eduardo “Eddie” Fernández, who was appointed to the post in 2013 by Governor Scott when Lydia Gardner passed away.  Fernandez is now running for the post in a special election to fill the last two years of the term.  The Democrat running is County Commissioner Tiffany Moore Russell.  The race has attracted huge sums of money, with both candidates raising $220,000.  Local Democrats hope to retake this position for their party and dent the political rise of the 33 year old Fernadnez.  Orange county is a very diverse county:  46% white, 27% Hispanic, and 20% African-American. The Hispanic voters of Orange lean Democratic, but no doubt Fernandez hopes to win over many of those voters while Russell, who is African-American, hopes to consolidate her base of African-Americans and Democratic whites.

Another high profile race is for Orange County Commission.  Orange county is one of a few counties in the state that do non-partisan elections for county commissioners.  The result has been a 6-1 Republican controlled commission.  The race for district 2 (Northwest Orange) has been a heated affair between Democrat Alvin Moore and Republican Bryan Nelson.  Moore, the vice-chair of Eatonville, has raised $168,000.  Nelson, a state representative, has raised $218,000.  Both political parties have backed their respective candidates, helping each raise money.  Obama got 57% of the vote in the district, so the Democrat SHOULD be favored.  However, since candidates don’t have a party label next to their name, Moore and Nelson cannot rely on standard party line voters.

This brings us to the last major issue for Orange County.  Amendment C would change the Orange Charter to make county commissioners elected with partisan affiliation.  This is supported by Democrats but opposed by Republicans.  Another measure, Amendment D, would make the constitutional officers (who are elected in partisan elections) non-partisan and impose term limits.  Democrats oppose D, while Republicans support it.

Osceola County Commission:  Districts 2 and 4
Osceola has become more Democratic over the last several election cycles thanks to a growing Hispanic population.  The county is currently 47% Hispanic and gave Obama over 60% of the vote in 2012.  Most of the counties population is in its northern end, just south of Orange County.  The county elects commissioners At-Large and is 2-3 Republican.  Two Republican commissioners are up this year  Democrat Viviana Janer is challenging Republican incumbent John ‘Q’ Quinones in district 2, while Democrat Cheryl Grieb is challenging Republican incumbent Frank Attkisson in district 3.   In both instances the GOP incumbent has ourtaised the Democrat.   Quinones has raised over $100,000 to Janer’s $30,000, while Attkisson has raised over $120,000 to Grieb’s $50,000.  Quinones is fairly popular (last I checked) in Osceola and is likely to hold on, while the Attkisson v Grieb race is very heated.  Attkisson recently caught flack for trying to replace “Republican” with “Rep” (which could easily be thought of as Representative) in the disclaimer of his mailers.   Attkisson clearly thinks his Republican affiliation may be a problem in a blue county. There is also a concern from Democrats in the race that Nelson Perez, a Hispanic NPA candidate, is being used to siphon off democratic voters

The district 2 race had a shakeup when Janer was fired from her job at at Marriott when she refused to drop out of the race against Quinones, who had received contributions from Marriott International.  The story could give symptahy to Janer; whether it will be enough will be seen Tuesday.  Democrats should be working to take at least one of the seats and gain control of the commission in a county that is becoming bluer with each cycle.

Palm Beach County Commission:  District 4
Boca Raton is home to the hot county commission race for Palm Beach this year.  Republican incumbent Steven Abrams is facing off against Democrat Andy O’Brien.  The district swings, giving Obama 49% and Bill Nelson 56%.  O’Brien has lent his campaign $100,000, which covers most of his money spent, while Abrams has raised well over $200,000.  Abrams is a favorite to win, but look to see how O’Brien does if Crist beats Scott big in the district.

Pinellas  County Commission:  At-Large and District 4
Pinellas’ county commission is made up of four members elected from districts and three seats elected county-wide.  If there is a single county commission district Democrats should win in 2014, its the Pinellas At-Large election.  In 2012, Democrats knocked off two of the Republican At-Large commissioners in high profile match-ups on the same day Obama and Nelson comfortably won the county.  The wins reduced the GOP majority on the commission to 4-3 and a win on Tuesday for Democrats would give them control of the commission.  In the at-large election, Democrat Patricia Gerard has raised $200,000 to go against Ed Hooper, who has raised $240,000.   Hooper, a term-out state representative, beat incumbent Republican Norm Roche in the August primary to advance to the general election.  The race has been high profile and with Crist expected to win Pinellas by a strong margin, Gerard should be in a good position to win.  A lose for Gerard should make Pinellas Democrats look hard at themselves when it comes to party building.

