Democrats tap into Charlottesville outrage for voter drive

By Troy Kinsey, Capitol Bureau Reporter
Last Updated: Monday, August 14, 2017, 9:31 PM EDT

The Florida Democratic Party, seizing on outrage over Saturday's deadly white supremacist demonstration in Charlottesville, is planning a statewide voter registration drive timed to coincide with the one week anniversary of the protest.

  • Florida Democrats holding a voter registration drive this weekend
  • Drive is in response to last weekend's rally in Charlottesville
  • Locations and times are to be determined

"We are proud to be launching a statewide effort to expand the vote and counteract these acts of hate with hope," Florida Democratic Party Chair Stephen Bittel said in a statement issued in the hours after the demonstration.

Using the hashtag #RallytoRegister to draw attention to the drive, party leaders are taking a cue from Kentucky's Democratic secretary of state, Alison Lundergan Grimes, who on Saturday tweeted, "They bring torches to push hate. We bring registration cards to promote democracy. Which side are you on?"

Perhaps more than the acts of violence at the Charlottesville demonstration themselves, President Trump's initial reaction to them has touched off a visceral response from progressive-minded Americans who complain his statement that "many sides" were to blame is inaccurate and insulting.

Arguing that Trump's campaign embraced the white nationalism of the 'Alt-right' movement, they say he's now protecting it in the face of video evidence that shows white supremacists, not counterprotesters, were to blame for Saturday's melee.

Turning that anger into voting power, Florida Democratic Party officials say, is the goal of this weekend's registration drive.

"These white supremacists who organized these hateful demonstrations want to intimidate us, right? They will not," said Johanna Cervone, the party's communications director. "They thought that through acts of terror they could subdue us, and we are going to launch this as a way to fight back, push back with a message of hope, and to also show we're not going to stop our work."

Turnout at the registration events could represent a barometer of Democratic enthusiasm as Florida's 2018 campaign cycle heats up. Each of Tallahassee's four statewide elected offices will be on the ballot, along with one of the state's two U.S. Senate seats.

With Republicans in control of Congress and the White House, history suggests a Democratic wave election is more likely than not, though party leaders were also optimistic about their chances in 2016 -- an election that handed Democrats a surprise drubbing.

There are currently 4.905 million Democrats in Florida and 4.575 million Republicans. There are also 3.1 million Floridians who are not affiliated with any party. The Republican Party holds all of the state cabinet seats, the governorship, and iron-clad majorities in the Florida House and Senate. The state also went to Trump in 2016.

"Take a stand -- register to vote, join your local Democratic Party, and defend our democracy," Bittel implored Floridians on Saturday.