“We’ve been killed since 2000,” Diaz told POLITICO, citing the tightly contested presidential election where George W. Bush narrowly edged out former Vice President Al Gore. “It was a real mess. My mission – my push – from day one is that this will never happen again.
The Democrats’ decision to pool funds to kick off the organizing effort can also be seen as a signal to outside donors and domestic Democrats not to give up on a state where the only statewide winner since 2012 is the current Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried. Diaz said it marked the first time Democrats had launched a coordinated campaign, which he said usually doesn’t kick in until after the primary.
“This is the year we push back,” Diaz added. “Let’s stop being so pessimistic here.”
To justify his optimism, Diaz recalled the last midterm elections where Gov. Ron DeSantis won by just over 32,000 votes and former Gov. Rick Scott defeated incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) In the race for the US Senate by just over 10,000 votes. He said part of the goal would be to send Democratic organizers to all 67 counties to narrow the GOP slack even in Republican strongholds. He also said Democrats were hampered in 2020 by Covid-19-related lockdowns where they didn’t do direct voter outreach.
“We’re not in Mississippi, we’re not in Alabama, we’re in Florida,” Diaz said. “It’s still a purple state. You have to do the work.”
The odds, however, look formidable for Democrats, who have lost their long-standing edge in voter registration in the state and have been significantly outmatched by the Republican Party, legislative leadership committees and DeSantis.
The latest available voter registration figures show Republicans have an advantage of more than 111,000 over Democrats in a state that has more than 14 million active registered voters. President Joe Biden is also underwater in the state and could be a drag on other Democratic candidates.
DeSantis bragged at a Leon County Republican Party fundraising dinner last week that the GOP had the upper hand heading into the fall and would likely even compete for legislative seats now held by Democrats.
“Florida is no longer a swing state, Florida is a red state,” DeSantis said.
Republicans say they have set up a ground operation that has been in place for six years now and have signed up with more than 30,000 volunteers and knocked on more than 150,000 doors so far over the course of this cycle. DeSantis has also made it a priority to ramp up voter registration efforts during his time as governor.
“Democrats can choose when to pay attention to Florida, but Republicans have continually invested in the state and its voters,” Republican National Committee spokeswoman Julia Friedland said.
The money used to pay for “Blue Shift Florida” comes from contributions from the party as well as the representative. Val Demings (D-Fla.), who is running for the U.S. Senate, the three Democratic gubernatorial candidates, the leadership committees associated with House and Senate Democrats, as well as the progressive outside group Florida Alliance.
“It’s a recognition finally that we’re in this together,” Diaz said. “Everyone at the table is required to invest. Everyone gets a number.
Diaz acknowledged that while the effort is expected to cost $15 million, he has no commitments for the full amount yet, but that the bulk of the money has been pledged.
The outreach effort draws praise from Demings, as well as gubernatorial hopeful Fried. charlie christ (D-Fla.), and other notable Florida Democrats such as Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
“I’m proud to work hand-in-hand with Democrats across the state to build a bilingual, grassroots movement that will take back Florida,” Demings said in a statement. “We are fighting from the Panhandle to the Keys, leaving no community untouched and no voter behind in our fight to protect Florida families, protect constitutional rights and elect people committed to this fight, up and down the ballot.”