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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Is Florida a “White Whale’ for Dems, or Do They Just Need Need a Makeover?

Democrats were understandably elated when Donna Deegan won the runoff election to become Mayor of Jacksonville, Florida, which was America’s largest city with a Republican Mayor. But the overall picture was not an encouraging one for sunshine state Democrats., as Michael Baharaeen explains in “What’s the Matter with Florida?” at The Liberal Patriot:

Even as most other traditional battleground states gave Democrats plenty to cheer about in the 2022 midterm elections, Florida—long considered a swing state—broke heavily for Republicans. GOP success in the state wasn’t confined to just one or two races either: the party made gains up and down the ballot. Incumbent Governor (and recently announced 2024 presidential candidate) Ron DeSantis won re-election in a landslide as his party earned supermajorities in the state legislature, while Senator Marco Rubio also won re-election by a significant margin and Republicans picked up four U.S. House seats thanks in part to aggressive gerrymandering.

And as if that weren’t enough, Democrats were locked out of all statewide offices for the first time since the Reconstruction era.

These results didn’t necessarily represent a significant departure from the state’s recent history, however. Republicans have controlled the governor’s mansion and both chambers of the state legislature since 1999.

Moreover, since 2000, they have won 32 of the 39 contests for statewide office, including 15 by double digits.

For their part, Democrats have won just one election for statewide office since 2012—the 2018 race for agriculture commissioner.

Even so, Democrats’ growing weakness in Florida has been somewhat hard to process. The state was a presidential bellwether for much of the past century, and candidates for the nation’s top office have averaged a winning margin here of just one point since 2000. In the three midterm elections that took place in the 2010s, all of which clearly broke for one party or the other at the national level, top-of-the-ticket contests in Florida continued to be very close. This included near wins for Democrats in both the U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races in 2018, where they fell short in each by less than half a point.

“Though frustrating,” Baharaeen writes, ” these results were nonetheless a sign to many that the Democratic Party still had life and that Florida should not be written off moving forward.” After all, Democrats only lost Florida’s electoral votes by 3.3 percent in 2020. And Florida is top-heavy with senior voters, who may have more sympathy with President Biden’s age, his bipartisan outreach and are impressed with his recent string of victories.

Baharaeen notes further that “Florida’s population has boomed since the turn of the century, and it is among the top 10 most diverse states in the country. These factors have transformed states like Colorado and Virginia from red to blue during that time. Others like Arizona and Georgia look to be following suit as well. But not Florida.”

Is it possible that Florida is fast approaching a demographic ‘tipping point,’ which could spell bad news for Republicans? Maybe, but measure that against continued voter suppression, gerrymandering and a still weak Democratic Party. Baharaeen has lots more gloom and doom stats in his article, the worst of which has to be the Republicans achieving more registered Floridians in 2021, thanks in large part to a huge influx of conservative migrants.

Dems looking for further rays of hope, however,  can take some comfort from Baharaeen’s assertion that “recent polling has shown that some of the GOP’s new laws related to abortion, guns, and the culture war appear to be deeply unpopular—even a majority of Republicans oppose the state’s six-week abortion ban and permitless carry law. There is also some evidence that the previously demoralized Democratic base is starting to awaken.”

In any case, Dems have to keep investing in Florida, because: it has so many electoral votes, it is a state in demographic flux and it has enormous problems, which it’s Republican leaders are not addressing with credible policies. But Democrats still have to come up with more impressive candidates. A little more investment in candidate recruitment might prove to be a cost-effective strategy.

One comment on “Is Florida a “White Whale’ for Dems, or Do They Just Need Need a Makeover?

  1. Jim Thompson on

    The party registration numbers in Fl have shifted dramatically from D to R in recent years. FL has presented itself as the MAGA Mecca and may be disproportionately attracting people who align with the R messaging – middle aged to older white people with HS or some college education. Democrats need to get a handle on the changing demographics in the state to decide how best to attack the problem. They also need to asses why they have lost ground among Latinos in Fl. Fl seems to be going in the wrong direction and a full rebuild of the party in the state may be needed to analyze the causes and address them.


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