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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Could Reproductive Freedom Win Florida for Dems in November?

Some excerpts from the transcript of Jon Weiner’s interview of Amy Littlefield, abortion access correspondent for The Nation:

JW: You say Florida is going to be the most important state to watch in the 2024 election. I have a lot of political friends who disagree with that, who say Florida has become a red state. Let’s face it, Trump won the state in 2016 and 2020. The legislature has a Republican super majority. Nevertheless, you think Florida is still a battleground state. Why is that?

AL: I know I’m fighting an uphill battle here, Jon, to convince people that Florida is in play. Okay. And let’s not forget that the Governor Ron DeSantis recently considered a presidential contender is a man who likes to send asylum seekers to Martha’s Vineyard as a fun hobby on the side. But it’s time to start taking Florida seriously. And one of the reasons, Jon, is that Florida has to be important because it is the last bastion of abortion access in the southeast. The South is basically a funnel of states where abortion is banned that are all directing patients into Florida. And I have to say, I’ve got my abortion goggles on. I will admit that that is how I look at everything.

But you know what? Abortion has the power to do things at the ballot box that people assume are impossible. And we have seen that with Michigan, where an abortion rights ballot measure helped Democrats get trifecta control of the state government for the first time in years. We saw that in 2022 in Kentucky, a state that has among the highest percentages of anti-abortion residents in the country where voters rejected an amendment declaring there’s no right to abortion in the state constitution. So, especially in the wake of the Dobbs decision, overturning Roe v. Wade and the collective outrage going on and the momentum behind these ballot initiatives, I think nothing is impossible. And I also think it’ll be fascinating to see, Florida is such a diverse and big state, so representative of the country in so many ways. It’ll be fascinating to see how this plays out there.

JW: Lots to talk about. Florida is one of a dozen states that have abortion rights initiatives on the ballot or in the process of qualifying to get enough signatures. Arizona is one of them. There are a lot of obstacles to getting this initiative before the voters in Florida, but the group organizing it, Floridians Protecting Freedom has already done quite a bit. What have they accomplished so far?

AL: Florida has so many hurdles that have to be cleared in order to get a measure on the ballot, they had to gather and verify almost 900,000 signatures from at least half of the state’s 28 congressional districts. And they blew past even their own expectations. I think on that one, they verified close to a million signatures. And then of course they’ve got the DeSantis administration and anti-abortion state officials, including Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, who have been throwing up whatever obstacles they can scheme up to try to prevent this thing from getting on the ballot. Florida also has the highest threshold for citizen-initiated amendments in the country, which means that in order to pass this amendment, if it makes it onto the ballot, is going to need more than 60% of votes.

JW: Let me just underline that. Majorities do not rule on Florida amendments. It takes a super majority, 60%. This is what Ohio voters turned down, but Florida initiatives don’t become law unless they get more than 60% – 

AL: Which is hard, but not impossible.

JW: Well, that’s what I wanted to ask. What do the polls say about support for abortion rights in Florida?

AL: So, abortion is really popular, Jon. I mean, Lauren Brenzel, who is leading the campaign there in Florida, said that they’re polling so far is consistent with about a decade of research in Florida that shows 70% and upwards of Floridians support access to safe and legal abortion, so-

JW: 70% – let me emphasize that. Not 50%, not 60%, 70% support.

AL: Abortion is popular, and the campaign is banking on it being popular among Republicans, being popular among unaffiliated voters. And we have seen that play out. I mean, I was on the ground reporting for The Nation in Kansas in the wake of the Dobbs decision when everyone was commenting on what a red state Kansas is. I mean, this is the home of George Tiller, the assassinated abortion provider. I mean, we knew the odds there. And yet Kansas surprised everybody except those of us who have been chanting “Abortion is popular,” and driving everyone crazy for years. And Florida does have a history of passing progressive ballot measures. For example, in 2020, making that 60%, they got close to 61% of Floridians voting in favor of a ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage. And so, this is not impossible, although as you point out, Ohio tried to do this, abortion opponents in Ohio tried to raise their threshold in order to stop the abortion rights ballot initiative from passing there, and Florida’s already got that threshold. So yes, a steep climb.

JW: When will we hear from the Florida State Supreme Court about whether people in Florida get to vote on abortion rights?

AL: They need to rule by April 1st. So, that is when we will know for sure if this initiative has cleared the Florida Supreme Court and will make it to the ballot in November.

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