In addition to the at-large race, their is an election for Pinellas District 4, which is the northern part of the county.  Both candidates, Democrat Mark Weinkrantz and Republican Dave Eggers, have raised around $80,000 and if Crist wins this more Republican area, Weinkrantz could pull out a win.  However, I expect Eggers to win in this suburban Republican-friendly district with a degree of cross-over support from Crist voters.

Taylor County Commission: District 4
You’ve heard it before in this article, Taylor is one of the ancestral Democratic, North Florida rural counties that votes Democrat down-ballot but is growing more red further up ballot.  Taylor is so Republican that it barely gave its votes to Democrat Bill Montford in the 2012 Senate race against underfunded, unknown Republican John Shaw.  Shaw’s entire platform was to legalize hemp, and that Taylor gave Shaw 49% of the vote and only gave moderate, rural-raised Bill Montford 51% says just how Republican this county is becoming.  Taylor maintainsa 4-1 Democratic County Commission and all its constitutional officers are Democrats, for the moment.  This year, the Democratic commissioner for district 4, which is northern Taylor, is up for re-election.  Democrat Pam Feagle has raised $2,000 to her GOP opponent, David Woods’, $1,000.  The district only have Obama 24% of the vote.  If Feagle falls, it will be another sign of growing GOP strength down-ballot in North Florida.



Tomorrow night’s election results will have far-reaching implications for the state and county.  However, the importance of the local races cannot be underestimated.  Republican gains in North Florida will be a sign of growing GOP strength in the region.  Meanwhile, Democratic wins in Broward, Orange, Pinellas and Osceola will show Democratic strength at the top of the ballot in the urban counties is beginning to work its way down-ballot.  Wins at the local level also allow the parties to build benches for higher office.  Hang tight folks, a lot of elections to watch on Tuesday.

Sam Brownback’s Conservative Utopia Collapses: A study of Kansas Politics

By 2010, Sam Brownback had served as a Senator for Kansas for 14 years.  The deeply conservative Republican was much more visible than his Senate counterpart, Pat Roberts.  Brownback had been written up by The Washington Post, New York Times, Rolling Stone, and countless other publications.  Brownback served as a key leader of the Christian Right in America.  His stringent opposition to gay rights and abortion endeared him the church crowds.  With Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum’s defeat in the 2006 midterms, Brownback became the de-factor leader of the evangelical hard-right in the US Senate.  Brownback even made a brief run for President in 2008 to push his issues.  Brownback could have likely served in the Senate as long as he desired, pushing his conservative vision.  However, Brownback had other plans for his legacy.  The Senator, who’s term was up in 2010, opted to run for the Governorship of Kansas.  Brownback decided to take his brand of conservatives to the state he represented in DC.   Ironically, Brownback’s decision to run for Governor, and his subsequent administration, has permanently damaged his legacy in Kansas.

Kansas as a Three Party State

Before delving into Brownback’s Gubernatorial administration, lets take a look at the complex politics of Kansas.

Casual observers of Kansas see it as just another Republican farm-belt state in the middle of the country.  However, Kansas politics are much more complicated than they seem.  The state has a long history of infighting within the Republican Party.  Countless books and papers have been written on the subject, including the famous What’s the Matter With Kansas.  The divide is between two key groups:  Evangelical Conservatives and Social/Fiscal Moderates.   The Evangelicals are pro-life and insist on low taxes and spending.  The Social and Fiscal Moderates are often pro-choice, or modestly pro-life, and favor higher taxes if needed for programs like education funding.  In many states, the moderate factions of parties are suppressed.  However, in Kansas, the moderates ruled the state party for many years.  In fact, Sam Brownback’s election in 2010 made him the first Conservative Republican governor of Kansas in decades; every other Republican had been a moderate.   For the purposes of this history, I am focusing on the 1990s and forward.

Beginning in 1990s, moderates controlled the state GOP and had done so for some time.  However, evangelicals were beginning to work their way into the state GOP operation in preparation for a conservative revolt.  The first shots were fired when the moderate Governor, Mike Hayden, was challenged in the GOP primary.  Hayden was a pro-choice Republican who suffered from the state changing they way it evaluated property tax estimates.  The results were a sharp rise in property taxes in Kansas.  Nestor Weigand, a Realtor and pro-life, anti-tax advocate, challenged Hayden.  The incumbent only won by 2% in the primary.


