As Democrats keep stepping forward in Sarasota and Manatee counties to challenge Republicans in GOP-leaning seats, one name keeps being mentioned: Margaret Good.
Democrats are drawing inspiration from Good’s big upset victory in the February special election for the District 72 state House seat.
Winning has that effect on people. It convinces them that more wins are possible.
“Obviously we’ve seen kind of the blue wave moving through the country, seats that were not even being contested were won by Democrats,” said Sarasota Democrat Olivia Babis, who filed last week to run for the District 23 state Senate seat covering Sarasota County and part of Charlotte. “Margaret Good’s race, that wasn’t even a close one. She won handily.”
Babis, who works as a peer mentor at the Suncoast Center for Independent Living and has long been involved in progressive politics, had been thinking about running for office. Good’s victory, and other Democratic wins around the country in districts President Donald Trump carried, helped convince her to get off the sidelines.
Venice Democrat Tony Mowry also pointed to Good’s win as one of the catalysts for his state House campaign, which he launched last week.
Mowry is running for the District 74 House seat covering southern Sarasota County. It’s conservative territory. Trump carried it by 23 percentage points.
But Democrats believe Mowry has the type of background that could play well in the district. He grew up in Venice — graduating from Venice High School — and served in the U.S. Air Force. He currently is a major in the Air Force Reserves.
It can be hard to get people with families — Mowry is married with two children — and busy professional lives to take on the commitment of running for elected office when the odds of winning don’t seem great. Southwest Florida Democrats often have struggled to recruit credible candidates for such seats in past election cycles.
But recruiting gets a lot easier when the political climate looks favorable.
This year Democratic leaders have been successful in convincing candidates with professional backgrounds, many of them with deep community connections, to step forward and run in seats that have long been held by Republicans. Among the Southwest Florida Democrats running for the Legislature or Congress are four lawyers and a college professor.
Good said her victory “signaled to people that we shouldn’t take these districts that lean right or are overwhelmingly Republican, we shouldn’t take them for granted.”
“Because in the end, voters are voting for people that they think will do the best job, regardless of party, in a lot of cases,” she added.
Democrats still have a big uphill climb in many of these races.
Trump carried Good’s district by 4.4 percentage points. The president’s margin of victory was much higher in many other Southwest Florida seats.
Trump won the state Senate seat Babis is seeking by 14.3 percentage points. And he won the District 16 congressional seat held by U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, by 11 percentage points.
Good also benefited from being the only race on the ballot in February, which focused Democratic energy on her campaign. It helped her attract a big team of volunteers and raise significant money, key components of victory. Most of the other Democrats running have yet to prove they can organize the type of campaign Good put together.
But if there is a blue wave large enough to put these seats in play, Democrats won’t be able to take advantage unless they run credible candidates.
And it’s clear that local Republicans — even those in districts Trump won handily — are nervous, and that they also have been influenced by Good’s win.
Last week Buchanan began running his second television ad, spending $200,000 on the 30-second spot that is airing in the Sarasota portion of his district, which also includes Manatee County and part of Hillsborough.
The ad is notable for a number of reasons. It’s early in the election cycle for the campaign to be spending so much on television, a sign that Buchanan’s campaign is worried about the political climate and eager to shore up his support.
And instead of trying to rile up the GOP base, the ad is aimed squarely at independents.
Buchanan’s son, James Buchanan, went full Trump in the closing days of his campaign against Good, appearing at a rally with former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. The crowd started chanting “lock her up” at one point when former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was mentioned. The effort to boost GOP turnout didn’t work. Good won by seven percentage points.
Vern Buchanan is tacking in the opposition direction, emphasizing aspects of his record that he hopes will have bipartisan appeal, such as his support for animal protection measures and for extending the federal ban on drilling off Florida’s coast.
The ad highlights what Buchanan’s campaign calls “the congressman’s independence and record of bipartisan accomplishments.” It shows that both parties learned lessons from Good’s victory.
Steube endorsed by Club for Growth
Endorsements rarely have much of an impact on a race beyond signaling that a candidate has credibility and community support.
Endorsements that come with significant financial support are another story.
The conservative Club for Growth has a record of putting big money behind some of the candidates it endorses. That’s why the group’s endorsement of Sarasota state Sen. Greg Steube — a candidate for the District 17 congressional seat — could be significant.
Andy Roth, vice president for governmental affairs with the Club for Growth, said the group does not “discuss our future strategy or our strategy about the race.” But he said the group doesn’t “get in races just to put our seal of approval on a candidate and wish them luck.”
“We want to help them win,” Roth said. “That’s why we only make 10 to 20 endorsements a cycle when there are other groups that make dozens of endorsements.”
Roth said members of his organizations were impressed by Steube’s adherence to conservative principles, particularly when it comes to “economic freedom.”
“We’ve seen Steube time and again put his principles first and I think that’s desperately needed up here in Washington,” Roth said.
Venice state Rep. Julio Gonzalez also is running in the GOP primary for the District 17 congressional seat, which includes southern Sarasota County. Gonzalez recently was endorsed by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.
Students organize Sarasota rally
The shooting at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 17 people in February continues to galvanize young people to get involved in politics.
The latest example is a demonstration Sunday in downtown Sarasota.
The “Students Stand Up Rally” was organized by a group of local high school students. It starts at 1 p.m. at Five Points Park. Good, congressional candidate David Shapiro and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, a candidate for governor, are expected to attend.
• The East County Republican Club meets Monday at 6:30 p.m. at Superior Word Fellowship, 6512 Superior Ave., Sarasota.
• The Anna Maria Democrat Club meets Monday at 11:30 a.m. at the IMG Academy Golf Club clubhouse, 4350 El Conquistador Parkway, Bradenton. State House candidate Tracy Pratt will address the group. The cost is $17 for members and $20 for guests. A reservation is not required.
• The Sarasota Republican Club meets Thursday at 6 p.m. at Marina Jack, 2 Marina Plaza. Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis will address the group. The cost is $30 for members and $35 for guests. To RSVP, call 888-325-3212.
• The Sarasota Tiger Bay Club meets Thursday at 11:30 a.m. at Michael’s on East, 1212 S. East Ave. Members of the region’s legislative delegation will discuss the 2018 legislative session. The cost is $27 for members and $32 for guests. To RSVP, call 941-925-2970 or email email@example.com.
• The Manatee County Democratic Party’s annual dinner is Friday at 6 p.m. at the Polo Grill, 10670 Boardwalk Loop in Lakewood Ranch. The keynote speaker is former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. The cost is $90, or $60 for students. For tickets visit manateecountydemocrats.com.
• The Venice Area Democratic Club meets Saturday at 10:30 a.m. at Narr Hall, 620 Shamrock Blvd. Sarasota County School Board member Shirley Brown will address the group. The event is free and open to the public.