ORLANDO, Fla. (FNN NEWS) – In the 2018 midterm elections almost none of the Orange County Republican candidates running for office were successful. The County Commission seat 2 a shadow glimmer of hope. Only a few candidates who had districts that spanned into other counties did manage a win. As we search for answers and point fingers, there’s really no one to blame but ourselves. It’s not that there isn’t a desire to win, but the desire is muddied in leadership which concerns itself more with holding power than actually rolling up its sleeves. This is difficult work which must be done to ensure that the future looks less like the past and more reflective of the demographic makeup with the market today and trends for the future. If this last cycle has proven anything, it has proven that doing things the way we always have will produce failure.
WHY REPUBLICANS DIDN’T HAVE A CHANCE IN ORANGE COUNTY RACES: The obvious answer is that the sheer numbers of registered Democrats outshine Republicans by 120,000 at the time this article was submitted. Voter registration must remain a top priority if we really want to give Republicans a fighting chance in Orange County.
Additionally, consider the Super Bowl or College Football Championships. Losers don’t win, winners do. Does anyone believe winning just happens overnight? Recruiters and coaches identify the best players nationwide to develop a winning team years in advance. Once the team is recruited, years of practice and nurturing go into putting the right players forward to play the games of their lives. We simply didn’t have years to prepare our team this cycle. Some of those running for office this cycle, our Republican political players, were chosen based on perceived ability to win or name recognition while others were chosen in hopes of capturing a win from years gone by. Not only was the approach lazy, it was flawed and became the Titanic of the 2018 local election process in Orange County. While 2020 is a great launching pad for a new approach to local Republican politics, it could, and most likely would, be 2022 or 2024 before we’d see a successful impact from a strategic approach to winning races. Let that sink in.
ORANGE COUNTY REPUBLICAN POLITICS MUST STOP BEING COLOR BLIND: The idea that anyone thought that continuing to identify “old white men” in a market with people more reflective of the local populations is simply flawed and destined to fail. Suggesting a need for minority outreach is a great start, but that’s not work. It’s lip service. Minority outreach means hosting events and recruiting in communities where minorities live. Thinking that black and brown people in our diverse community are going to gravitate to a senior center in a downtown white community is simply not realistic. The ideal meeting space must feel comfortable for all and the greeting committee reflective of various cultures and races. The Orange County Republican Executive Committee (OCREC) needs a minority outreach team comprised of minorities. Not white people who don’t give minorities a seat at the table with resources to actually engage the communities they represent. It is only then that the local party will start mirroring the county it represents.
REASSESS THE VOTING DEMOGRAPHICS: I can recall, after a large number of Puerto Ricans relocated to Central Florida last year following Hurricane Maria, a politician mentioning to me, “We don’t need to be concerned. Most are registering Independent or not registering at all.” I remember pausing and thinking that made absolutely no sense with absolutely no support, other than hearsay, to make it reality. I mean, was an Orange County Republican census completed and I was unaware of it? Market trends and evaluations, in our case, who is registered to vote and is living in Orange County Florida, should be a constant part of any organizational structure, including a political group. Is the messaging relevant and appropriate? Is the messaging and engagement tailored? Are we touching people with what matters to them: their lives, communities and pocketbooks? Do we have people on our election teams to guide us and advise what is necessary to attract new and different sectors of our population? Are we willing to do what is necessary to be inclusive of those factors in our marketing efforts? Do we even know how to attract minorities or is it simply a talking point? Or are people with little to no experience making decisions because of their role, not because the decisions are solid and rooted in fact?
SPEND TIME BUILDING BRIDGES AND MENDING FENCES: Not all is lost in our market on white male Republicans in Republican groups or candidates running for office, but they too must spend time building bridges with the communities they will be looking to represent. The days of “assuming” black and brown people minorities don’t or won’t vote are long behind us. In the early part of my career I worked for a consultant who helped fitness center owners enhance their business model. I share her philosophy because it really hits home as to what must occur for Republican groups and candidates to widen their net. In a nutshell, she’d walk into a failing health club and she’d share with the facility owner, “You know what your problem is? You focus on people who are committed to get fit. The bodybuilders, the aerobic queens. The electricity could be off and those people will still not miss a workout. What you should be doing is focusing on the deconditioned market. Average people who know fitness and wellness are important, but simply are unmotivated or don’t even know where to begin.” Imagine if Republican groups and politicians focused more on those they need to educate or motivate to engage or vote versus on the loyal base that comes to every election to vote red? Meaning — and back to my point–we must reach outside our comfort zones if what we seek is engagement from people that might not fit the political status quo. It’s in those spaces and times where candidates will build bridges with people and races who may not look like them.
THE REPUBLICAN PARTY OF ORANGE COUNTY NEEDS TO BE REBRANDED STAT: If you ask most what they think of when they describe a Republican you’ll often hear “old white men” in the description. If you walk into an OCREC meeting most of this description would be a fair assessment. Somewhere the local party decided that redirecting its outreach to what was comfortable was more appealing than going through the learning curve of what appeals to minorities and people that are, well, different from the stereotype. I’ve often heard, “That’s not true, we welcome everyone into our membership.” Well, that’s been proven time and time again to be untrue. In fact, a recent movement to bring the leaders of multiple women’s clubs into the membership was met with immediate and deliberate pushback. Instead of extending the welcome mat, there was a revolt to keep those leaders and their members from gaining access to what in recent years has resembled more of a secret society than a direct reflection of the demographic makeup of the county.
I’m not one to produce concerns without recommending solutions and suggestions.
REACH OUT TO POTENTIAL VOTERS WHERE THEY LOOK FOR INFORMATION AND WHERE THEY LIVE: One thing the Democratic Party does very well is to go into neighborhoods and host events to recruit and educate new voters. We know Hispanics, for example, are more event-oriented and prefer print and radio over receiving mailers. We Republicans spend time at gun shows. While certainly a captive audience, again, remember we’re looking to grow the audience of potential recruits and voters. That cannot be accomplished without going outside the box.
TRANSLATE ALL COLLATERAL FROM ENGLISH TO SPANISH: A key thing I’ve learned from my experience over the past few years in working with the Hispanic population is it’s not that they can’t speak or read English, it’s that the they simply “prefer” seeing things in their language. So rather than crying foul and saying, “If they can’t read or speak English, they shouldn’t vote,” pay attention. It’s a preference. A preference that may help build a bridge between the party and a sector of the population.
Finally, realize everything suggested here is a cultural shift in Orange County Republican groups and politicians that will not occur overnight. It will take years of adjusting and fine tuning a constantly evolving strategic mindset to ensure that the wheel never rolls in the wrong direction again. I’m not suggesting we become focused on social issues…far from it. Conservative values are far more in line with all minority groups and cultures than most Republican politicians and organizations are prepared to acknowledge and work to engage.
So sure, it takes hard work to educate and motivate and build an army. But if our 2018 midterm election losses have taught us anything, it’s that doing things the same way we have for decades results in losses. Orange County Republicans were out=worked, out-recruited, out-strategized, and out-coached. But there is hope. It all starts with honest dialogue and genuine brainstorming. Let this be the first step! We must assume there will be a Cinderella story.
Randy Ross is a political contributor for Florida National News. | firstname.lastname@example.org