Can a 20-Year-Old Democrat, Break Hernando Republicans’ Stronghold?
BROOKSVILLE, Fla. — For decades, Republicans have dominated Hernando County politics. Outward appearances suggest local Democrats have all but relinquished their place at the table having not held a single countywide seat since former Hernando County Commissioner Diane Rowden was ousted by Republican John Allocco in 2016.
According to data from the Hernando County Supervisor of Elections, roughly 43 percent of registered voters are Republican, 30 percent Democrat and 27 percent are unaffiliated. However, a decade ago, Republican and Democrat representation in the county was nearly equal — so what happened?
Hernando County Democratic Party Chair Terence Truax observes that the decline in Democratic voters in the county correlates with the rise in Independents, suggesting many may lean left but have felt dissatisfied with the Democratic Party, particularly those in the youth wing of the party.
“Young people don’t like how people put party loyalty and party fealty above everything else,” he says. “They want public servants who have a higher priority than political party.”
Twenty-year-old Isaiah Haddon agrees. “As a young Democrat, I know personally I want someone elected who will serve everyone to the best of their ability,” says the lone Democrat running for any elected office in the county. “Especially while running for office and especially with my campaign’s push towards younger voters, there are points where the feverish adherence to placing party loyalty above the people has been the difference between someone registering Democrat and NPA (no-party affiliation).”
Haddon will face off Nov. 3 against Republican Beth Naverud for the District 1 seat of the Hernando County Commission. Having raised enough money to pay his filing fees within hours of announcing his candidacy, there is enthusiasm among Hernando County Democrats for Haddon’s improbable crusade. Yet, Truax acknowledges the infrastructure to propel Haddon, or any Democratic candidate, is in the early stages of reconstruction.
“We don’t have a lot of political expertise in this county,” he said. “Before we can run candidates and be viable, we need to be connected to the community to have a base to draw from.” Truax sees community and youth outreach programs as key to energizing a Democratic base; yet, youth voter initiatives like the one that attracted Haddon have been sidelined since the pandemic, further delaying any Democratic inroads.
While it may be necessary for Truax to take the long view, Haddon feels uplifted by the support he’s been given by the party and is hopeful Hernando County government may begin to be more reflective of its constituency.
“Although Republicans make up about 40 percent of voters, they account for 100 percent of our elected officials,” Haddon points out. In fact, statewide Hernando County voters are represented exclusively by Republicans with the exception of the state’s Democratic Commissioner of Agriculture, Nikki Fried.
Should Haddon win in November, he hopes to bring a more diverse perspective to the commission. A phlebotomist by trade, he is a health care advocate and sees affordable housing and better mental health resources for Hernando residents as issues where he could find common ground with his Republican counterparts. He also would propose a $20,000 reduction in the salaries of all commissioners to help defray the cost of programs.
Whether Haddon’s campaign is able to withstand the steep climb is yet to be determined, but his candidacy represents the first step of a more youthful and energized party preparing to finally claim a seat at a very Republican table.