The Suncoast Tiger Bay Club hosted a virtual forum Thursday afternoon where panelists Peter Schorsch, publisher of Florida Politics and Steve Contorno, political editor of the Tampa Bay Times, shared their thoughts on the wild journey that was – and still is – the 2020 general election.
Here’s what they had to say:
On what was most shocking about Tuesday night:
Contorno said he didn’t find President Donald Trump’s win in Florida necessarily surprising considering this is his home state where he typically enjoys a lot of support. What did surprise him was Trump’s 3.5 percent margin of victory.
“Going back a year, they expected he would win by a point or a point and a half,” he said.
Schorsch said that he wasn’t surprised about what’s happening with the presidency and said one of the things that stood out Tuesday were the number of “endangered” congressional Republicans who won re-election.
On the lessons can be taken out of South Florida
“I think the trend is Democrats haven’t come up with a good response to accusations of socialism,” Contorno said. “It’s hard to do that when they have certain characters in their party who are calling themselves Democratic Socialists and trying to explain what that is. It’s not an easy argument to make.”
Plus, making that argument becomes even more of a challenge when Republicans have been pushing misleading messages on social media, he said.
Schorsch agreed that there has been a lot of misleading information about socialism and its place in the Democratic party. He also noted that “Donald Trump is running against Fidel Castro” and said that many South Florida voters, which include a large number of Cubans, have “demonized” Joe Biden.
Schorsch also said that while it’s tempting to put all Latinos in a box to try and understand their political motivations, the population is too diverse to neatly define.
“That’s a big fault of polling,” he said. “We have to recognize there’s so much we don’t know.”
On incumbent Democratic state representative Jennifer Webb’s loss to Republican Linda Chaney
Webb’s decision to not go negative with her campaign cost her the election because Chaney was then able to define her in the eyes of voters, Schorsch said.
“She should serve as a cautionary tale,” he said. “If you are not prepared to fight fire with fire, you have no room in Florida politics.”
Contorno said that many candidates like Webb likely feel that they were let down by the Democratic party, which didn’t defend its incumbents as strongly as it should have.
“Every two years, the Democratic party tries to convince the public they have a winning strategy, and every year they come up short,” he said. “They were confident this year and ended up getting blown out. It will be a real fight going forward.”
On the relatively tight wins by incumbents Congressman Charlie Crist and County Commissioners Janet Long and Charlie Justice
Schorsch commended Crist for working hard throughout the campaign cycle and noted the close numbers indicate that “maybe St. Petersburg and South Pinellas aren’t as Democratic-leaning as people think they are.” Regarding Justice and Long’s victories, he said neither candidate ran very interesting or aggressive campaigns, noted they both have strong name recognition and that people seem “relatively content” with their response to the pandemic.
“Charlie was running against a pet groomer,” he said of Justice’s opponent Tammy Vasquez. “Not that I have anything against pet groomers.”
While she didn’t win, Contorno said that Anna Paulina Luna, Crist’s Republican opponent, probably accomplished what she wanted to do in terms of putting herself on the political map.
“She got herself in with the Trump crowd and I imagine there will be a future for her,” he said.
On Caprice Edmond’s win over Karl Nurse for Pinellas County School Board District 7, a seat that has been occupied by a Black board member for almost 20 years
“A lot of people really like Karl as a person and a politician, but they were upset to see him get in the race to take that seat and leave the board without minority representation,” Contorno said.
Schorsch was more blunt.
“Karl shouldn’t have been in that race and he knows it,” he said. “He’s the ultimate condescending liberal who thinks he knows better than everyone else and his service was so needed on the school board. No offense to him, but I’m glad he didn’t make it to the finish line.”
On why Republicans have been able to stay in control despite bad optics from the pandemic
Contorno said that a lot of people didn’t necessarily blame Trump or Republicans for the pandemic and they thought things were going well before it happened. He added that people across the aisle have “generally been OK” with Gov. Ron DeSantis’s approach to reopening the state, although he has lost his overwhelming bipartisan appeal and Democrats who thought he “wasn’t so bad” have totally flipped on him.
That said, Contorno recognized that many voters were concerned about what more lockdowns could mean for them, their children and their finances. These people may not have necessarily liked Trump, but they didn’t like the idea of the government telling them what to do.
Schorsch said that one of the reasons Republicans have been so successful and Democrats have stumbled is due to the disconnect between what the “elites” of the Democratic party are espousing rather than what the average Florida voter wants.
“The Democrats have failed to come up with the correct messaging,” he said. “People are continuing to elect Republican legislators no matter what you throw at them.”
The Florida Tiger Bay Clubs Election Series will host a free post-election analysis event Thursday, Nov. 12 at noon. For more information on how to watch, visit Suncoast Tiger Bay’s Facebook page or website.