By Mike Cocchiola
It’s a couple of months since the election and reality has set in. Democrats lost. No, not merely lost, they got swamped. We were not competitive anywhere. In the general election we lost every local race by a wide margin. Even the closest race was a seven-point loss, and that at the expense of Barbara Revels, a long-time Democratic incumbent. Now we face a county completely dominated by Republicans and the impending political irrelevance of a permanent minority party. That’s the reality.
So what’s next? How do we regain relevancy and become once again the political force in Flagler?
First, some facts. We were once the majority party in terms of registered voters. We’ve steadily lost ground each year since 2010, and today we’re outnumbered by the Republican Party’s roughly 32,000 registered voters to our 25,000. Since 2010, we’ve gained about 1,000 registered voters. Republicans have gained over 8,000. Even independents gained 6,000 new voters over this six-year period. Clearly, as Flagler County has grown, Democrats have not. We have not kept pace with the growing population because we simply have not appealed to our new citizens. And most disturbingly, Republicans voted at about an 82 percent rate in this last election, Democrats were around 72 percent (I’ve even seen a number as low as 69 percent).
We’re outnumbered and we don’t vote. Clearly, we’re in a deep hole and we’ve simply got to stop digging it deeper.
How do we turn this around? I was asked at the All Flagler Democratic Club’s inaugural meeting in November if I knew how to win. No one can guarantee a win, but I know how we can rebuild, gain an edge and have a fighting chance to win. We can get back in the game and we can become, once again, a force in this community. If we do this, the wins will come.
Here’s what I believe is a winning strategy.
“It’s time now to turn our anger and disappointment into resolve, into commitment, into action.”
First, we spend a little time gaining a better understanding of what happened: what we did right, what we did wrong, and as important, what didn’t we do to win. Some would question why we would waste our time: it was all Trump. We don’t know that and we’d better find out for sure or risk convincing ourselves it was all an anomaly, a one-time occurrence, and we should just keep doing what we did before. That would be fatal. A successful organization understands its failures and fixes them, knows its strengths and capitalizes on them, and hits the marketplace with new ideas, new products and new energy to overwhelm the competition. So let’s talk to people–former candidates and officeholders, new arrivals, long-term Democrats–and get smarter.
Second, we develop a strategic plan, a roadmap, outlining our future goals, strategies for achieving them, and the resources–people and money–necessary to get the job done. The plan has to be realistic and achievable, yet resourceful and ambitious. We need new voters: millennials, 30 and 40-somethings, independents and new residents. And we need to get those we already have voting in much larger numbers. We must focus intensely on what’s important to Flagler County, and we must craft compelling messages to bring this all together. Yes, I’m talking about building a “brand,” one that speaks practically and emotionally to current and future Flagler Democratic voters.
Third, we need to organize around the plan. The new All Flagler Democratic Club (AFDC) and the Democratic Executive Committee (DEC) have different but complementary roles. The Executive Committee essentially registers voters and gets votes in, ideally by mail, hopefully during early voting and surely at the polling sites on voting day.
The Democratic Club should prepare the ground, inform, motivate, energize and inspire. We should provide a haven, a rallying point for Democrats. It should be the go-to club for Democrats in Flagler. Come election time, we provide the Executive Committee with ground forces and as much money as we can raise. It’s a partnership that we need to strengthen and that must work together to win. So, the All Flagler Democratic Club should develop the right leadership and teams to execute its plan and do its part to turn Flagler Blue again.
Fourth, we target upcoming local races and help recruit good solid candidates. I’m convinced that successful local candidates benefit greatly from name recognition, perhaps even more so than from party affiliation. Once we have a slate of candidates, we help all we can to get them well-known and respected in this community. We agree on messaging, we stick to the plan and we relentlessly promote our candidates. Consistency, clarity and cohesion win votes–and elections.
Fifth, we commit ourselves to our plan and focus our energies on raising money, getting the plan into action and getting our candidates in the game. Nothing happens without funding. We need to go after serious financial commitments from Democratic supporters anywhere and everywhere that we can reach out and touch them. Without financial support, it’s all just wishful thinking. Without funding, our message dies. We can’t reach voters and we won’t get them to the polls. It’s that simple and that important.
It’s time now to turn our anger and disappointment into resolve, into commitment, into action. We have two short years to make a difference. The strategies I’ve outlined are not mutually exclusive or sequential. They are interactive and complementary and we can get moving now with a broad-based approach. There are no guarantees but successful organizations do these things and so should we. It’s not about comfort, or familiarity, or tradition, or doing what we like to do. It’s about winning.
Mike Cocchiola, a Palm Coast resident and member of the All Flagler Democratic Club, is running for the group’s presidency early next year. Reach him by email here.