Hayden was weakened by the challenge and subsequently lost the general election to a pro-life Democrat, Joan Finney, who served as the state treasurer at the time.


Conservatives had damaged Hayden and cost their party the Governor’s mansion.  They did not stop, however, and orchestrated a takeover of the state party in 1994, seizing control of the state party and electing a conservative chairperson.   However, that same year, Bill Graves, the moderate Republican secretary of state, won the primary and general election to become governor.  The conservative growth, however, continued into 1996.  When Senator Bob Dole resigned the Senate to run for President, Governor Graves appointed his moderate Lt Governor, Sheila Frahm, to fill the vacancy.   However, Sam Brownback, who had been elected to congress in 1992, challenged Frahm from the right in the special election primary and won.

1996 Primary

Brownback was closely affiliated with the conservative evangelicals and his win further stressed divisions in the party. The State GOP Chair and Governor Graves had an icy relationship. However, the party did its best to put their issues behind them in late 1996 for the Presidential Election. However, the good will would not last long. In 1998, David Miller, the GOP Chair, a member of the conservative faction, challenged Governor Graves in the primary. Graves, benefiting from a strong economy and high popularity, easily beat back Miller with over 70% of the vote. In addition, the GOP moderates took control of the state party in the leadership elections in January of 1999.

By 2002, the conservatives were again trying to seize control.  Meanwhile, the state GOP, under control of moderates, tried to open primaries to NPA voters (which would have likely boosted moderate Republican wins).  In 2002, Graves was termed out, and both sides competed for the Governor’s mansion.  The primaries in 2002 saw conservative versus moderate battles in several primaries.   The primaries for Governor and Attorney General drew the most attention, with conservatives winning in both.  The primaries saw Senator Brownback supporting a slate of conservatives, while outgoing Governor Graves and Senator Pat Roberts backed more of the moderates.  On the Gubernatorial side, conservative Tim Shallenburger won the GOP primary thanks to split moderate opposition.


The primaries were bitter and caused problems for the Republicans heading into the General election.   In the attorney General Election, very conservative Republican Phill Kline narrowly beat the Democrat.

2002 AG

Then, in the Gubernatorial Election, Kansas Insurance Commissioner Kathleen Sebelius beat Shallenburger by 7%.

2002 Gov

Sebelius won with the endorsement of former GOP legislative leaders.  Their endorsement of her proved the moderate faction favored policy and ideology over party loyalty.  A key reason for GOP support for Sebelius was her commitment to education funding.  Sebelius’ win, thanks to a split Republican party, was another culmination of the inter party war that has been raging for decades.  Two years later, the conservatives won control of the state party. They elected Shallenburger chairbut pledged unity with the moderate faction of the party.  However, such unity did not happen. By 2006, a democratic landslide year, more moderate Republicans were backing or running as Democrats..  Republican Paul Morrison decided to challenge Republican AG Phill Kline as a Democrat, and Kathleen Sebelius tapped a former GOP Chair to be her running mate.

In the attorney General election Phill Kline was damaged by his overzealous attitude toward abortion  Kline drew national headlines for trying to subpoena the names of women who had received abortions.  Kline’s zealous attitude toward abortion and unethical tactics would eventually result in his law license being revoked years later.  In 2006 he faced Morrison, the District Attorney for Johnson County, a large Republican suburb.  Morrison had the backing of Democrats and moderate Republicans, many whom gave to his campaign.  The result was a big lose for Kline.

2006 AG

In the Governor’s race, Sebelius easily won a second term with the backing of even more moderate Republicans than in 2006.

2006 Gov

2008 was a quieter year for Kansas politics, it was a Democratic year, but Republicans held control of the state legislature with little trouble.  However, 2010 marked the start of a conservative revival.   The 2010 midterms were a strong year for Republicans and Kansas conservatives took advantage of the rising Tea Party sentiment to take control of all six statewide offices in the state.  Brownback easily walked into the Governors mansion, facing no serious primary and token general election opposition.  The moderates had less leadership than in the past, many having become Democrats or backed them in recent cycles.  Conservatives also gained a majority in the state house, holding 70 of the 125 seats, with the remaining being held by moderate Republicans or Democrats. With the election of Brownback as Governor, the last moderate institution in Kansas was the state senate.

