Florida Dems get schooled on how to be winning candidates

By: - September 17, 2018 8:00 am

An NDTC training in Florida earlier this year

Whether there’ll be a so-called “blue wave” of Democrats taking office – or not — after the November elections, it won’t be for lack of trying.

Several new groups have formed to help boost Democratic candidates’ chances, following the seismic reaction to Republican President Donald Trump’s stunning victory two years ago.

There’s Run for Something, created to recruit young diverse progressives for political office.

Among those listed on the group’s website: Attorney Fentrice Driskell, who is challenging Republican Shawn Harrison in the House District 63 seat in Hillsborough County, and Javier Estevez, who’s attempting to win in what has been a red district in the South Florida House District 105 race.

There’s also 314 Action, which was founded by members of the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) community, and has trained nearly 500 scientists, engineers and mathematicians exploring runs for political office.

And then there’s the National Democratic Training Committee (NDTC), formed in 2016 by Chicago-based Democratic strategist Kelly Dietrich. The program includes personal trainings as well as a robust online program that is open to any and all aspiring Democrats considering a run for office.

Over 90 Florida Democrats attended personal trainings that the group held in the state over the past year, and 17 of those candidates have advanced to the general election in November, according to the NDTC.

Wesley Ann Beggs is a 26-year-old marketing professional attempting to win a seat on the Sarasota City Commission this fall.

“When I initially reached out to the (Democratic) party and said, ‘Hey, I’m going to run, how do I do it,” the answer was — help from NDTC,” Beggs said.

“They extended so many training opportunities to me. It just got me off on the right foot,” she adds.

The NDTC site has chapters on social media, messaging and fundraising, which Beggs said is a “big thing to tackle as a first-time candidate.”

Dietrich says he created his program after watching Democrats around the country run without being provided the adequate resources required to win. He said the program was built for people running for office who need guidance but don’t have the time to figure out everything on their own.

“If you’re running for city council in Pensacola, that’s not a full-time job,” he says. “You’re going to have a career. You’re going to have a family. If we can provide you with tools when you finish your shift… we’re going to do a whole lot of things, and we’re going to elect a lot more people at the local level,” Dietrich said.

The NDTC has held trainings in Miami, Melbourne and other locales this year for Florida Democrats pursuing their first runs for public office.

Phil Moore is running for the State House District 53 seat in the Palm Bay area, around Brevard County.

He compares the National Democratic Training Committee to using a personal trainer and coach. “If you’re given a playbook, it’s all about execution,” he said. “They’re definitely giving you the tools to run a successful campaign. It’s there and I’m very grateful that they have that information out there.”

The NDTC created a PAC (political action committee) to get financial contributions. So far it’s received funding from more than 68,000 individual donors, and campaign finance records show that the committee had raised more than $4.1 million at the end of this past June.

With Democrats having lost more than 900 seats in state legislatures over the past decade and now a political minority in half the states, Dietrich says the 2018 and 2020 state legislative races are critical when it comes to who will control the U.S. House all the way through 2030.

“We need to be focusing on solutions,” Dietrich said. “And this is one thing we can be doing to help us (Democrats) grow and expand.”

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Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has covered politics and government in Florida for more than two decades. Most recently he is the former politics reporter for Bay News 9. He has also worked at Florida Politics, Creative Loafing and WMNF Radio in Tampa. He was also part of the original staff when the Florida Phoenix was created in 2018.