Democrats See Realistic Path To Victories In Florida

By Max Greenwood

(THE HILL)

Democrats are eyeing what they believe is an increasingly realistic path to victory in Florida’s marquee midterm races after months of hesitation over just how aggressively to contest the state this year.

The Sunshine State has proven elusive to Democrats in recent years; former President Trump carried it in both 2016 and 2020, Republicans have outpaced Democrats in voter registrations and the party has struggled with mounting losses among Latinos, a key constituency that Democrats once saw as a reliable voting bloc.

But recent polling has reignited Democratic interest in Florida fueling hope among party operatives and officials that they just might be able to oust Gov. Ron Desantis and Sen. Marco Rubio(R) this year and reassert Florida’s reputation as a swing state.

“I don’t want to sound overly optimistic. We still have a lot of work to do,” said one Democratic consultant involved in key races in Florida. “But things are trending in the right direction.”

Democrats got their latest boost this week from two new polls that suggest their top candidates may be starting to close the gap with DeSantis and Rubio.

One, from Susquehanna Polling and Research, found Charlie Crist, the Democratic nominee for governor, trailing DeSantis by a narrow 4-point margin, within the survey’s margin of error. The same poll found Rep. Val Demings, the Democratic Senate nominee, running just three points behind Rubio.

Another poll, commissioned by AARP, put the matchups even closer. DeSantis led Crist by just three points, while Rubio held a slim 2-point advantage over Demings, according to the survey, which was conducted by the GOP firm Fabrizio Ward and the Democratic firm Impact Research.

The recent bump for Crist and Demings dovetails with the momentum that has lifted Democrats in other key races across the country over the past two months.

The Supreme Court’s decision over the summer to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark abortion rights case, has energized the party’s voters after a prolonged period of relative listlessness and given Democrats an outlet to cast Republicans as overly zealous when it comes to curbing individual liberties.

Thomas Kennedy, a Democratic National Committee member from Miami, said that argument may go particularly far in Florida, a state that has long been a refuge for abortion rights in the South.

He also pointed to other examples of what Democrats say is DeSantis’s heavy-handed approach to governance: suspending a state attorney who pledged not to prosecute people for violating abortion restrictions, promoting legislation clamping down on protests and pushing a new congressional map that was seen by many as a blatant Republican gerrymander.

Meanwhile, Kennedy said, Democrats in Florida have positioned themselves as a force for less intrusive government.

“We’re in this weird dynamic where the Democrats here are the ones preaching small government and the right to privacy and for the government not to get involved in our personal lives,” Kennedy said.

Of course, the hurdles for Democrats are hard to ignore.

DeSantis is deeply popular among Republicans, not just in Florida, but nationally, and has raised more than $130 million so far for his reelection campaign — far more than Crist, who is only a few weeks removed from a bitter primary fight against state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried.

The poll from Susquehanna Polling and Research that showed DeSantis leading Crist by only a few percentage points also found the governor’s favorability rating well above water. Crist’s favorability, on the other hand, stood in negative territory.

And while Demings has repeatedly outraised Rubio, the Republican senator still commands nearly twice as much cash on hand as she does. He also has a history of winning his races by margins often unheard-of in Florida statewide races. In 2016, for instance, he beat Democrat Patrick Murphy by 8 points — a landslide by Sunshine State standards.

There are also deeper issues plaguing Democrats in Florida. The state Democratic Party is still clawing its way back from the brink of financial ruin. The number of active voters registered with the GOP surpassed the number registered as Democrats for the first time in the state’s history late last year.

And there’s also the historical precedent that the party of a new president — in this case the Democrats — almost always suffer poor performances in midterm election years.

In one sign that some Democratic groups are still hesitant to put too much stock in Florida this year, many of the party’s largest donors and outside groups have held off on spending money in the state. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for instance, spent tens of millions of dollars in the state in 2020, but has only given about $1 million to the state Democratic Party this year.

Likewise, Priorities USA, the largest Democratic super PAC, hasn’t announced any plans for Florida this year, despite spending heavily in other key battleground states like Arizona, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Nevada.

“As of this moment, unless there’s huge outside support, we’re not going to see Democrats be able to keep up,” said Aubrey Jewett, a political science professor at the University of Central Florida.

Still, Democrats say that despite the challenges, Florida remains a key battleground. And as such, they have little choice but to contest it.

“Florida suffers from a little bit of a bad reputation these days — and that’s probably well earned,” one national Democratic strategist said. “But we don’t get to pick and choose. It’s the third largest state in the country. We’ve got to compete, and national Democrats have to act like Florida is a swing state, because it definitely is.

About Carma Henry 21248 Articles
Carma Lynn Henry Westside Gazette Newspaper 545 N.W. 7th Terrace, Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33311 Office: (954) 525-1489 Fax: (954) 525-1861

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