Brownback’s Governorship

When Brownback became Governor, Evangelical conservatives had high hopes for massive policy shifts in the state.  Brownback wanted to enact more pro-life legislation and slash taxes.  However, Brownback quickly ran in to trouble from the state senate.  Conservatives wanted to enact more right-wing legislation on voting, education funding, union strength, taxes, and abortion.  However, the moderates in the Senate bucked conservatives on several occasions. The fighting got even more heated during the debate over changing the tax code for Kansas. Brownback and the conservatives wanted to drastically reduce income taxes and taxes for almost 200,000 small businesses in the state. The problem was the Governor had no plan to pay for the revenue shortfall that would follow. The state senate rejected the plan 20-20. However, they finally agreed to pass a similar bill to allow a conference committee to work out the differences between the two chambers and take it back to both chamber for a vote. Brownback, however, asked the house to just pass the Senate bill as it was, which included major tax cuts the senate never expected to remain after the conference committee met.  Brownback had the house pass the tax cut bill and signed it into law.  Brownback did not apologize for the trick, and took no steps to deal with the expected revenue shortfall the state would eventually experience. Brownback was unhappy being forced to work with the moderate Senate. He showed that displeasure when he vetoed a bill that would have benefited the oil and gas industry in Senate President Stephen Morris’ district– the bill had pass unanimously in both chambers.  Brownback’s displeasure with the state senate was becoming more and more prevalent, and soon primaries were being rumored for the moderates in the Senate, including Morris.

The threat of primaries derailed redistricting in the state as moderates in the senate tried to pass new legislative boundaries that kept conservative challengers in other districts. The house refused to pass the senate boundaries, and the courts were eventually forced to step in and draw the lines themselves.  By 2012, primaries against the moderate Republicans were in full swing, with Brownback leading the charge.

The Great Purge of 2012

In 2012, several GOP moderates in the senate faced primary challengers.  The primaries became a major money fight, as funds from major PACs poured into the state. Brownback cast the primaries as a referendum on his first two years. While Brownback acted coy at times, he clearly backed the conservative slate while Koch Industries, whom were close allies with Brownback, funded conservative primary challengers. Detailed breakdowns on targeted races can be found here.

Moderate Republicans rallied together and called out Brownback on backing primary challengers.. Former Governor Bill Graves even swept in to aid moderates with endorsements and fundraisers. It quickly became apparent that the primaries were being financed by only a handful of conservative donors.  The  web of donations from conservative groups can be seen below.


The results were a bad night for Kansas moderates.  Eight moderate senators lost their primaries, and four open seats from retiring or redistricted-out moderates fell into conservative hands.  Stephen Morris, the Senate leader, also lost to his primary challenger.

Kansas 2012 Purge

Money had a major factor in the primary loses.  In fact, the map below shows which groups spent in which districts.  The map also dictates which district flipped from moderate to conservative.

Kansas 2012 PurgeMoney

The legend shows which interests spent money in the district.  Conservative and moderate are obvious.  COC means chamber of commerce (backed conservatives) and KNEA was Kansas National Education Association (backed moderates).  In some races only conservative or moderate groups spent money.  However, in many their was spending on both sides.

The last hope for moderates in Kansas was for Democrats to take some of the conservative-gained seats in the general election.  Indeed several primaries Republicans backed the democrats running against their conservative rivals.  However, only one seat flipped to the Democrats in November.  Meanwhile Democrats lost a seat to a conservative Republican.

Kansas 2012 Purge Primary and General

With conservatives now controlling both chambers of the legislature, Brownback could push even more right-wing legislation.  The state has enacted a series of “reforms which include: loser gun restricting, increasing abortion restrictions, increasing restricting on registering voters, cutting arts funding, and throwing people off welfare and food stamps.  However, Brownback has been plagued by the fallout of his tax cuts.  As expected, the revenue shortfall has left state and local budgets grappling to survive.


