Republicans obviously did well for themselves locally on November 4th in Orange County and East Orlando – but there were some victories for Democrats as well.
By Jacob Engels
I know this may seem late to many who stumble upon it, but I needed some time to reflect on the November 4th election results before compiling our list of winners and losers.
Rene “Coach P” Plasencia (R)–
Not many people, myself included expected “Coach P” to win this race against a well financed and connected Democratic incumbent. Plasencia’s campaign benefited greatly from several large five figure checks from the Republican Party of Florida and several PAC’s, which helped him match State Representative Joe Saunders financially. It should be noted that Mr. Plasencia started walking aggressively during his primary battle (not really) with Ed “Robobcop” Rodriguez and never turned down the intensity. He had fellow educators, former students and parents hitting the pavement every day.
Saunders however, fell victim to a false sense of security and overconfidence in the UCF heavy district and halted his organized ground efforts way too early. By the final weeks of the election, we’re told that he had stopped walking almost entirely, with just a few diehard supporters making the rounds. Plasencia’s margin of victory was only 717 votes, so a Saunders comeback bid in district 49 is more than likely in 2016 – where he will benefit from a higher Democratic turnout because of the Presidential race.
Alan Grayson (D) –
No one every really doubted that Alan Grayson would be re-elected, especially after Republicans in the district made the mistake of selecting a little old white lady to be their standard bearer over two Hispanic candidates who would have had a much broader appeal to the district.
You either love or hate Alan Grayson, but no matter which side you fall on you can’t deny his ability over the past two cycles to dispatch his opponents with ease. A master tactician, Grayson’s campaign actually sent out a release a few days before the election claiming to be worried about the challenge from Republican Carol Platt – urging supporters to open their wallets to help him hold the line. He knew he was never really in trouble, but as one of the best fundraisers in congress, Grayson never misses an opportunity to fill the campaign war-chest.
In 2016, national Republicans would be wise to make sure a Hispanic Republican gets through the GOP primary to take on Grayson – otherwise everyone should just be ready to “rinse & repeat.”
John Dowless (R) –
GOP consultant and adviser John Dowless could have had a VERY BAD 2014 election cycle. At first it seemed that his top client & Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs would face a tough re-election against former Orlando Police Chief Val Demings, until the failed congressional candidate 86’d her campaign after just 4 months.
Then Dowless’s other client – Rene “Coach P” Plasencia turned in a God-awful Orlando Sentinel editorial board interview and subsequently skipped another forum hosted by the Tiger Bay Club – which was friendly territory for Plasencia.
Dowless also failed to file paperwork for a PAC he runs that sent out pro-Plasencia mailers funded by developer Jim Pugh and was called out on it by the Orlando Sentinel. Dowless called it a “paperwork error” and carried on. First he escapes Val Demings and then a potential election violation – how many lives does this guy have?
Not many thought Mr. Plasencia really had a shot against incumbent Democrat Joe Saunders, but Plasencia listened to Dowless and it paid off. In a year where he could have lost his main cash cow, and was playing a real gamble with Coach P in district 49, Dowless earned himself another few years of safety as a power broker within the Central Florida GOP.
Sean Ashby (D) –
Mr. Ashby chaired the Citizens for Informed Elections PAC that pushed the ultimately unsuccessful measure that would have made races like County Commissioner and Mayor partisan in Orange County – meaning candidates would have their political party affiliation displayed next to their name on the ballot. So if the effort he was chairing ultimately failed, why is he a winner? Ashby is a good soldier for the cause and has “paid his dues” by chairing the partisan ballot measure in 2014.
He ended his bid for chairman of the Orange County Democrats in order to push for party unity and back current Chair Carlos Smith’s campaign over the top. These actions demonstrated to party leaders and donors that he can handle organizing & managing well over $100,000 in funds and the deployment of a massive ground campaign and that he is willing to be a team player. With Question C, the other side simply had more money and that’s it, the measure did not lost because of poor leadership and management like Amendment 2.
Ashby who nearly knocked off GOP incumbent/millionaire Tom Goodson in House District 50 in 2012 with no support or funding from the Democratic Party is in a unique position to “cash in” come 2016 if he wants a shot at the seat. If he does, this time it will be with the full backing of top-tier Democratic donors and elected officials, who know owe him more than a few favors for being a loyal lieutenant. He’s also a longtime resident of district 50, a well-respected teacher and golf coach, and would be a damn good legislator.
