Pam Keith entered her first-ever race as a Florida candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2016. She was green back then but even so, the Miami Herald endorsed Keith, noting that “This long-shot candidate brings one of the freshest perspectives to Florida politics heard in a long time. She is accomplished, credible—and has been left out in the cold by state Democratic leaders and her two better-known opponents. And that, too, is a shame for democracy.“
In talking with her, I also recognized that shame: Pam Keith is very tough, has a penetrating intelligence, and can demonstrate knowledge on every important issue. She is a strong progressive and also has an impressive background: She’s an attorney with an emphasis on labor, civil rights, and business law, who once served in the U.S. Navy as a JAG (Judge Advocate General) officer. She has lived on multiple continents, due to her father being a U.S. ambassador. She supported the mission to oversee Saddam Hussein’s compliance with sanctions and weapons inspections, and she was the first-ever JAG assigned to the Computer Network Security Task Force. Just four years ago, Keith also made history as the first black woman to ever run for a U.S. Senate seat in Florida.
Yet in 2016, Keith struggled to get funding, was given no support by local Democrats in favor of her primary opponent Patrick Murphy, and was ignored by most polls. The polls that did track her reported single-digit support. However, Pam criss-crossed the state and was able to amass a cadre of volunteers. She surprised everyone when she beat expectations with 15% of the 2016 primary vote.
Honing what she learned, Keith ran for Republican Brian Mast’s House seat in 2018. This district covers St. Lucie and Martin counties, as well as northeastern Palm Beach County. The district leans Republican by about 5 points, but its voting history is pretty balanced. Keith was uniquely positioned for broad appeal. She is progressive enough to excite the base, yet has a resume that fits the district. Keith was also endorsed by both VoteVets and the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida.
However, 2018 also wasn’t Keith’s year. Democratic Party leadership and donors supported a former Obama staffer, Lauren Baer, who went on to win the primary. Baer would go on to lose to Mast by a sizeable 8-point margin.
Since losing to Baer, Keith has gotten even more involved in her community, has been talking to every group she can find, whether large or small, and has taken up a number of progressive causes. Her sharp wit and willingness to speak out has earned her a massive following. I have been one of her followers for years. Although there is already a Democratic candidate in this race, Oz Vasquez, he has yet to catch fire. Pam Keith already has the name recognition and the strong reputation needed to win this race, and this time I believe that in 2020, it will be the party leadership that comes to her. At least, they should.
As Pam Keith was preparing to officially announce her 2020 run, she agreed to talk with Daily Kos. This interview has been edited for clarity.
DAILY KOS: Why are you running for Congress?
PAM KEITH: First, I love this district. I’ve put in a ton of work to get to know it personally.
Second, I’ve built rapport with the community, and especially the African American community. I don’t just visit during campaign season, they see me at church and their events—I didn’t go away when I didn’t win. They know my commitment is real.
Third, I’m a veteran, and a much better match-up to Mr. Mast.
Finally, I have that energy, passion, and that fire that excites people and gets them engaged. This is how I was able to build an army of volunteers. It is a lot of effort to get 23, 000 votes in a primary, especially as outpaced in fundraising as I was. That entire turnout was the result of my volunteers. Compare that to Donna Shalala or Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. They won, but they turned out 14,000 and 20,000 respectively. I turned out 23,000 in CD-18 with just a sixth of what they had in financial resources.
DAILY KOS: Why do you think you can win?
PAM KEITH: I ran last cycle, and the way I ran last cycle was very grassroots-oriented. I had to spend a ton of time on the ground and that allows name recognition obviously, but also builds rapport with the voters, especially the African American voters in Ft. Pierce. The last time we won that district, they turned out at 69%. That was in 2012. In 2008, they showed up at 67%. Subsequent to that, their participation was down between 59% and 62%. This is the margin we are losing St. Lucie county and the district.
The second element is that since we lost that seat to Brian Mast, we have not run a veteran.
(Note: Democrat Patrick Murphy, the last Democrat to hold this seat, is an Air Force veteran. Incumbent Republican Brian Mast lost both of his legs in Afghanistan.)
We ran an heiress [Lauren Baer]. She raised plenty of money but didn’t energize that group at all. I’ve served, I’ve deployed. I’m the daughter of a diplomat who for many years represented U.S. values abroad. I’ve lived a life valuing American ideals and know how to articulate them. It’s how I identify myself. I really focus my campaign on patriotism and service.
DAILY KOS: You’ve discussed turning out the African American vote, but your district is 80% Caucasian. What is your plan for turning out the rest of the voters?
PAM KEITH: If someone wants to talk about fiscal policy, foreign policy, national security, cyber issues, I am conversant in all these issues. What causes people to respond to me is that I bring new innovative ideas to the table that are grounded in their values. I can make a progressive idea into a conservative notion and explain the conservative take. For example, health care. I’ll start talking about costs and market-based solutions—things Republicans love to hear.
