Florida Democrats outraise Republicans as leaders shift tactics

By Troy Kinsey, Capitol Bureau Reporter
Last Updated: Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Despite a Republican lock on state government for nearly two decades, the Republican Party of Florida is entering the 2018 election cycle in a decidedly precarious position, having been outraised by the Florida Democratic Party by more than $1.3 million in the second quarter of this year.

The wide fundraising gulf -- Democrats raised $1.67 million while the RPOF netted just $339,000 in the three months ending June 30 -- is a first in recent memory. 

While a spike in progressive activism following President Trump's election has helped improve Democratic fundraising, much of the poor showing by the state GOP owes to a 2015 decision by Gov. Rick Scott to cease raising money for his own party. 

Stymied by grassroots activists who sacked Scott's handpicked party chairwoman, the governor began the practice of raising strictly into his political committee, Let's Get to Work.

The legislature's Republican leaders have followed suit, withdrawing money from the party and forming their own political committees. As a result, the RPOF has barely outraised the FDP overall so far this year. At this point in the last comparable election cycle, 2013, Republicans held a two-to-one advantage.

While campaigns and political committees have increasingly taken on many of the campaign functions parties have traditionally facilitated, some institutional advantages remain. Some political strategists say the parties' centralization of messaging and staff, in particular, have helped to move winning candidates over the finish line.

"If you look at when Democrats have done well in the legislature, it's when we've had an operation that's institutionalized, and so, I actually think that the direction (Republicans) have gone, while it may not have an impact on the money, it could very well have an impact on their success," said Democratic strategist Steve Schale, who oversaw the Florida Democratic Party's 2006 House Victory campaign.

But Republicans still have plenty of time to replenish the party's bank account, if they so choose. The bulk of party organizing doesn't occur until after the primary phase of an election cycle, when institutional manpower, and even advertising, which can be had for significantly lower rates than those available to the campaigns, takes on added value.

"The parties have an HR apparatus in place," Schale said. "They have health insurance, they have reporting for taxes. It's just sort of simpler from a mechanical standpoint for the parties to handle those things than a campaign to go build its own HR operation for six months or a year and then shut it back down."