Biden and Democrats can’t let go of Florida despite GOP gains
JACKSONVILLE, Florida — Democrats, including President Joe Biden, are not giving up on Florida despite the state’s marquee races becoming insurmountable for the party three weeks before Election Day.
Cook Political Report prognosticators this week updated Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) reelection bid against Rep. Val Demings (D-FL) from “lean” to “likely” Republican. Meanwhile, potential 2024 presidential candidate Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) has a record $100 million fundraising advantage over his opponent, former Gov. and Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL). But that is not deterring Democrats from launching their national get-out-the-vote drive in the Sunshine State.
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From the economy to crime, education, and immigration, Democrats being “out of sync” with the majority of Floridians’ concerns has contributed to their struggles in the state, according to Florida Republican Party Executive Director Helen Aguirre Ferre.
“We have an advantage of voter registration over Democrats for the first time in Florida’s history,” Aguirre Ferre told the Washington Examiner of Republicans’ 2-point edge over Democrats. “We have nearly 300,000 more active registered voters who are Republican over Democrats, and that’s absolutely significant.”
Florida has been slowly slipping out of Democrats’ reach, according to Florida Republican National Committee spokeswoman Julia Friedland. Former President Donald Trump precipitated that trend with his 2016 and 2020 election wins in the state thanks, in part, to his popularity among many Latino and Hispanic voters.
“As Democrat complacency grows in Florida, Republicans continue to dig deeper, making important inroads and taking no community for granted,” Friedland said.
But days after first lady Jill Biden stumped for Crist and Demings in Orlando last weekend, Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison began his national bus tour aimed at mobilizing voters in Jacksonville on Thursday. Crist was in attendance, but Demings was not. The former Orlando police chief is also not expected to appear alongside the president while he is in Fort Lauderdale on Nov. 1 for a Crist reception.
“Folks, y’all ready? You ready to do this thing? You ready to turn it up?” Harrison asked the small crowd. “They say Florida can’t be flipped, but, my God, y’all gonna do it!”
Kobie Christian, a Florida Democratic Party spokesman, dismissed the idea that Democrats have to cede Florida. He described it as “a perennial swing state.” Remember, DeSantis “squeaked by with a small margin in 2018 that went to a recount,” Christian said.
“Keep in mind that there is nothing that DeSantis has done to reach out across the aisle or court moderate voters,” he added. “He’s only campaigned on the most extreme cultural issues, including an abortion ban that will be front and center for many voters.”
For Christian, Kansas’s rejection of a ballot measure that would have removed the state’s constitutional abortion protections last summer “demonstrated that issues matter more than voter registration.” He pointed, too, to the Florida property insurance crisis as another top priority.
Florida politics have morphed over decades due to population growth, public opinion on issues, party organization, money, and political leadership, according to University of Central Florida politics professor Aubrey Jewett.
“Florida’s rapid political change over the last four years has been fueled by an influx of new conservative Republican residents, the leadership style of Trump and DeSantis, and a switch in political attitudes by Hispanic voters who have come to view the Democratic Party as socialist and out of touch with their everyday concerns,” the Politics in Florida author said.
The RNC credits its success in Florida to its policies and grassroots organizing, knocking on more than 2 million doors to date this midterm election cycle and making more than 5 million voter contacts. In particular, it has invested in Latino and Hispanic outreach, including through the state’s five community centers. The Doral and Tampa locations, for instance, are teaching staff and volunteers to prepare permanent residents for the U.S. citizenship test’s civics component.
Simultaneously, DeSantis has addressed possible low Republican turnout as Florida recovers from Category 4 Hurricane Ian. The governor issued an emergency order last week that increased the number of early voting days and locations, as well as streamlined the vote-by-mail request process, in Charlotte, Lee, and Sarasota counties. Early voting now starts on Oct. 24.
The DNC underscored its funding and staff collaboration with the Florida Democratic Party, including dedicated black and Latino organizers, backed by a paid voter registration program among other technology and tools to help with phone calls and texting. Harrison has hosted a range of events, such as Latino, Haitian, Puerto Rican, LGBT, and youth listening sessions and roundtables.
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In addition to the Senate and governor races, Cook Political Report identified three competitive House contests, though Republicans are bolstered by DeSantis and the GOP state legislature’s redistricting. But the nonpartisan group considers Crist’s old St. Petersburg, Clearwater, and Largo seat on Florida’s Gulf Coast as Republicans’ only flip opportunity, categorizing the 13th District to be “likely” GOP.
“The old boundaries of District 13 supported Biden over Trump by 4 points, 51.5% to 47.4%,” Jewett said. “However, under the new boundaries, District 13 supported Trump over Biden by 7 points, 53% to 46%, a swing of 11 points.”