In the last few months of the 2018 race for Governor, with polls showing even support for Ron DeSantis and Andrew Gillum, the DeSantis team continued trying to reach roughly 630,000 Jewish Floridians, who tended to vote for Democrats.
In August, the campaign hired Derek Silver, who was entering his last year at Florida State University’s law school. Silver had also interned as an analyst with the Florida House of Representatives on education issues and clerked for the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation.
After an introduction by lobbyist Scott Ross, the DeSantis campaign hired Silver as its Jewish outreach director.
He had already been interested in wider dialogue, generally. As a first year law student, he combined with an FSU junior, Inam Sakinah, in an opinion piece lamenting the “mutual obliviousness” on social media and college campuses alike, in which the adherents of one set of political ideas can unfriend, unfollow, or just avoid anyone who holds a different view.
If an Asian Muslim Democrat and a White Jewish Republication could write the essay together, why couldn’t more people at least try to talk?
Their column, “Bridging the two Americas,” appeared in the November 23, 2016, Tampa Bay Times, and cited the interactions around the recent election of Donald Trump as a prime example of a divided country.
The move by the DeSantis campaign appears to have paid off, not just in hiring Silver but listening to him.
“We implemented a strategy that was different,” Silver said, “that targeted groups in the Jewish community that don’t tend to vote Republican.”
DeSantis defeated Gillum by less than one percentage point. A Fox News poll reported that DeSantis garnered 35% of the Jewish vote, compared with Trump’s 27% in 2016.
Silver grew up in Winter Park, then majored in political science and history at FSU.
“I’ve always had an interest in politics and policy,” he said. “And then I just decided, getting a law degree would really further my endeavors.”
“I kind of struggled for a while. Do I want to be a lobbyist, do I want to be a lawyer? That’s why I’m so happy with this firm. They’ve got me doing both, you’re a lawyer-lobbyist. We do legal work, we do lobbying work, we’ve got great clients. It’s great.”
That firm is Becker & Poliakoff. He joined in September as a private sector a lawyer and lobbyist, but went on leave until November. The Trump campaign had heard about Silver’s results with outreach to Jewish voters and wanted to benefit.
According to exit polls, Trump receive 41% of Florida’s Jewish vote in 2020, a 50% jump from his own race in 2016 and nearly doubling his Republican predecessors.
Silver is grateful to several people who have helped him: His boss at the firm, Ellyn Bogdanoff; lawyer and former 30 Under 30 participant, Adrian Lukis; and lobbyists Scott Ross, John Thrasher, Kathy Mears, and Nick Iarossi.
“They’re all people I’ve learned a lot from on the policy side,” Silver said. “But also in terms of how to be an upstanding person.”
Ross, for his part, said this in a nominating email to INFLUENCE Magazine: “Derek has proven himself to be a next-level political operator who can also play in the policy arena. He will be one to watch for years to come.”
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