Can This Donkey Be Saved?

Backbiting, money troubles, lost elections... Hillsborough's Democrats are ailing, and they're looking for a cure.

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Accomplishments aside, Murphy faces tough challenges beyond those to her leadership style. At a recent DEC meeting, the party's treasurer said it had more bills than cash on hand. Murphy later acknowledged the party is struggling financially but denied that it is broke. She cited $12,000 in a certificate of deposit that the local party has in the bank but is loath to spend.

Many Hillsborough Democrats accept that their message must be honed in a certain fashion to capture part of the Red precincts. Reacting to the savage child abductions that have taken place in Florida this year, the Hillsborough DEC is sending a support-the-family message by sponsoring a Safety Fair in late July.

Democratic Party consultant Vic DiMaio says figuring out what has gone wrong for Democrats isn't that difficult. "The Republican Party had the money to do mail-outs," he says, referring to slate cards listing GOP candidates on all the local races. Democrats did not.

DiMaio subscribes to the theory that the Democrats' message isn't off base to the persuadables in the county - it's just how it's presented. "The Republicans have been more effective in framing the issue," he said.

Ah yes, the F-word. Framing. It's what makes Berkeley, Calif.-based linguist George Lakoff essential reading in Democratic Party circles these days. Lakoff is the author of Moral Politics, and most recently, the best-selling, Don't Think of an Elephant!, in which he posits that Republicans have been more successful winning elections in recent times because the political center has responded to the values the GOP represents. He also works to show progressives how to think in terms of values instead of programs.

It's something McKenna believes strongly in. "We need to counter the GOP spin," he said. He's joined forces with the Howard Dean-inspired Democracy for America (which was originally Dean For America) and has given presentations to the DEC and the Hernando County Dems in recent months on framing.

Busansky chimes in on framing as well, referring to Hillary Clinton's much-discussed speech regarding abortion, contraception and abstinence this past January as an exemplary use of changing the conversation. "I think what you say, and how you say it, is really important," she said. "In the end, no child should be left unwanted. That's framing a message, and I think that's a very important thing."

Framing language might help. Getting better organized and stopping the infighting would probably go even further.

After revelations about Democrats' financial problems at the state level surfaced last month, Governor Jeb Bush enjoyed rubbing it in a bit by calling state Dems "pathetic."

It was a harsh, partisan remark. But with 15 months until the next major election, Democrats in Hillsborough and throughout Florida are in the unenviable position of having to prove him wrong, needing to work harder to have the final word on the state of their party - and their relevance.

Mitch E. Perry is assistant news director at community radio station WMNF 88.5 FM.

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