ORLANDO, Fla. - If Florida Democrats could sum up the state party’s early 2020 strategy in three words, they would be registration, registration, registration.
During the party’s convention this weekend in Orlando, leaders stressed they have fixed past errors in their voter-registration strategy and are busy building a more Democratic-friendly electorate more than a year from Election Day.
“I think we are going to win by putting our head down and doing the work,” said Juan Peñalosa, executive director of the Florida Democratic Party.
“What we have done in the past is starting too late. … We haven’t built the electorate in time for the election,” he added.
Since launching a registration program in June, more than 49,000 new Democratic voters have been registered, according to data the party provided to The News Service of Florida. In that same period, 48,000 voters registered as Republicans and 63,570 registered with no-party affiliation.
More than $3 million has been invested by the Democratic Party to try to register 200,000 new voters before the general election, when Republican President Donald Trump will be at the top of the ticket. Most of the money so far has gone toward putting more community organizers on college campuses and in swing districts across the state.
“If we focus on the swing districts, not only do we win the presidency, but we pick up quite a few (congressional) seats as well,” Peñalosa told reporters on Saturday.
Democratic leaders also want to be more diligent in courting Hispanics, who come from a broad cross-section of Latin America and are the fastest-growing demographic in the state.
“It is no secret that Latinos in the United States of America are going to be the largest ethnic voting bloc in 2020. And the road to winning the White House in 2020 will be through the Latino vote,” Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell told reporters on Saturday.
In the past, Florida Democrats have had issues courting Hispanics, while Republicans have often benefited from the reliable vote of older Cuban-Americans.
Mucarsel-Powell, an immigrant from Ecuador who represents a swing district in South Florida, said she is happy to see the party work with the Hispanic community early in the election process, something she said she “had not seen before.”
“The Latino community cannot afford four more years of Trump’s attacks against our families or his hateful and racist policies toward our communities,” said Mucarsel-Powell, who unseated former Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo in 2018 in a swing district made up of Monroe County and part of Miami-Dade County.
Another way the party is investing money to target Hispanics is through weekly radio programs on Spanish-language stations and podcasts, and it has more than 370 Democratic media surrogates trained and booked to talk to Haitian and Hispanic outlets.
As Democrats work on registration, party leaders brushed off perceptions of a lack of enthusiasm at their convention after all of the Democratic presidential candidates did not attend.
If Democrats wanted photos with presidential candidates, the best thing they could get were pictures with cardboard cutouts of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden and South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
Party Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo pointed to Florida’s relatively late March 17 presidential primary as the reason candidates skipped the convention in what will be a battleground state next November.
“The fact that the candidates aren’t here is because we’re 25th on the primary calendar,” Rizzo said. “There’s tremendous excitement about what’s going on.”
The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.