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Issue 5: Jacksonville Democrats Finally Have a Candidate
Donna Deegan gives Democrats in JAX a real chance at Mayor
In 2016, Hillary Clinton came within 1.4% of winning Duval County; which thanks to consolidation is also the city of Jacksonville. In 2018, Andrew Gillum won the county/city by 4.3%! That same night, 3/5 statewide Democrats won the city. Democrats, who had long aimed to flip the massive urban county blue, were thrilled with their change in fortune. Obama had made flipping Duval a goal in both his campaigns - but he never succeeded despite winning the state twice. Duval Democrats, flushed with victory, would then turn their sights on GOP Mayor Lenny Curry.
Curry, who had come to power in 2015 by beating Democratic Incumbent Alvin Brown, was sitting in a county growing bluer with time.
Curry’s 2015 win over Brown was after a multi-million dollar campaign and followed Rick Scott’s re-election victory just months earlier (where the now-Senator dominated in Duval County).
However, time since then had only given Democrats hope. Clinton’s narrow loss in the county was followed by the 2018 wins. Democrats would no doubt aim to flip Duval in 2020 as well. But first, Mayor Curry had to run for re-election in 2019. Democrats in Duval opted to challenge Curry in the 2019 Mayoral Election with — nobody.
In 2019, Duval Democrats ran NO ONE against Lenny Curry. By all accounts, Curry was likely unbeatable. He sat on a huge war chest, wasn’t especially vulnerable in the polls, and Duval was still swingish. However, Democrats didn’t even bother to put up a fight. Instead, they threw their support behind another Republican, Anna Brosche, a more moderate Republican who had many personal clashes with Curry.
Duval Democrats claimed their focus was on the long list of down-ballot races happening at the same time as Mayor. Duval voters would be electing the city council, but also offices like Sheriff, Tax Collector, and Property Appraiser. Democrats insisted these were their goals.
The move was a MASSIVE and OBVIOUS mistake. Brosche was absolutely crushed in her bid against Curry.
Not only did Brosche lose in a landslide, the lack of a Democratic candidate to “lead the troops” resulted in a massive drop in Democratic turnout. In 2015, registered Democrats had a higher share of the votes cast than registered Republicans. In 2019, Republicans outpaced Democratic share by 6 points!
It turns out that not running someone at the top of your ticket means voters don’t see much of a reason to show up at all. People don’t show up for Tax Collector races, they show up for mega-money mayoral races.
The move was a train wreck. The turnout collapse erased any hopes Democrats had of gaining down-ballot offices. In fact, they wound up with one less city commissioner was a result. You can read my take-down of the 2019 elections here.
The next mayoral election is not up until 2023, but candidates are already lining up for the job. Past contested elections have generated millions of dollars. Duval, it must be remembered, is more populous than at least 5 other states (its coming for you Delaware!)
Three Republican candidates have either already filed or are poised to run. Two city council members, at-large member Matt Carlucci and District-14’s Al Ferraro, are running. In addition, JAX Chamber President Daniel Davis is also going to run; and has already raised $2 million to a political committee.
Democrats have yet to get a big name to file. However, their prayers appear to have finally been answered. An election committee, “Donna for Duval,” has been formed - indicating Donna Deegan has indeed decided to run for Mayor.
Deegan is considered a rising Democratic star in Duval County. A former TV news anchor, Deegan’s first big foray into politics was helping Andrew Gillum flip the county in 2018. Deegan followed this by running for the #FL04 in 2020. This was always going to be a losing battle, as the 4th was a deep red county that included white Duval, Nassau County, and most of St Johns county. Deegan lost the race by 22%, a little worse than Biden’s 21% loss there. While a massive loss could end most careers, Deegan was praised for her strong fundraising and aggressive campaign. Deegan may have under-performed Biden, but she held closer to him than many other Democratic candidates in the state.
Despite the #FL04 staying deep red, Duval went to Joe Biden - with him taking the county by 3.8%.
Deegan finally gives the Democrats a solid candidate the massive county. There is little doubt from party members on both sides of the isle than Deegan will be able to raise money and organize a strong campaign.
The Jungle Primary
The Jacksonville Mayoral election is finally taking proper shape. It will be a long and expensive fight. It must also be reiterated, for those who don’t know, that this election is held under a Lousiana-style jungle primary. All candidates will run on one ballot, party listed, and the top two will go to a runoff. This system can make predictions very tricky so far out. For example, the 2011 jungle primary is likely the reason Alvin Brown was able to be Mayor at all. When the more moderate candidates, Audrey Moran and Rick Mullaney, split the vote in that contest; allowing uber-conservative Mike Hogan to advance with Brown.
Hogan’s campaign ran into constant trouble in the runoff with Brown. Democrats, coming off a stinging loss to Rick Scott in the Gubernatorial race of 2010, rallied around Brown, and managed to claim the Mayoral post.
Deegan will have to wait and see if any other Democrats jump in. If a democrat of note does, like Brown himself, it could make the jungle primary all the more complicated. No party is immune from accidently being locked out of the runoff.
Democrats can, at the very least, breath easier knowing Deegan will give them a strong standard bearer in 2023.
I mean, it can’t possible go any worse than 2019 did.