The results of the revenue shortfall are that Kansas has the fourth highest education cuts in the nation. The shortage of cash for the school districts has been so bad that schools are being force to close.  Brownback has further agitated matters by trying to revamp the court system of Kansas.  Currently, whenever a judicial vacancy opens up, a non-partisan merit committee gives the governor a list of finalists, and the Governor makes his selected from that list.  Brownback argued for changes to the law to allow him to appoint judges of his own choice with Senate approval.  This would have allowed him to make political appointments to the court that would be easily signed off by the conservative senate. The courts have often been very active in Kansas. Lower and higher courts issuing rulings demanding increases in education funding, arguing the legislature is constitutionally-bound to do so, have been a thorn in the sides of conservative. Brownback has pushed pushed through a bill that allowed him to select, and the senate approve, judicial candidates for the lower courts, without input from a merit committee. Any change the appointment of Supreme Court judges, however, would require a constitutional amendment, which is currently stalled.  Brownback’s power-grab with the courts has also sparked concern among voters about the Governor’s respect for separation of powers.

2014 Elections

Brownback’s overreach and the deep financial pains of the state have put Brownback in a very vulnerable position for re-election.  Brownback’s approvals fell into the 30s over a year ago and he received a strong Challenger from Paul Davis, the leader of the state house Democrats.  Davis has led Brownback in most polls over the last year, and currently has an average of a four-point lead.

poll average

Brownback’s unpopularity was also seen when he only managed to get 63% in the Republican primary against an underfunded, unknown businesswoman.  Brownback is also suffering from mass defections from moderate Republicans.  Paul Davis was able to tout the endorsements of 100 current and former GOP lawmakers and officials.

In all likelihood, Brownback will lose re-election on Tuesday.  The GOP divide that has taken down past Republicans is in full play here, and Brownback stands as one of the most unpopular Governors in the nation.  Brownback is also not the only Republican in trouble. Kris Kobach, the conservative Secretary of State, is polling neck and neck with Jean Schodorf, a former Republican moderate senator who lost her primary in 2012 and is now running as a Democrat.  Kobach also faced a primary in 2014 and only managed 64% against a no-name opponent.   In addition, US Senator Pat Roberts is in a neck and neck race with Independent Greg Orman.  It is entirely possible that after election day, all three of these Republicans will have lost their re-elections.  This may seem like a striking development, however, Kansas’ unique politics make it a very real possibility.

What to Watch for on Election Night

Kansas is a very rural state, but it has a few key population centers. The map below shows the raw votes that were cast in the 2010 Gubernatorial Election.

2010 Votes Cast

Johnson County, in the eastern corner, is a key county to focus on.  This moderate Republican suburb voted for Democrats in 2006 and narrowly for Republicans in 2002.  It doens’t need to be won by Davis, but he needs to get into the mid 40s there to have a shot statewide.   The counties moderation and concerns about education funding make it prime territory for Davis as moderate suburban Republicans put their concerns over the state’s dire financial situation ahead of party allegiance.  If Davis actually manages to win Johnson County, he will be in for a healthy win statewide.

Davis needs to replicate the success of Democrats in the 2002 to 2006 era of Kansas politics; gathering moderate Republican support and keeping the Democratic base in line. The map below shows how Democrats and Republicans performed by county in those key years.  I focused on the Governor and Attorney General elections, which are the most comparable to today since they were heavily contested.

Partisan Lean

The dark blue counties voted Democratic in the 2002 and 2006 Governor and Attorney General elections.  The light blue counties voted Democratic in both Governor elections, but did not vote Democrat in the 2002 Attorney General Election — where the Democrat narrowly lost. The light red counties voted Republican in all 2002 races, but voted Democrat in 2006, which saw weak GOP candidates and a blue wave.  The dark red counties voted Republican in all four race. If Davis is to win, he should likely do well in those blue counties on the map.

Kansas will be a state to watch on election night.  National observes are closely focused on the Senate race that became competitive thanks to the missteps of Senator Pat Roberts.  Brownback’s troubles, meanwhile, are years in the making.  Brownback’s arrogance and far-right philosophy may finally doom him politically.  Brownback has repeatedly said he wanted his far-right agenda to be seen as a conservative experiment.  Brownback insisted the far-right legislation would boost Kansas’ economy and prove conservationism was the best court of action.  However, with the budget deep in the red and education budgets being slashed, Brownback’s experiment has clearly failed.  In most other red states, people like Brownback would win re-election regardless of their flaws thanks to pure party loyalty.  However, Kansas’ unique politics make mean Brownback is far from save.  The conservative firebrand helped finance the wins of conservatives in the state house and then in the state senate.  Brownback purged his moderate enemies and built a nice little conservative empire for himself.  However, failing in the polls and seeing members of his own party backing his Democratic opponent; it is clear Brownback’s Conservative utopia is on the brink of collapse.