Carol Platt (R) –
The Osceola County Realtors Executive never managed to really connect with voters in East Orlando or most of the district to be quite honest. She is a nice lady who did a lot of fundraising for the Bush family during both George Bush’s presidential campaigns and Jeb Bush’s gubernatorial campaigns.
Her connections and ability to raise money of those connections did little than help her get through a heated GOP primary against businessman Peter Vivaldi and court interpreter Jorge Bonilla. After she came out on top of the three-way contest, it was obvious to everyone but Platt that her campaign consultants and team had no idea what they were going to do in order to compete against Grayson.
When she cut loose Shane Maloy – the campaign manager that propelled her to victory in the primary, things got even worse. Her consultant was operating under the assumption that the turnout model for 2010 was going to be the way the electorate behaved in 2014, which was not the case. Republicans did gain ground in Florida and around the nation, but by the skin of their teeth – not the lopsided numbers that swept the “Tea Party Caucus” into office in the 2010 midterms.
Platt would have been better suited running for a local office in her home county of Osceola. If she could have helped Republicans win a few county or citywide races in Osceola as a precursor to a congressional run this race might of been different.
Joe Saunders (D) –
Saunder’s loss is really more a case of “incumbent comfortability” than an open mandate for Republican challenger Rene “Coach P” Plasencia who knocked off Saunders by a mere 717 votes. A gifted fundraiser and organizer who at times could exhibit the tenacity of Alan Grayson, simply counted all his chickens before they hatched – he expected to be re-elected rather than operating like he was fighting for his political life, and make no mistake, he was.
Saunders days in elected office are far from over and he would be stupid to not mount a challenge to Plasencia in 2016. What he does in the meantime? Take a month or two off to relax before laying the groundwork for his 2016 bid.
Eddie Fernandez (R) –
There is quite literally no one nicer in Orange County politics than Eddie Fernandez. His appointment to fill the remainder of Lydia Gardner’s term was one of the few smart decisions Governor Scott has made when it comes to appointments in his first term.
Aware of how people view someone who is appointed rather than elected to an office, Fernandez quickly began looking for unique and innovative ways to cut the budget and make the Clerk of Courts office more effective for the residents of Orange County. In his 8-month stint as Clerk of the Courts, Fernandez accomplished a significant amount.
Slashing the budget without laying off employees, deputizing members of the Harbor House domestic violence shelter, and fighting to get back funds dispersed as part of a shady severance deal with two former employees.
However, as a political tactician Fernandez was not as aggressive or ruthless as he could have been against termed out Orange County Commissioner Tiffany Moore Russell. Fernandez is the kind of person you want serving as an elected official, he just has to embrace the dark side to some extent in order to mount an effective comeback bid against Moore Russell who will be up for re-election in 2016. You have to have an ego in politics and Fernandez would be wise to let his flourish in his next campaign, just a little bit.
Scott Boyd (R) –
Termed out Orange County Commissioner Scott Boyd crossed party lines and violated Republicans trust by endorsing Democrat Tiffany Moore Russell over Republican Eddie Fernandez in the Orange County Clerk of Courts race.
We wrote about this after being informed of a mail piece touting the endorsement being sent out to GOP voters in Orange County. This angered Republican donors, acitivists, and power-brokers who have long supported the ambitions and campaigns of Scott Boyd.
A well-connected Republican attorney, speaking on condition of anonymity, had this to say to me when I asked him about future a future Boyd campaign. “Scott Boyd is dead to me. Good luck with running for Orange County Property Appraiser, buddy.”
Personally, I think Boyd is traitorous pig and should be persona non grata at GOP events. This is the guy who fired the “kill shot” that cost Orange County Clerk of Court Eddie Fernandez a victory on election night.
Jacob Engels, is the Founder of East Orlando Post & Seminole County Post. He is a seasoned political operative who has led numerous statewide political groups and has worked on several high-profile local, statewide, and national races. Jacob has been interviewed on national television & radio programs, with his work having been featured in the Orlando Sentinel, New York Times, Washington Post, Miami Herald and other publications nationwide. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org