Red state, blue state – taking these labels for granted is a dangerous proposition anywhere, but especially somewhere like Florida. Like a sunset over the Gulf, the Sunshine State seems to take on different shades of red and purple, just depending on when you look. While the state has been reliably Republican for a while now, it has, for the most part, only been so by a slim majority.
Florida Democrats would like a little more blue to shine through that purple. They hope to build a “coalition of voters” to help them rebound in 2022 and beyond. Between widespread rejection of President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 mandates and the administration’s importation of illegals, however, the Democrats are fighting an uphill battle. So far, they’re losing; for the first time in the state’s history, registered Republican voters outnumber Democrats.
The Red Side of Purple
At the annual strategy conference of the Democratic Party in Florida, state Senator Annette Taddeo, who hopes to oust Governor Ron DeSantis next year, admitted the party has been on a losing streak of late. “Of course this fight will not be easy,” she said, “but it’s about so much more than any one of us, and as Florida Democrats, we have lost so many times that donors and pundits have given up on us.” Still, she has hope. “I believe and I know we can win if we create the coalition of voters that are needed to win in a state where these decisions are made by 1% or less,” she added.
The Sunshine State has been led by a Republican governor for 22 years straight, or six elections worth. In the state legislature, the GOP has maintained a majority in the House since the 1996 elections and the Senate since ’94. Out of 27 congressional districts, just shy of two-thirds (17) of Florida’s U.S. representatives are Republicans. In fact, out of the 59 representatives sent to Washington in the last 20 years, less than a third (19) have been Democrats. Both of the state’s U.S. senators belong to the GOP. Florida’s Class I Senate seat was held by Democrat Bill Nelson from 2001 to 2019, and the Class III seat was held by Bob Graham from 1987 to 2005. That’s three back-to-back elections each, or half of the 12 elections since ’86. Since helping elect Dwight D. Eisenhower as president in 1952, Florida has backed Democrats trying for the White House just five times over 68 years. And it’s probably safe to say Florida would never have gone to Bill Clinton in 1996 had Ross Perot not taken nearly half a million votes that would have most likely gone to Bob Dole otherwise.
But only now, in 2021, does the state of Florida have more voters registered as Republicans than Democrats. Florida may be purple – but it’s definitely a redder shade.
Numbers Don’t Lie – But They’re Still Tricky
According to Florida Democratic Party Chairman Manny Diaz, the party has more people on the ground than ever before. “The last time we had any kind of statewide organization here was during the Obama campaign, in ’12, but then he got elected, and again we broke down the tents and didn’t maintain that kind of organization for the last ten years,” he said. “We’re not going to be outworked by the other side this year, I promise you that.”
But the GOP has continued to put in the work and has been doing so for the last decade or more – and it has paid off. In 2016, Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by 1.2% in the state, which worked out to a lead of 112,911 votes. After his first term, Trump increased his Florida vote count by more than a million; he beat Biden by 2.2%, which doesn’t sound like much until you realize that’s 371,686 people – more than twice the lead Trump had over Clinton – and that’s after Michael Bloomberg spent $100 million in the state on Biden’s behalf.
Given the current president’s disastrous first year in office, and the popular support for how DeSantis has responded to his COVID-19 measures and the clandestine importation of illegals from other states farther west along the nation’s southern border, it seems highly unlikely that the 2020 voters would show old Scranton Joe any more love today than they did just over a year ago.
During the 2020 election, Florida had almost 130,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans. During the 2018 gubernatorial race, when DeSantis won over Andrew Gillum by about 32,000 votes, the Democrats outnumbered Republicans in the state by more than a quarter-million. Now the tables have turned. Republicans officially outnumber Democrats by just over 25,000. It’s a slim majority, but consider the massive change and the electoral history despite the large lead in registered voters once held by the party of Biden and Taddeo.
The variable that has upset the Democratic Party apple cart so reliably in the Sunshine State – even if often only narrowly – is the mass of unaffiliated voters. So far this year, that group totals around 3.8 million. Some have and will vote for Democrats, sure – but how many? If history is any indication, it doesn’t look good for that rebound Florida Democrats are hoping for – not in the congressional midterms nor the governor’s mansion. Short of any massive and sudden demographic shifts or divine intervention on his behalf, it doesn’t look good for Biden – or whichever Democrat runs in his place – in 2024, either.
~ Read more from James Fite.
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