Vice chairs discuss the highs and lows of the midterm contests
Republicans won the biggest prizes locally and statewide in 2018, including the governor’s mansion, a U.S. Senate seat and two congressional seats that include parts of Sarasota County.
But Sarasota County Democratic Party Vice Chair Kevin Griffith told the Sarasota Tiger Bay Club Thursday that while Florida Democrats did not hit a “grand slam,” they still got on base.
Read more: Complete Election 2018 coverage
“What we saw was more like a double,” Griffith said, using a baseball analogy to describe the party’s performance this year.
Griffith noted that Democrats made gains in both chambers of the Legislature, won the state agriculture commissioner race and helped pass state constitutional amendments supported by the party, most notably the Amendment 4 initiative that automatically restores voting rights for most felons who complete their sentences.
At the local level, Democrats also re-elected state Rep. Margaret Good to a seat that was held by a Republican in recent years and helped pass a county charter amendment that changes how county commissioners are elected and should make Democrats more competitive in some commission races.
Yet the blue wave that engulfed many congressional districts nationwide and flipped control of the U.S. House of Representatives was not enough to protect Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson or propel a Democrat into the Florida governor’s mansion for the first time in two decades, leading Griffith to concede that Florida remains a “very thin pro-Trump state.”
“The question all the pundits will be asking and the voters will decide in 2020 is has Donald Trump reached his peak?” added Griffith, who argued that the state has reached “peak Trump” and the president won’t be able to do as well in 2020.
Griffith and Sarasota GOP Vice Chair Jack Brill participated in a Tiger Bay panel discussion Thursday that focused on the 2018 election.
Moderator Kevin Cooper noted that midterm elections are viewed as a referendum on the president.
“If that’s the case, if you believe that or you don’t, what does that say about the state of Florida today?” asked Cooper, the president and CEO of the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce.
Florida saw an unprecedented three statewide races that were so close this year they triggered an automatic recount.
Brill said Florida has “become very much a purple state” and predicted a “very, very aggressive presidential re-election” effort for Trump in Florida, a state that could be decisive for the 2020 presidential race.
At the local level, a ballot measure to move the date of Sarasota city elections passed despite opposition from the Democratic Party and the change to how Sarasota County commissioners are elected passed despite opposition from the Republican Party.
“Both of you lost,” Cooper said. “Is that a sign of disconnect with your own party’s voters? Or did you not have your finger on the pulse?”
Brill said the Sarasota GOP was slow to react to the single-member district initiative, which will make it so that only voters within the boundaries of each commission district can vote on that race. But he also alluded to the fact that most of the amendments at the statewide and local levels passed.
“I honestly believe a lot of people, they got down to the charter amendments and did yes, yes, yes all the way through,” Brill said.