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Florida Democrat credits Ron DeSantis with reinvigorating GOP

By Sarah May on
 February 11, 2023

Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has just received words of admiration from an unexpected source, namely, Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick (FL-20), who praised his ability to energize his party, as Fox News reports.

The Democrat's comments came in an interview with The Floridian in which the congresswoman expressed her desire to see a similar transformation occur within her state party apparatus.

“Fresh new energy”

Cherfilus-McCormack's observations come in the wake of the governor's landslide re-election victory in the 2022 midterm elections, which also saw a red wave sweep across offices statewide.

Suggesting that DeSantis has ushered in a sense of excitement within his party that the Democrats have thus far been unable to muster, Cherfilus-McCormack opined, “I don't think everybody's had the 'come to Jesus' moment when they realize that the only way we could win is that fresh new energy that can really bring it back together,” she said.

The congresswoman continued, saying, “DeSantis actually gave the party a burst of energy that they hadn't seen in a while, you see when Trump came in, Trump came in with new ideas, the energy was behind it, and I think the biggest precursor as to who's going to win comes to the energy level.”

“We started seeing that DeSantis was having different types of meetings, and he was having these rallies, and people were getting there three hours just to stand there,” Cherfilus McCormack noted. “Not people who were paid to stand there, but they were actually there to stand there, to hear him...people saw him as new, fresh, and ambitious. They're going there.”

Internal strife plagues FL Dems

The sense of intraparty turmoil referenced by the congresswoman was perhaps best exemplified by the January resignation of Florida Democratic Party chair Manny Diaz, a development that came close on the heels of the Republican midterm rout.

As The Hill reported at the time, Diaz did not exit the role quietly, penning a scathing assessment of the state of the party in Florida.

In his resignation letter, Diaz listed a series of internal problems plaguing the organization that, in his estimation, have rendered it “practically irrelevant” when it comes to helping Democrats win races.

Among the concerns outlined by Diaz were financing difficulties, an unfocused approach to digital messaging, and problems with internal coordination, all of which he said were evidence of a “broken, unsustainable system.”

“Resistant to change”

Describing the tactics he believes led to the party's massive failures in November, Diaz said, “We cannot win elections if we continue to rely on voter registration to drive turnout, build field operations only around elections, and expect to get our vote out without engaging voters where they live.”

As the Tampa Bay Times noted, Diaz further explained, “During my tenure, I hoped to address these issues. Instead, I found obstacles to securing the resources and a longstanding and systemic and deeply entrenched culture resistant to change; one where individual agendas are more important than team; where self-interest dominates and bureaucracies focus on self-preservation.”

Cherfilus-McCormack, for her part, contended that the problem is not exactly one of absent leadership, but rather an issue of “ineffective” leadership, suggesting that a “generational shift” is required in order to right the ship.

“We keep picking from the same talent pool, the same group of friends, and with that, they're conditioned to do it the same way, use the same consultants, the same people, the same talking points,” the lawmaker declared.

DeSantis ascendant?

It is easy to understand Cherfilus-McCormack's observations about the effectiveness of DeSantis' approach since becoming governor of the Sunshine State, particularly in light of a series of recent policy triumphs he has managed to achieve.

Known for his unwavering positions on culture war topics such as critical race and gender theory, DeSantis recently secured changes to a proposed Advanced Placement high school course on African American studies so as to prevent the inclusion in the curriculum of Black Lives Matter, queer studies, and other highly contentious ares of study.

The governor also notched a big win last week when the GOP-led legislature passed a bill giving him the ability to appoint board members to oversee a self-governing region that includes Disney theme parks in the Orlando area, a move taken in response to the company's protests against the state's Parental Rights in Education law which opponents inaccurately labeled the “Don't Say Gay” law.

Though his tenure in office has gone from strength to strength, DeSantis has remained tight-lipped about whether he will seek the presidency in 2024. According to The Hill, Republican sources suggest that his entry in the race is virtually a foregone conclusion, but whether the governor can bring to the national discussion the type of “fresh energy” Cherfilus-McCormack so admires, only time will tell.