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How Democrats Won Jacksonville

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On Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, Duval County flipped blue for the first time since 1986, officially putting Jacksonville on the map of Florida battlegrounds for 2020. With this election, we can also definitively turn the page on a long list of assumptions about the city—assumptions that those of us on the ground have known for a while to be false. Equipped with the numbers and first-hand knowledge of how we planned and executed the field operation in Duval County, I will share with you some insights that commentators might have missed.

First, there was a year-long effort to target Democrats who usually vote in presidential elections but skip the midterms. The closing of this gap was the No. 1 priority for all caucuses, groups and activists from the minute we started walking the streets of Jacksonville and Duval County overall. Our success rate was 95 percent, delivering historic numbers of Democratic voters. This did not happen in other places. The Democratic turnout in Miami-Dade County, for instance, was less than 80 percent when compared to the 2016 total.

Second, Democratic leadership understood that issue-based, grassroots campaigns have an important role in local politics. Our leaders ended up embracing a number of policies put forward by progressive groups. This strategic move was key in keeping volunteers engaged and avoiding blowback in the crucial month before election day. Again, this was not the case in other counties. Elsewhere, Democratic leadership alienated issue-based organizations. In doing so, these political leaders reduced both their reach and the level and intensity of enthusiasm and engagement of their volunteers and voters.

Third, this election cycle brought an extraordinary group of leaders to the forefront. Tracye Polson’s run in HD 15 drastically changed the political landscape of Westside Jacksonville. Tim Yost and Ken Organes mounted strong challenges on the Southside; their campaigning, combined with the tireless work of the Indivisible groups, cut the margins on this side of town like never before. As a result, we managed to win most of Arlington.

The midterm cycle also seasoned our organizers and leaders. Pat McCollough, working with For Our Future, might have been the biggest asset in passing Amendment 4, which was approved by a wide margin. Duval Democratic Executive Committee Chair Lisa King was able to push forward the biggest DEC operation in the county’s history. Lisa Peth led the charge from the left. Her Progressive Democrats of America organization spearheaded the field operation for the whole of North Florida. Countless more were involved in getting out the vote, but few sacrificed as much as those I’ve mentioned here.

In short, Duval County, Florida, delivered a win because a lot of work was put into it. As we reorganize for the big presidential contest of 2020, Democrats in the rest of the state need to take a look at what has happened here in the last two years. If we unite and put in the work throughout the Sunshine State, victory will surely be ours.

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Zaldivar is president of the NE FL Democratic Progressive Caucus.

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