Two Democratic candidates for Florida governor and the head of the state Democratic Party gave local party members a unified message: There will be a “blue wave” inundating the Sunshine State this year.
The three were among the speakers Friday night at the Brevard Democrats Big Blue Bash at the Eau Gallie Civic Center in Melbourne, which was billed as “a fundraiser for midterm victory.”
“It was fantastic,” Florida Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo said after the sold-out, $75-a-person event, which drew about 300 people. “The excitement was phenomenal. The energy in the room was actually palpable. And it was really terrific to see all the excitement here. The Brevard Democrats are revved up and ready to go. There is tremendous enthusiasm, absolutely.”
Statewide, this is a crucial political year. There will be hotly contested Democratic and Republican primaries for governor, as candidates seek to succeed two-term Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who cannot seek re-election because of term limits.
Scott this year is challenging Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson for his Senate seat. Nelson is completing his third six-year term in the Senate.
There are six Democrats running for governor in the Aug. 28 primary, with the leading candidates being Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, Orlando business executive Chris King and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine. King and Levine both addressed the Brevard Democrats event.
“We will turn Florida blue,” Levine told the crowd, adding that they are part of the political movement ready to “get expelled from Trump University.”
Levine said that, while he would like the support of those in the audience, any of the Democratic candidates would be better than the two front-running Republican candidates — U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam. Among the 10 other active GOP candidates running for governor is Suntree resident Bob White, the chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Florida; chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Central East Florida; and founder and former chairman of the Liberty Catalyst Fund.
King said that, while DeSantis and Putnam would be “tough” and “well-funded” opponents, “we can win this election.”
“This is about electing a fresh generation with new ideas,” King said.
In discussing the candidates for governor, Rizzo said: “We have four great Democratic candidates running for governor. Any one of ours is better than any one of theirs.”
The event’s keynote speaker, Florida Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, who represents House District 49 in the east Orlando area, urged attendees to help “get Republicans out of the governor’s mansion, once and for all.”
Smith — who is co-founder and chairman of the Legislative Progressive Caucus — detailed for attendees differences in the platforms of the state Democratic and Republican parties on an array of issues, including civil rights, criminal justice, drug policy, education, the environment, gun control, health care, housing, immigration, LGBT rights, the minimum wage and taxes.
Smith, a supporter of Gillum in the governor’s race, also addressed some criticism the Gillum campaign has received for perceived negative advertising and comments aimed at Graham by groups and individuals supporting Gillum.
“We cannot pretend that this is not a campaign,” Smith said, noting that candidates will push their own strengths and potentially criticize their opponents.
The latest Florida Atlantic University poll on the Democratic gubernatorial primary shows there is no clear-cut leader, with 42 percent of Democratic voters undecided about the primary. Levine received 16 percent of the support in the poll, Graham got 15 percent, King got 10 percent and Gillum got 6 percent. The remaining 11 percent support went to another announced candidate or an unnamed “someone else.” The poll, taken May 4-7, has a margin of error of 5 percentage points. Brevard Democratic Chair Stacey Patel — who King called “a rock star” in the Democratic Party — also addressed the importance of working to elect Democrats to local office on the Space Coast.
Leading the local slate is Patel’s husband, Sanjay Patel, who is running for Congress in District 8, against incumbent Republican Bill Posey, who is completing his fifth two-year term in the House. That district includes all of Brevard and Indian River counties and part of eastern Orange County.
More than a dozen candidates for Florida Legislature, Brevard County Commission, Brevard School Board and municipal offices also attended the Democratic Party event.
“I am so proud to be the chair of the Brevard Democratic Party,” Stacey Patel said, emphasizing the party goals of creating economic, social and environmental justice for all.
“Democrats are rising in Brevard,” Patel said, with three wins by Democrats in the 2017 nonpartisan municipal elections.
Rizzo noted that Brevard Democrats are fielding a full slate of candidates this year, a contrast from past years under previous party leadership, when many local elections did not have a Democratic candidate. She said the time is right to “flip Brevard” to the Democratic Party.
“These people here are really organized,” Rizzo said. “They’ve been working hard. And the transformation is terrific.”
“Brevard Republicans are scared,” Anna Eskamani told the audience. “They know you are coming.”
Eskamani is a Democratic candidate for Florida House in District 47, which includes the east Orlando/Winter Park area. She is senior director of public affairs and communications for Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida.
Brevard, though, remains a Republican red county — based on voter registration data and elected officials — in what is seen as a purple swing state.
All six members of the Florida Legislature representing Brevard are Republicans, as as all five elected countywide officials, all five Brevard County legislators and all five Canaveral Port Authority commissioners. There are 172,252 registered Republicans in Brevard, compared with 126,965 Democrats, 107,548 registered voters without a party affiliation and 3,443 members of minor political parties.
Patel said by knocking on doors and getting the Democratic Party’s message out to voters, that will change.