David Holden addresses a town hall meeting on March 21, 2018. (Photo: Author)
Nov. 23, 2019 by David Silverberg
David Holden is hoping the second time will be the charm.
The former financial adviser who ran last year as a Democrat for Congress in Florida’s 19th Congressional District, is going to give it another try. Last week he officially filed as a candidate for the 2020 election under the official campaign committee designation, David Holden for Florida 2020.
Last year he was defeated by incumbent Republican Rep. Francis Rooney.
This time, he says, it’s going to be different.
“I’m thrilled to announce my second campaign for the U.S. House,” Holden told The Paradise Progressive in an e-mail statement. “It’s an honor to run for public office and to be considered to represent the people of Southwest Florida.”
This year the political landscape is radically different; Rooney is retiring. Both the Republican and Democratic fields are up for grabs in Southwest Florida. It’s a presidential election year when interest and turnout is high—and Republican disillusionment with President Donald Trump may be deeper and more pervasive than during the midterms.
But most of all, Holden has the lessons of his past campaign under his belt.
“We’re starting where we finished last time, with strong relationships across the district,” he told The Paradise Progressive in an interview.
When he started campaigning in 2017 Holden was largely unknown both to District 19 Democrats and the general voting population. He had to build a campaign organization from scratch and raise money without an established network. (Full disclosure: This author was his earliest volunteer and served as full-time Communications Director).
Ultimately, though, the Holden campaign set a number of precedents for Southwest Florida and the 19th District. It was the first time since the district’s formation in 2010 that a Democratic candidate raised a credible amount of campaign cash ($575,987.16); the first time a Democrat used television advertising; and the first time more than one candidate competed for the Democratic Party nomination. Also, it was the first time that local Democrats ran for all the offices on the ballot.
In the 2018 election cycle, the Holden campaign had to build its infrastructure and personnel as it went along. This time, says Holden, all the infrastructure is in place at the outset. He has hired a chief operating officer and human resources director, in contrast to the 2018 campaign, which went through three different campaign managers and competing organization charts.
At various times during the 2018 campaign Holden served as campaign manager, something he realizes was a mistake.
“This time I’ll just be the candidate,” he says. He’ll leave administrative, communications and management tasks to others. This campaign, he vows, will have clear lines of communication and a strong organization chart.
In 2018 the field operation was mainly staffed by student volunteers. They were bright and energetic and very effective but the campaign suffered when nearly all of them went back to school in September. This time, Holden is investing heavily in field operations and will have a full-time field director.
The campaign will also be building on its past progress in identifying and reaching non-party affiliated voters. That effort will be intensified, along with greater outreach to Hispanic voters.
“There are lots of votes left to be harvested,” he notes.
Fundraising will also be different and Holden is hopeful it will be more effective. This time he wil build on the networks and donors he established the last time and he has honed his fundraising skills. In contrast to 2018, where fundraising ramped up slowly as the campaign went along, this time, he says, “we’ll raise a significant amount in the first four weeks.”
Indeed, in its first official day of fundraising, Thursday, Nov. 21, the campaign brought in $27,700. It has another $15,000 pledged to come in shortly.
Complying with campaign regulations is complex and difficult. In contrast to 2018, the campaign’s money will be administered by a campaign finance director from the outset and overseen by a compliance professional. “That takes pressure off the senior staff,” he points out.
In 2018 there were numerous campaign volunteers but the mechanism to oversee, train and assign them developed over time. This time, says Holden, those functions will be in place from the start so that the volunteer operation will be robust and quick-reacting. Also, this time he wants to make sure volunteers are fully trained and get the support they need to be more effective from the moment they start working.
The last campaign was headquartered in Naples. In this campaign, vows Holden, he will be spending more time in Cape Coral, Fort Myers and Lee County generally where 75 percent of the district’s voters reside.
Who is David Holden?
Last year was the first time many Southwest Floridians made the acquaintance of Holden, a 60-year-old originally from White Plains, NY.
Holden had some political experience. In the late 1980s and until 1995 he was active in Democratic politics in White Plains, rising from district leader to chairman of the Democratic City Committee and successfully turning a conservative Republican area blue.
His commitment to liberal causes was instilled by his parents who were active in the civil rights and peace movements of the 1950s and 60s. He majored in political science at Temple University, in Philadelphia, Penn., where he graduated cum laude in 1981. He earned a Master of Public Administration degree from Harvard University in 2009.
Professionally, Holden worked in a variety of companies including a graphic arts studio and his own marketing, branding and communications firm in White Plains. In Naples, he and his wife Streeter partnered in the Holden Wealth Management Group of Wells Fargo Advisors, a position he left after the election. This time he is working as a full-time candidate from the outset.
His passion, though, aside from politics, is in non-profit health and social support agencies like the California Association of Social Rehabilitation Agencies, a non-profit that pioneered mental health best practices, where he served for a time as deputy director. He’s chairing the Collier Chapter of the Democratic Environmental Caucus of Florida and is a member of the Hazelden Betty Ford Florida Council. He’s also taking a master class offered by the Greater Naples Leadership in non-profit administration and management.
After a decade of spending vacation time in Naples, Holden and Streeter moved to Florida full time in 2015, so they had plenty of time to settle in and build their practice—then came the shock of the 2016 election.
Reverberations and response
“What we experienced on Election Day was for me as unforeseen and unimaginable as anything I have experienced in my lifetime,” Holden recalled in 2017. “It was in a very real sense the overthrow of our governing norms.”
Jolted by Donald Trump’s victory, Holden decided to run in the 19th District. “We’re seeing, around the country and the world, that progressives and rationalists are not going quietly into that good night,” he said at the outset of the campaign. “There’s a will to fight and I have it as well.”
Holden started small, with participation in events and rallies. With time, he matured as a candidate. At first tentative, he gained confidence in his public appearances. He was strongest in town hall meetings, taking questions from voters and listening to their concerns. He was articulate and had good command of the issues. Initially, he tried to juggle his job with his campaigning but ultimately committed himself to campaigning full time. And he threw himself into raising the kind of money that a serious race entailed, building an effective fundraising network in the process.
Holden had an unexpected primary challenger in Todd Truax, a senior care manager. The two engaged in several debates and Holden credibly held his own each time. But the true test of his efforts came on primary day, Aug. 28, 2018, which he won with a crushing 67.9 percent of the 35,922 Democratic votes cast.
The primary victory, however, did not translate into ultimate success. With 339,607 votes cast, Holden lost the general election to Francis Rooney by 62.3 percent to 37.7 percent.
Holden is determined to learn the lessons and avoid past mistakes this time.
It’s also a presidential election year, which makes for a different calculus. “With a strong national candidate we could win the state,” he says.
“I’m more energized than last time,” he vows. “We’re going to run our own kind of race.”
Liberty lives in light
©2019 by David Silverberg