When I went to the Daily Kos website earlier today, I was surprised to see three – count ‘em, three – diaries about me. One of them drew over 600 comments. Hey, I’m not that important. I’m just a former Congressman. There are 10,000 former Members of the House of Representatives. And 9000 of us are dead.
The debate is about whether it helped or hurt my campaign that I ran as a progressive in 2010. Let me give you the short answer. In 2010, it just didn’t matter. I could have cured cancer in October, and I still would have been defeated in November. Because there was a “D” next to my name. Not a “P,” for progressive, but a “D,” for Democrat.
Let me try to shed some light on this -- with some facts about my district, my 2008 race, and my 2010 race.
(1) I was the first Democrat to represent downtown Orlando since 1974. After the post-Watergate election, Democrats lost 17 times in a row. And my Democratic predecessor served for exactly one term.
(2) In 2008, I ran as a progressive, no apologies. Among other things, I said that we should withdraw from Iraq immediately. There are very few candidates for Congress who have said that publicly.
(3) In 2008, I won the general election with over 171,000 votes, the largest vote total in the history of the district. I won 52% to 48%. I actually had a slightly higher percentage of the vote than President Obama, if you properly divide the precincts that I shared with Rep. Corrine Brown (FL-3). I leave it to others to judge whether that 2008 victory was because of me, President Obama, or some combination thereof. I will say that most 2008 voters in my district thought that both President Obama and I were progressives. Personally, I think it helped.
(4) We did some things that I am really proud of. Our mandatory mediation program cut the number of foreclosures in half. It was so successful that it was adopted statewide. Our grant notification program doubled the competitive federal grant money in our district in my first year, from $100 million to $200 million. I found a way to pass the Travel Promotion Act, which is seriously relevant in Central Florida, after it had been stuck in Congress for six years. I was the first member of the freshman class to pass a bill – the Pay for Performance Act, which prohibited using bailout money for Wall Street bonuses, and sailed through the House in nine days. I worked with Dr. Ron Paul to pass essentially the only bipartisan legislation to come out of the 111th Congress, the bill to audit the Federal Reserve. And you probably have heard what I did on health care, coming from a state with the third highest percentage of uninsured in the country. In other words, I actually had a record to run on.
(5) In 2010, we lost my seat, and 62 other Democratic seats in the House. It was the worst Democratic defeat in over a century. I ran as a progressive. Virtually every other Democrat in the House who lost did not. (The only exceptions who come to mind are Carol Shea-Porter and Phil Hare.) Of the 54 members of the conservative Democratic “Blue Dog” Caucus, 28 of them – more than half – were defeated. Rep. Bobby Bright, in neighboring Alabama, ran ads touting how often he had voted with Republican Minority Leader John Boehner. He lost.
(6) The Democratic vote dropped sharply pretty much everywhere, other than the West Coast and New England. Here in Florida, our U.S. Senate candidate Kendrick Meek was at the top of the ticket. He got 20% of the vote. That is worse than any other major party candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2010. Also 2008, 2006 and 2004. You have to go all the way back to 2002 to find any major party U.S. Senate candidate anywhere in the country who did that badly. On the average, the Democratic statewide candidates in Florida last year lost by an average of 17 points. And the Republican perpetrator of the largest Medicare fraud in history was elected our Governor. (In a state with 4 million uninsured, one of his first acts was to eliminate the Department of Health.)
(7) If you add the results of all 25 Congressional districts in Florida in 2008, Democrats were plus-6%. In 2010, they were minus-18%. I went from plus-4% to minus-18%, which actually was two points better than the statewide average. In the neighboring Congressional district, which had been represented by now-Senator Bill Nelson for six terms, Chamber-friendly Suzanne Kosmas won by 14 points in 2008, and lost by 20 points in 2010, against a Republican with virtually no funding. In the Panhandle, Congressman Allen Boyd won by 24 points in 2008, and lost by 12 points in 2010. In Ft. Lauderdale, Ron Klein beat Allen West by 10 points in 2008, and lost to Allen West by 9 points in 2010 (despite the fact that Allen West was court-martialed and expelled from the US Military for capturing and physically abusing an innocent Iraqi police officer).
(8) According to a survey by the newspaper Politico six weeks before the election, almost 20% of all of the “independent expenditures” (i.e., sewer money) spent against House candidates in the entire country was spent against me. And I represented one-quarter of one percent of the population. Karl Rove, the Koch Brothers, the insurance companies – they paid top dollar to try to get rid of me. They ran the most blistering ads you have ever heard of, calling me a liar, a loudmouth, a national disgrace, a dog and a clown. I had to turn off the TV in my house for two months, so my five young children wouldn’t see those ads anymore. The average person in Orlando saw them 70 times. There was no response by anyone on our side -- not the DCCC, not the unions, nobody.
(9) The 2010 unemployment rate in my district was over 13%; in parts of the district, it was over 15%. Over 20% of the people in my district have no health insurance. An incredible 70% of the homeowners have mortgages that are more than the value of their homes (the third-worst percentage in the country). We did in fact help the unemployed, the sick, and families facing foreclosure, but we weren’t going to get credit for that when every time people turned on their TV, they saw another sewer money ad claiming that I had voted to cut Medicare.
(10) There seems to be an urban legend that my defeat is somehow attributable to the “Taliban Dan” ad. That’s just not true, whatever you may think about the ad. It ran for two days. Most people in the district never saw it. And a month after that ad ran, we were ahead by one point in our internal polls. What happened after that time, pretty much everywhere, was a collapse in Democratic turnout.
(11) In 2010, my district and everywhere else in Florida, Republican turnout was in the sixties. Democratic turnout was in the forties. Republican turnout was close to what it was in 2008; Democratic turnout was barely half of what it had been. In 2010, I could have won every Democratic vote (and almost did), plus every Independent vote, and I still would have lost. When I saw those numbers, I said on MSNBC, “when Democrats don’t vote, Democrats don’t win.”
So those are the facts. I’m not saying that we ran a perfect campaign. We tried to run a campaign on economic issues, we got nowhere with that, we switched gears to social issues, and that didn’t work either. As Congressman Jay Inslee told me regarding his defeat in 1994, there are some years when nothing works.
Jay Inslee made it back to Congress, four years later. In my case, we’ll see. But if I make it back, I’ll be going back as a progressive. And when I die, I’ll be buried as a progressive.
Sometimes I win, and sometimes I lose. But I am who I am. I actually give a damn about the 23 million Americans who can’t find full-time work, the 47 million Americans who need government assistance to feed themselves, the 50 million Americans who can’t see a doctor when they are sick, and the 15 million American families who owe more they own on their mortgages. And, I’m guessing and hoping, so do you.