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Florida now a Republican state

Washington Examiner logo Washington Examiner 11/13/2020 Naomi Lim
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Florida, Florida, Florida is a thing of the past.

Twenty years ago at this time, the Sunshine State was the center of the political universe as the 36-day tussle over ballots and hanging chads left Republican Texas Gov. George W. Bush the winner over Vice President Al Gore by 537 votes out of nearly 6 million cast. And since then, the state has seen a series of nail-biting statewide races.

But this year, President Trump defied poor polling to dispatch President-elect Joe Biden quickly in Florida, an electoral treasure trove.

Trump's overperformance in South Florida denied Biden the opportunity to run-up his margin and cancel out the president's popularity elsewhere in the state, earning Trump the state's 29 votes in the Electoral College.

Trump's repeat win in Florida perpetuates an emerging Republican trend in the state. And it's a trend that has prompted concerns that Florida is slipping away from Democrats, at least for the foreseeable future.

Though Trump won Florida by only 3 percentage points this cycle, he built on the momentum he created when he defeated Hillary Clinton in the state by 1 percentage point four years ago. This year, