OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.
Florida, once a highly contested battleground state, has been increasingly trending Republican in the age of Gov. Ron DeSantis and now appears to be lost to Democrats in the same way that the GOP has lost any political influence at all in California.
Before the November elections, reports noted that Republicans in Florida were gaining on Democrats who had long held a voter registration advantage in the Sunshine State, eventually overtaking the party of the donkey for the first time in decades. Then, as if to emphasize the gains Republicans had made in the state, DeSantis won his reelection bid by nearly 20 points — a much greater advantage than in 2018, when he lost to former Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum by less than a half-percent.
Statewide, the legislature is in Republican hands, as are all elected offices; the last Democrat to hold one was Nikki Fried, who served as the head of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. That is a first since the era of Reconstruction.
“More than two months after enduring humbling midterm losses, Democrats in Florida are in a state of disorder, with no clear leader, infrastructure, or consensus for rebuilding, according to interviews with more than a dozen organizers, former lawmakers, donors, and other leaders,” the Washington Post reported on Monday.
“These factors have compounded their worries about Democrats outside Florida all but writing off the nation’s third-most-populous state, which was once seen as a marquee battleground. Democrats have struggled there in recent elections, hitting a new low last fall when Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis won a second term by nearly 20 points and carried majority-Hispanic Miami-Dade County, which a GOP gubernatorial nominee hadn’t done in 20 years. Republicans also secured a supermajority in the state legislature,” the report continued.
Looking to 2024, the paper continued, there are no signs that a President Joe Biden reelection campaign would invest much in Florida to secure its 30 electoral votes; only California and Texas have more. That is especially true if DeSantis becomes the GOP presidential nominee.
“The thing about Florida Democrats is we keep learning with every passing year that just when you thought you had hit bottom, you discover that there are new abysses to fall deeper and deeper into,” Fernand Amandi, a veteran Democratic operative in the state, told the Post. “There is no plan. There’s nothing. It’s just a state of suspended animation and chaos — and, more than anything, it’s the mournful regret and acceptance that Florida has been cast aside for the long, foreseeable future.”
“There are really no Democrats in Florida who have money or are motivated,” said John Morgan, a major Democratic donor and trial lawyer in central Florida, who complained about a lack of viable Democratic candidates in the state for next year’s U.S. Senate race against incumbent Republican Rick Scott, himself a former governor.
Biden’s policies loosening sanctions on Venezuela and easing restrictions on Cuba could be politically toxic in Latino-heavy South Florida. The administration was seen as making moves without considering political outcomes or improving Biden’s standing with a demographic key to winning the state.
And funds from national donor groups have dried up after Florida Democrats suffered stinging losses in recent years.
But Florida is also home to DeSantis, a likely 2024 hopeful who takes shots at the president whenever the opportunity arises. So despite their dim prospects in the state, Democrats had an enormous incentive to engage there this year — if only to try to blunt the governor’s rise ahead of a presidential bid.
“If you were to ask me, does Florida give you as good a return on investment as other places? Clearly right now it does not,” Chris Korge, the Democratic National Committee Finance Director, said. “We got our butts kicked in Florida recently. Our butts kicked.”
“I think the White House absolutely thinks we need to be engaged there now rather than waiting until 2024 when it becomes more expensive to stop [DeSantis],” he said. “We are going to be engaged in the midterm and, you can quote me on this, the DNC is absolutely not giving up on Florida.”
It didn’t work, however — but that doesn’t appear to have thwarted national Democrats.
“Last cycle, the DNC doubled down on our 50-state strategy with historic midterm investments and we remain firmly committed to that approach — including in Florida,” DNC Chairman Jaime Harrison said in a statement. “We are already laying the groundwork for additional resources headed into 2024.”