It Doesn't Always Pay to Run as a Republican

The Report

BY SUSAN NILON SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY AUG 30, 2014

It has been said for many years here, “If you want to win an election, you have to run as a

Republican in Sarasota.”  And for years, we have seen many Democrats and independents switch parties when they decide to run for office.  For political operatives who are just looking for a win, it has been a strategy evidenced time and again.  But for the electorate, you get an elected body with no guarantee they will line up with your political ideologies and voters who party hop in order to support their favorite candidate.  I have often wondered why party leaders encourage this when it leaves them with an unpredictable membership. 

While the Republican Party of Sarasota has become the political fat cat with a Cheshire grin, the Democratic Party of Sarasota has taken on the roll of whipping boy for all who need a place to throw their frustrations and disappointments. 

Evidenced this primary election, the tides are turning for both parties.  While the Republican Party enjoyed the spoils of numerous wins and unchallenged seats, it has turned on itself and is starting to eat its own.  Two very similar candidates ran for State House District 74.  With barely a sliver of difference in platform, the party shredded each candidate on looks, intelligence and integrity.  In the School Board race, Republican leadership stepped over well-qualified Republican candidates for the wife of a political operative in exchange for what can only be assumed as a political favor.  The Hospital Board races pitted established Republican Incumbents with last-minute Republican challengers.  And the County Commission candidates experienced a seismic shift of support in favor of predetermined winners and sacrificial lambs.  Candidates that would have been better served in a November election were victimized by fabricated scandals and fear mongering, all for the sake of continual dominance of two distinct groups within the local Republican Party.

While all this goes on, the Democrats have been able to take advantage of being the red-headed stepchild banished to the corner and actually had a serious impact on this primary election.  Yes, it’s true the Democrats have only a one recognized Democratic candidate running in the County race.  But if anyone was paying attention to the endorsement mailer sent out by local Democratic leadership, quite a few Republicans were on their list.  And while I am not suggesting those candidates were really Democrats in disguise, I do want you to recognize the influence the list had on this election.  Take the Hospital Board, where Democrats endorsed all five Republican Incumbents.   All won by incredibly large margins with double the amount of votes cast for them than in the county commission races.  Not a single candidate raised money, sent out mailers or knocked on doors.  The Republican Party stayed completely silent on this election.  The only mailer that was sent out was from the PAC that supports a public hospital.  It listed all five names and was never evidenced to have been carried into the polling booth by a voter.  And how often do you see a group mailer ever be effective?

The School Board race was the same.  All three candidates endorsed by Democratic leadership won the most votes by considerable margins and received the most votes cast in all of the races.  And although it is a nonpartisan race, the three candidates were made up of two Democrats and one Republican. 

The Sarasota Democrats could have just stood by and not gotten involved in these races.  With just a few candidates, it would have been expected that they conserve what little resources they have and focus on a single race or two.  But their “get out the vote” efforts are strong, as seen in the incredible surge of absentee ballot requests.  In this election alone, the Democrats equaled the Republicans in vote-by-mail ballots. 

There is a political shift happening here in Sarasota.  It is no longer a safe bet to run as a Republican.  Candidates and voters need to be more true to themselves and stop listening to the opinions of political operatives who are serving no one but themselves. 

SRQ Daily Columnist Susan Nilon is the president of Florida Talk Radio and owner of WSRQ Radio. She hosts The Nilon Report on WSRQ Sarasota 1220AM/106.9FM weekdays 4pm-6pm. Email her at susan@sarasotatalkradio.com.

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