Politico

Diaz and Barnes launch campaigns for Florida Democratic Party chair


TALLAHASSEE — Former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz and Democratic National Committee member Nikki Barnes have declared their candidacies for chair of the Florida Democratic Party, setting up a race between a prominent Miami Cuban and a Black woman.

Diaz, who immigrated to Florida from Cuba, announced his bid Tuesday, a week after rolling out the support of billionaire donors Michael Bloomberg and Jorge Pérez.

The announcement was designed to make a splash and clear the field, but Barnes told POLITICO late Monday that she also was running.

In a statement announcing his candidacy, Diaz focused on the party’s lack of a permanent political infrastructure, a perpetual gripe among Florida Democrats, whose candidates were battered up and down the ballot on Election Day and have won just one of their past 12 statewide races.

“We are in a pivotal moment in Florida,” Diaz said in a written statement. “We need to have our eyes on the long-term work of investing in and building a strong Florida Democratic Party that reflects the strength and diversity of our party, engages with and organizes voters year-round and mobilizes them to elect Democrats up and down the ticket in every corner of the state.”

The Diaz campaign will be led by SEIU Florida Executive Director Marcus Dixon, a former policy director for South Florida Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson.

Carlie Waibel, most recently a communications director for President-elect Joe Biden, will serve as Diaz’s communications director.

Jacob Smith, who managed the 2017 campaign of St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, will lead Diaz’s vote count operation, and Berke Morano, who served as coordinated coalition strategic adviser for Biden, will serve as party outreach leader.

Barnes, who hails from Wakulla County just outside of Florida’s capital in the northern part of the state, said the state party needs a reboot.

“All the money that’s been invested into Florida over the last 20+ years for Democratic candidates has not changed our results,” Barnes said in a text message Monday night. “Democrats are nearly powerless and facing irrelevancy in the state. It’s time for a fresh perspective, a new vision, and new leadership.”

Barnes, 39, has long worked in Florida Democratic politics, and has been a member of the DNC for nearly four years.

The party chair race, which will be decided in January, comes on the heels of Trump winning Florida by nearly four points and Florida Democrats losing six seats in the Legislature and two in Congress.

Democrats have been unable to counter the Republican Party’s ground game and effort to brand their candidates as pro-socialist and anti-cop, messaging that was particularly effective this year in Miami-Dade County, where many residents fled or had family members who fled leftist strongman regimes in Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.

Biden won Miami-Dade County, a Democratic stronghold, by only seven points after Hillary Clinton won the county by nearly 30 points.

Some Miami-Dade Democrats said Biden spent too little time in the region and that the party was seen as too closely aligned with Black Lives Matter demonstrations that included flags bearing the likeness of revolutionary Che Guevara, a symbol of brutal tyranny among the region’s Cuban exile community.

Those dynamics again will be on display as the party enters its leadership fight ahead of a 2022 election cycle with five statewide races, including governor and U.S. Senate.

Diaz served as Miami mayor from 2001-2009, experience that could help the party rebuild in the politically important region, but the 66-year-old must earn the support of Black party officials and the party’s progressive wing.

Trump improved his showing with Back male voters in 2020, another concern for the party.

“While Black women still came through for the party, we are tired of being overlooked when it comes to leadership,” party activist Leslie Weems said in an interview. “The chair needs to be someone who represents the most loyal base of support for Democrats: Black people.”

Weems has launched a Facebook page backing Barnes’ bid for chair.

Shevrin Jones, a Black South Florida Democrat entering his first term in the Florida Senate, said he wants a chair who will bring something the party lacks: a plan.

“I don’t care if the chair is a man, woman, Black, white, Hispanic, gay or straight,” Jones wrote in a text message. “If you don’t have a plan to lead us out of the mess we are in right now, then you should not run. Period!”

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