Despite the verbal wars on social media between their various supporters, the candidates in the Florida Democratic Party Chair race were cordial during a debate hosted by the Florida Legislative Black Caucus in Tallahassee.
Frontrunners Nikki Fried and Annette Taddeo, as well as Broward Democratic Party Chair Rick Hoye and President of the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida Carolina Ampudia delivered no jabs against each other and committed to get behind whoever ended up becoming the next party chair. Democratic strategist Alex Berrios was previously billed as a participant, but he dropped out and has endorsed Fried.
None of them, however, held back about the state of the party.
Fried said the collapse was 30 years in the making. To turn it around, she said the party must stop messaging solely against Republicans, but “make sure that we're giving people a reason to vote for us.” Taddeo said the statewide defeats were due to a lack of year-round investment in the state’s communities of color and young voters. To bring change, she said they have to work on outreach “every day, not just for elections.”
Hoye said the party has been ineffective at fighting attacks levied by Republicans, particularly accusations that the party is socialist. “We just didn’t push back,” he said. Ampudia accused the party of only engaging with its communities when the party wanted something come election time and not listening to the issues that are important to the party’s voters. “That is a very transactional situation. That is the wrong thing to do. It is devaluing our relationship with the community and it actually hurts us more than if we don't show up at all,” she said.
Another topic that came up during the debate was party infighting. Taddeo said “background deals” are how leadership in the party had previously been selected, cutting out the most qualified from positions in the party. Fried said that the progressive and centrist wings of the party should debate, but stop fighting so much as it undermines the party’s outreach under its big tent.
But Ampudia said the party has not done enough to reach all of the people who ideologically fall under the party. “We have actually not done enough reaching every corner of that big tent,” she said. Hoye said all sides of the party coming together is the only way the party can turn around in the state. “We need to come together so we can hit them with the full force of the Democratic Party. That's the only way forward,” he said.
The candidates also gave their best argument for why they would be the best person to chair the party. Both former electeds leveraged their previous elected office experience and involvement as reasons why they should helm the effort to turn the party around, but both agreed that is likely a long road ahead.
Taddeo said the party needs to shape up over the next ten years or risk dealing with Republican dominance for another ten. “We need to plan for the next redistricting" – which won't happen till after the 2030 census – "so what happened in the last redistricting doesn't ever happen again.”
Fried said a turnaround must involve everyone, and they are “making sure that we're fielding candidates in all the races, making sure we're not leaving the Panhandle out, making sure that we're including all of our different factions of our state and truly being a big tent party.”
Hoye said as chair of the Broward County party, he was able to keep the area blue during the red wave last election and return all of the area’s legislators. He said a “data driven, culturally competent plan” to increase voter turnout is the only way to turn things around for the party in 2024, something he believes he should helm.
Ampudia said she has been very critical of the party in the past, but wants to work to build it up constructively. “I want to be that good trouble maker, the one that has a vision and the ideas and the solutions,” she said.
Democrats meet next week in central Florida to decide which of the four will lead the party.