Democrats convened in South Florida last weekend, downright giddy about their prospects for next year.
With Rick Scott less popular than a hangnail, they're convinced 2012 will be a banner year.
And right now, the Democratic bench has less depth than a rain puddle.
In fact, one of the potential Democratic candidates generating buzz down inHollywood was Charlie Crist … who isn't actually a Democrat.
Florida Dems are titillated at the prospect of Crist continuing his Kafkaesque transformation from Republican to independent to possibly Democrat in 2014.
It's telling that the Democrats' search for promising candidates involves recent Republicans.
Ever since Jeb Bush came onto the scene in 1998, Democrats have offered up one lackluster candidate after another.
It's like Lawton Chiles died that year … and took the party's prospects with him to the grave.
"You are absolutely right," said Democratic heavyweight John Morgan, who now employs Crist at his law firm. "If you're a Democrat, that was the day our music died."
I bet you can't even remember two of the party's last three nominees for governor.
OK, Alex Sink. But how about the guy before her in 2006?
That was Jim Davis, the guy who's platform included … zzzzzz. Sorry, I dozed off there for a minute thinking about Davis's campaign. Nice guy. Uninspiring campaign.
Before that was Bill McBride — Alex Sink's husband.
That's right. In a state with 17 million people, two of the Democratic Party's last three candidates were married to each other.
And both lost.
It must be sad when pillow talk involves comparing loss margins.
Sink was actually the best gubernatorial candidate Democrats have fielded in the past decade. She may try again in 2014. And there are a handful of other candidates with statewide potential, including former State Sen. Dan Gelber.
But the more immediate issue facing Dems is finding a slate of candidates to run with the anti-Rick Scott momentum next year.
Which brings us to … um … well … hardly anyone.
Though Democrats can feel good about moderate U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson keeping the party's only statewide seat, Florida's fate isn't decided in congressional elections. It's decided in state ones.
And right now, Democrats are such a minority in the legislature, they don't have the votes to pass gas, much less meaningful legislation.
They're outnumbered 28-12 in the Senate and 81-39 in the state House.
The prospects for changing that are slim unless Democrats can change their decade-long habit of fielding uninspiring candidates.
So who's to blame?
The party, in some instances.
"There hasn't been effective candidate recruitment," said State Rep. Scott Randolph, D-Orlando.
But Randolph also blames the business community, saying the best candidates are supported by their bosses, who give them both time to campaign and donations, the mother's milk of modern politics.
Morgan says many companies gave up fielding promising young Democrats once Republicans had a chokehold on Tallahassee. "If you win, you're on Charlie Brown's baseball team," he said. "I don't know who would undergo the pain for so little gain."
Gerrymandering and the power of incumbency are also a wickedly potent combination. Money flows to those already in power. And financially, Florida Republicans have pounded their Democratic peers.
Still, with Fair Districts offering the promise of more competitive districts — and popularity among Republicans in Tallahassee at record lows — Florida Dems have momentum.
"I feel good," Randolph said. "People are energized. It's easy to get people excited when you've got somebody like Rick Scott in office."
As proof, they raised a record $700,000 just last weekend.
Still, Democrats will have to give voters a reason to cast ballots for them; candidates who inspire both confidence and passion, something they've lacked in recent years.
Both Randolph and Morgan agree.
Plus, Morgan says Democrats have one other thing going for them: "You can't go lower than the basement … unless you go subterranean."
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