Democratic Party political adviser Steve Schale and Republican consultant Adam Goodman are two of the very best strategists in Florida, so it was entertaining to hear the two pontificating about this month’s election results in Florida on Friday. Speaking at a Tampa Tiger Bay event at Maestro’s restaurant inside the Straz Performing Arts Center on Friday afternoon, Schale had a bit more of an inside look, as he was a close adviser to Charlie Crist’s unsuccessful bid for governor, while Goodman worked on Pam Bondi’s re-election campaign for Attorney General, as well as a handful of local legislative races.
Although both had very specific insights on what happened in Florida this year, they both agreed on what even most casual political observers could tell you: money matters. A lot. And more than ever, post Citizens United.
“He or she who had the most money won elections,” said Schale.”You go back to 2006, the top of the ticket winner has always been the person who spent the most money, whether it was Crist in ’06, Obama in ’08, Scott in 10, Obama in 12, or Scott in 2014. ” And he said money was the deciding factor in the three most contested congressional races in Florida as well, with Democrats Gwen Graham (who Schale also advised) and Patrick Murphy winning their races and the fundraising war, but Joe Garcia losing in his Miami-Dade County re-election bid after being outspent by millions to Republican Carlos Curbelo.
Sounding like a progressive, Goodman said that the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court Citizens United decision had changed the equation in politics, calling it “the most pernicious influence controlling the tenor of the debate.” That decision gave corporations and unions the green light to spend unlimited amounts on ads and other political tools. Specifically, Goodman says the outside money spent in the CD13 race between David Jolly and Alex Sink this past winter demonstrated what happens when so much outside money can be thrown into a campaign, completely taking over the political process, at times even to the detriment of the campaigns themselves (Goodman worked with Jolly in that special election).
Schale said that the fact of the matter is that the Democrats have a problem with the white vote, referring to the fact that Charlie Crist received only 36 percent of that still all important demographic in exit polls. “That’s not a number when whites make up 70-72 percent of the electorate that you’re going to win on,” he lamented, noting that President Obama received 44 percent of the white vote in 2008, and Alex Sink had received 41 percent of the white vote in 2010. “If Crist had gotten the same proportion of the white vote as Sink, we would be having a gubernatorial transition right now.”
But those same demographics slowly are changing in Florida, with the minority vote growing each and every election cycle.
That led to an audience member questioning Schale about why the emphasis on race in politics. “Personally I feel like it’s pandering when Republicans reach out to minority groups and it’s presumptuous and kind of insulting when Democrats do it,” he said.
Schale struggled a bit in his response. “It’s tricky” he responded, saying that in one respect it would be good to move beyond the issue, but he also says it has to be respected. “It’s a numbers game.” Goodman initially responded by bemoaning how much of our politics today involves “class warfare,” something that Republicans often accuse Democrats of fomenting. But he said as a Republican the party is often known for trying to “reach out” beyond their base. “We’re just trying to represent more people than ever before, and all of their interests. And for some reason, it’s considered a sin because the environment has been somewhat poisoned by a lot of people who drive that class warfare card right into the middle of this.”
Schale referred to the fact that this year’s Republican dominance nationally was the fifth straight so-called “wave election,” with one party dominating at the polls, going back to 2006. “The last time we had three wave elections in a row was from 1894 to 1898. So when you think about it, we are in a more combustible voting environment today than we’ve ever been in our history. That’s a really rather remarkable thing.”
Goodman took a more national view in his remarks to the decidedly liberal Tiger Bay crowd, who shouted him down when he began his commentary by assailing President Obama’s executive order on immigration. “Talk about the elections,” former Hillsborough County School board member Candy Olson shouted from a table in the back.
Goodman said that overall, Democrats had no message, no rationale, and a leader they were running away from in Barack Obama, referring specifically to Kentucky Democratic Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes now infamous declaration that she wouldn’t reveal if she had voted for the President in 2012 (but was more than happy to say that she had supported Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Primary in 2008). He praised “powerful messengers” such as successful GOP Senate candidates like Jodi Ernst from Iowa, Cory Gardener from Colorado, and Tom Cotton in Arkansas.
During the Q&A portion of the event, GOP political analyst Chris Ingram asked Schale if he thought Senator Bill Nelson regrets not getting into the race for governor.
After first looking over at this reporter (the only one in the room) and asking if it was on the record, Schale said he asked Nelson in October of 2013 if he was going to run, with the senator saying he would not (but Nelson and his longtime aide Dan McLaughlin continued to occasionally flirt with reporters about the possibility that he might all the way up until the deadline to enter the race in June). Schale said that as much as he respected the senior Democrat in the state, he didn’t think he’d fare any better than Crist did. And he said that it might have played into Governor Scott’s re-election campaign, where he could have made it into an Obama bashing fest, particularly highlighting Nelson’s support for items like the Affordable Care Act.
There has been a considerable amount of soul searching amongst Democrats both in Florida and across the nation in the wake of the GOP dominance in this year’s midterms, angst that Adam Goodman says is misplaced. “Go back to 2006, 2008, 2010, and all the abyss and the written off parties – Oh my God, what are Republicans going to do after 2008? Obama has redefined politics. We’re screwed. 2010, oh my God. What happened to Obama? 2012, why didn’t Mitt win? Obama’s back. 2014, the Democrats are in trouble. They’re in total disarray. 2016 could be a headline that says, ‘We’re back.’….This is a very split country, with very divided views, which leads to a very good dialogue and conversation, which we need.” Goodman says his hopes for a 2016 presidential election would be Jeb Bush v. Hilary Clinton, because “we need people with experience and gravitas.”
Unquestionably the unpopularity of both major political parties is something that the dysfunction in Washington seems to be brewing across Florida and across the country, with more and more voters registering as independent or NPA’s (Non-Party-Affiliated). When asked about the viability of third-parties in the U.S., Goodman said that 96 percent of incumbents were reelected in November. “We need to have choices. In many other democracies, they have more than two choices. I’m proud of being a Republican…competition is good. Let’s compete for ideas….I think this country is yearning for choices, and if they can’t find it in the two parties, they’re very willing to consider a third (party).”
Schale said the challenge with third parties in the presidential sweepstakes is the electoral college. “It’s really easy to get to 270 with two people. It’s really hard to get there with three people. ” And he said that even with more independent voters, there’s still generally only around 5 percent or so that are undecidable voters.
Perhaps the sassiest question came from former Tampa City Council member Linda Saul-Sena, who said that while it’s fairly assumed that Bob Buckhorn will run for governor in 2018, “Would you advise him to run as a Democrat or a Republican?” (Saul-Sean served with Buckhorn on the City Council in the late 90’s and early aughts). Goodman said Democrats need candidates like him to be successful in statewide elections going forward.