DeSantis win shows Florida is staunchly GOP ahead of 2024 election – The Washington Post

    Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was reelected by a margin of nearly 20 points, a blowout victory that was an affirmation of his appeal to the voters who have turned Florida into a haven for conservatives. Sen. Marco Rubio (R) also prevailed easily, as the GOP swept all statewide races while picking up a supermajority in the Florida legislature, defying Democratic gains elsewhere in the country.

    Battered and deflated by their party’s worst statewide showing in more than 100 years, Democratic strategists and activists said Wednesday it may take the party at least a decade to rebound from its stunning losses, which they fear are rooted in a fundamental cultural shift in Florida’s electorate as well as their inability to turn out even some of their most reliable voters.

    “This state is really a portrait of what happens when Florida Democrats fail, over many, many years, to communicate a working-class economic message,” said Joshua Karp, a Democratic strategist who worked on two statewide campaigns in Florida this year. He noted that about 1 million fewer voters supported statewide Democratic candidates for governor and U.S. Senate in Tuesday’s election compared with four years ago. “Now, we got to figure out, did they shift to becoming Republicans — or did they just not show up?”

    Florida’s shift to the right — which is occurring even as the electorate in recent elections became younger and more diverse, demographic changes that usually usher in a turn to the left — takes place as its beach towns and sprawling suburbs become a magnet for conservatives drawn by DeSantis’s hands-off approach to fighting the pandemic and his assault against what he calls the “woke left.”

    “We have gone from the place people move to for the weather and beaches, to the number one thing I now hear is, ‘I am moving to Florida for freedom,’” said Christian Ziegler, a Republican strategist and vice chairman of the Florida Republican Party.

    The state’s shift is cultural as much as political. In recent years, Florida has seen a surge in parents who home-school their children and in the number of residents who carry a gun. The state has made itself the epicenter for nationwide debates over school textbooks and the rights of transgender youths. And Florida has increasingly emerged as a hot spot for extremism. More residents were arrested here for allegedly participating in the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol than in any other state. Members of the Proud Boys, a far-right group with a history of violence, sit on county Republican Party executive committees, including in Miami.

    Even before Tuesday, the signs of building GOP strength here were apparent in voter registration statistics: Four years ago, when DeSantis was first elected by just 32,000 votes, Florida Democrats still had an advantage of nearly 300,000 registered voters over the GOP.

    Although Barack Obama narrowly carried Florida in both of his presidential campaigns, the state’s voters haven’t voted for a Democrat for governor since 1994. Strategists from both parties say Florida may be joining Ohio and Iowa — two other states that Obama carried — as places where Democrats nationally now face long odds of success in a presidential campaign.

    “Across the board, the fundamentals have been trending this way for a decade, and [Florida] really now is pretty solidly Republican,” said Terry Sullivan, a partner at Firehouse Strategies, a Washington-based consulting firm. “That may change … But in the short term, Florida is every bit as Republican as Texas.”

    Twenty years ago, the state GOP was defined by then-Gov. Jeb Bush’s soft-spoken and relatively moderate style of politics. But after former president Donald Trump stormed onto the political scene in 2016, the Florida GOP began gravitating toward a brasher, more rigid style of governing that has intensified under DeSantis.

    After his narrow 2018 election, DeSantis initially governed toward the center by focusing on issues such as improving water quality and embracing medical marijuana. But when the pandemic hit in 2020, DeSantis began pushing a more polarizing agenda that included bucking scientists by quickly reopening the state’s businesses and tourism centers, even as the coronavirus went on to kill more than 80,000 Floridians.

    Susan A. MacManus, a veteran Florida political analyst and a professor emerita at the University of South Florida, said DeSantis also succeeded in tapping into widespread unease among parents over education issues, especially in the state’s booming exurban communities, where many mothers “just felt that the country was heading in the wrong direction in almost every dimension.”

    Samantha Hope Herring, a member of the Democratic National Committee who lives in the Florida Panhandle, said big donors and national liberal interest groups have long shown interest in Florida every four years — during presidential elections. But little of that attention and money filtered down to county parties and local organizations so they could work year-round to identify and turn out Democratic-leaning voters, especially younger voters and minorities.

    “We have to reimagine how we connect with the people in this state,” Herring said. “Just think about seniors. Seniors are literally the largest regular voting bloc in this state, and we do almost nothing to target them.”

    Republicans, by contrast, have engaged with voters at a grass-roots level between election cycles — even offering civics courses for immigrants studying to become U.S. citizens, priming a new generation of GOP voters.

    Democrats such as U.S. Rep Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who represents parts of Broward and Miami-Dade counties, place part of the blame for the party’s poor voter mobilization on continued fallout from its decision to limit canvassing and other in-person events in 2020 during the pandemic.

    In FIU’s poll this year, nearly 60 percent of Cuban American voters under 40 said they planned to vote for DeSantis. The poll also showed that just 9 percent of the immigrants who arrived from Cuba over the past seven years planned to register as Democrats.

    “From Trump on down, a lot of these [Republican] candidates have courted the Cuban American voter very systematically for many years … and they have promoted this discourse in Florida that all Democrats are socialists,” said Jorge Duany, the director of the university’s Cuban Research Institute.

    State Sen. Victor M. Torres Jr. (D) said Democrats’ problem in this year’s election wasn’t that Puerto Rican voters made a major shift toward the GOP. Instead, Torres said, Democrats didn’t do a good enough of a job persuading moderate and left-leaning Puerto Ricans to vote.

    “It’s like pulling teeth,” said Torres, who is Puerto Rican and represents suburban Orlando. “I don’t want to point fingers and I don’t want to blame anybody, but I can tell you, we didn’t do it the right way, and we didn’t get organized the right way.”

    Away from big cities such as Miami, exurban communities are simultaneously at the forefront of pushing the state further to the right. It’s in places such as Brevard County — located along part of the eastern peninsula known as the “Space Coast” — that some of the most divisive and telling political battles have emerged.

    On Tuesday, the GOP secured a 4-to-1 majority on the county school board after Republican Gene Trent won a seat. In an interview shortly before the election, Trent said one of his top priorities would be to rewrite the school’s policies toward transgender students, including a policy that allows students to use the locker room of their choice.

    This content was originally published here.

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