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Saturday night the Florida Democratic Party took a giant step back from unity as party chairman Stephen Bittle was attacked for calling Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon, who is black, and members of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus, “childish”. The Big Blue Gala fundraising event featuring former VP Joe Biden turned into a heated exchange between Bittle and Braynon after the disparaging comments made by Bittle spread by word of mouth to black caucus members.

Disunity could be the Devil in Georgia

Now, the story has unfolded in newspapers and broadcast nationwide threatening to throw water on state Democrats hoping to recover from a dismal 2016 electoral performance.

The trouble began when accommodations for Biden cut into the schedule of Florida Democrats biggest fundraising venue. To make things work, Bittle canceled the individual introductions of black caucus and other members of the state’s political cast apparently without informing Democrats who were gathered behind the stage. When word got to Bittle that the Democrats who wanted to be announced were getting restless, he made alleged derogatory comments, including calling them “childish”.

'Childish' remark inferred as 'racial'

As word got around among the tight-knit group that they would not be individually introduced due to time constraints a small contingent of black caucus members approached Bittle to warn him of growing unrest. At that point, Bittle allegedly made disparaging remarks about the group’s maturity level and that’s when the fundraising gala became an anything-but-unifying distraction for state Democrats and the Democratic Party at large.

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A day later, Bittle found himself profusely apologizing for his “childish” remarks. Still, an apology may not be enough to right the Democrats' political ship, at least not in Florida where Sen. Bill Nelson faces reelection in 2018.

House Minority Leader Kionne McGhee claims racial element

For his part, Braynon complained to press that Bittle’s comments and attitude were offensive to black caucus members and that they were “visibly upset.” However incoming House Minority Leader Kionne McGhee took Bittle’s remarks to be racial and nature. “There was definitely a racial component to his comments,” McGhee said. It is not clear why McGhee is calling Bittle a racist over the comments, but the brouhaha is not playing well in Democratic Party circles, especially considering the venue was meant to be a unifying moment for Democrats.

McGhee threatens Democrats

McGhee, as minority leader, will pay a heavy hand in Democrat House elections as the 2018 election season heats up and He said he is threatening to “pull his operation” from the official Florida Democratic Party apparatus after the current fundraising quarter.

“After last night, after those comments, we have some decisions to make,” he said. “All options are on the table.” The incident comes as Georgia, one state north of Florida, conducts a special election to replace former Republican representative Tom Price in the affluent suburbs north of Atlanta. Democrats have invested $23 million in political newcomer Jon Ossoff whom is facing veteran Republican Karen Handel. That U.S. House race is tied for all practical purposes but it is unclear whether or how much the racial flare up within the Democratic Party of Florida will affect Georgia turnout. Democrats are heralding the Georgia contest as an anti-Trump referendum, however, Republicans would quickly unify around a Handel win, characterizing it as another nail in the coffin of a struggling Democratic Party.