DAILY KOS: Any concern that this is an R+5 district?
PAM KEITH: Not particularly. It’s all about turnout. Yes, the district has a lot of Trumpers for sure, but it also has a lot of Northeast traditional Republicans that are more open to cross-voting, especially given how serious things are now. Compound that with how the Republican Party is taking aim at cutting Social Security and Medicare. [The president admitted this recently.] This is wildly unpopular in our district. Our district is the sixth-most elderly district in the nation. Add to that the fact the coronavirus is having a huge impact on the elderly community, and their willingness to cut Trump slack on his repeated lying is getting much less tolerated.
DAILY KOS: What does the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) say about this district?
PAM KEITH: They want the district. I have VoteVets supporting me and CollectivePAC, which are huge. We are going to look at Emily’s List, which last time did not endorse anyone because there were two pro-choice women in the primary. This time there is only one. I expect to get more endorsements when I announce. Last time I had MoveOn.org and Justice Dems [the group that backed AOC]. Again, it will be very hard for someone coming into this race without any name recognition, especially since we are going to probably have to do a lot of cyber campaigning, such as digital town halls and things like that.
DAILY KOS: What are your top three priorities?
PAM KEITH: Top priority is to stop Donald Trump. He is an existential threat to our democracy, our Constitution, our voting rights, and the list goes on.
Second priority is health care. This is about people dying. I’ve run on Medicare for All and I’ve run on single-payer. I explain my support for those predicated on a downstream look at the American economy. No matter how comfortable you can be with your employer taking care of you today, let’s not be naive. In 20 years, the majority of Americans won’t be employed in a typical 9-to-5 job that has an employer taking care of them. Most Americans will be working in the gig economy, or multiple part-time jobs, or innovating and being entrepreneurs where our healthcare system won’t work. The notion that you are only entitled to health care if you are fully employed is bull****. It’s predicated on the belief that you are only valuable to your country if you are employed in a certain way. Health care for you and your family shouldn’t be about whether you are employed or not, it should be about whether you are alive. We are going to have a more nimble workforce so we have to have a system that matches that. Even Republicans get this.
Third is climate change. We are obviously seeing the effects of climate change and irrational environmental policy, especially in our district. There is a concept within this administration that exploitation in the short term justifies plundering in the long term, and it doesn’t. We have to remove the leaders who try to focus regulations on the basis of whatever makes them and their friends rich.
DAILY KOS: How has (incumbent Republican) Brian Mast failed his district?
PAM KEITH: How has he NOT failed it? First, he is part of team climate science denial. He says that he just wants to focus on the district’s lakes, rivers, and the estuary. Fine, but that’s not why he was sent to Washington! Can you prove that you’ve moved a single Republican to stop underfunding the EPA? Or stopped a single Republican on your team to stop Donald Trump from rolling back clean air and clean water standards? Can you just show me that you’ve even made a small attempt to stop the chemical fracking efforts? Just show us anything at all you’ve done with your team.
Further, Brian has not introduced any significant legislation. He has not introduced any legislation that could help us. He has not been out front on any issue. He knows Trump is a liability, so he’s just trying to keep his head down, stay quiet, and survive.
There have been multiple opportunities for Brian to step up. Remember when Donald Trump said soldiers with Traumatic Brain Injury just have “headaches?” If there was one person in Congress who had the credibility to speak up for thousands of suffering veterans, don’t you think it would be the guy who lost both his legs in Afghanistan and suffered a TBI himself? What the hell, Brian? That was a great opportunity to set Trump straight so that he never disrespects a veteran like that again.
DAILY KOS: Yes, Trump has a history of insulting veterans, Gold Star families, POWs, war widows, etc. …
PAM KEITH: What’s the use of having a veteran serving our district if they won’t call onto the carpet leaders who disrespect veterans? It doesn’t matter if he’s on your side or mine. It doesn’t matter. That was just wrong!
DAILY KOS: Is there anything else you want me to know?
PAM KEITH: I really hesitated to run again. This is my third run. I’ve gotten kicked in the gut by my party many times now. I’ve made huge personal sacrifices, financial and otherwise, to be in this fight for the people that I love and want to serve. What caused me to get back in, besides the seriousness of our time, is, to be honest, Elizabeth Warren. If the most qualified woman in the world to run for president—and one who ran such a smart campaign with such a strong platform—can fail and keep her head up and stay in the game, then so can I. My commitment to this community has never waned, and my commitment to this fight will never stop. I came from ancestors who fought a whole lot worse with a whole lot less. I’m in it because how can you not be with so much to fight for?
Pam Keith formally announced her campaign on Monday.
Florida’s Democratic primary is Aug. 18, and the General Election is Nov.3.
Go get ‘em, Pam.
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