Florida election delivers big wins for Republicans as Democrats struggle: NPR


Lee County voters wait in line to vote at the Wa-Ke Hatchee Recreation Center in Fort Myers, Fla., on Election Day, Nov. 8, 2022.

Rebecca Blackwell/AP


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Rebecca Blackwell/AP


Lee County voters wait in line to vote at the Wa-Ke Hatchee Recreation Center in Fort Myers, Fla., on Election Day, Nov. 8, 2022.

Rebecca Blackwell/AP

Florida Republicans have won up-and-down elections by stunning margins this year. Some political experts say this election could mark the end of Florida’s longtime status as the nation’s top swing state, but Democrats and third-party groups say they are not convinced Florida is officially a Republican stronghold.

They say there’s a more complicated explanation for what happened in Florida during midterms.

Dwight Bullard, a former state lawmaker and senior policy adviser for a social justice advocacy group called Florida Rising, said this year’s election was always going to be tough for Democrats. He said he and other groups that work with mostly black and Latino voters in Florida — key voting blocs for Democrats — are dealing with unmotivated constituencies and a well-funded and well-organized opposition.

“You know a lot of the political headwinds were already established,” Bullard said. “If we were going to use the analogy of a track meet, people had already started running a few meters ahead when the large-scale democratic organization started. So it was really going to be a game of catch-up.”

And they just haven’t caught up, he said.

Anthony Verdugo, founder and executive director of the Florida Christian Family Coalition, said conservative mobilization efforts like his have been hard at work for years. He said they’ve really picked up a lot of momentum this past year.

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“The governor’s office and the Republican Party have focused on a very aggressive voter registration drive,” he said. “Florida has always – since its founding – been a registered Democratic majority state. Last December we crossed the threshold.”

Verdugo said his own group registered about 1,300 voters of the conservative faith in just a three-week period last fall. He also credits Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who he says has done an effective job of unifying the party base by addressing many cultural issues. As a result, Verdugo said, Republicans have a more consistent and clearer message for their constituents than Democrats.

“I think that, combined with everything the Republican Party has done right, has made it one-sided and made all the difference in the world,” he explained.

Incumbent Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis holds his son Mason as he celebrates winning re-election at a dinner party in Tampa, Florida, November 8, 2022.

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Incumbent Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis holds his son Mason as he celebrates winning re-election at a dinner party in Tampa, Florida, November 8, 2022.

Rebecca Blackwell/AP

DeSantis won re-election by nearly 20 percentage points. Up and down the ballot, other Republicans did almost as well.

Joshua Karp, a Democratic strategist, said he was skeptical that this amounted to a huge political victory for DeSantis.

“He won about 4.1 million votes four years ago,” Karp said. “This time he won about 4.6 million votes. So he certainly increased the size of his coalition by several hundred thousand people. In a state like Florida, that’s a few percentage points. What really happened is that the Democrats didn’t show up at the polls.”

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It’s all about the money

Statewide voter turnout is down by more than half a million votes compared to 2018. Karp blames money in large part for this lack of motivation among Florida’s Democratic voters.

Tessa Pettit, executive director of an immigrant rights group called the Florida Immigrant Coalition, said her group’s campaign arm is pleading with national donors to help them get out the vote. But she and other groups failed to raise millions of dollars.

“The investment has gone down a lot,” Pettit said. “Donors have pulled out because I think they’ve kind of — I don’t know, maybe they’ve lost faith in the party as a whole.”

Four years ago, money was flowing into Florida for groups like the Florida Immigrant Coalition, Pettit said. That year, DeSantis won the governor’s race by just 0.04% of the vote.

Petty said this lack of funding is why Miami-Dade County specifically saw a 10 percentage point drop in voter turnout this year compared to the last midterm election. Because of the state’s diversity, she said, it takes a lot of money to get out the vote in communities of color. Petit said that’s why national donors don’t pick and choose which years to invest here if they want to see results.

“Florida is not a state where you can date,” she said. “You have to go into something you know — you have to go into a relationship, a committed relationship with Florida.”

Voting rights laws may have had an impact

Looking at the election results, voting rights groups and Florida Democrats say there was a toxic environment around voting this year created by Republicans.

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Karp said that in the past two years, DeSantis has signed two voting bills that went from making it harder for third-party groups to register voters to “making it harder to collect absentee ballots and leave them to people who might have trouble getting to the polls.” place. “

Karp said he was most concerned, however, by DeSantis’ announcement earlier this year that his new election crimes unit had arrested 20 people who voted in 2020. In interviews, those people said they believed they allowed to vote because the state gave them a voter registration card.

Bullard said that creates a “chilling effect” among some voters who have been in trouble with the law at some point.

“What we heard on the ground was that people who had the right to vote felt like ‘if I did that, it could really get me arrested again,'” he said.

Bullard and other Democratic and left-wing groups say none of that has stopped them from continuing their work in Florida. They say they hope the 2024 election will show Democratic donors that Florida is still a state worth investing in.

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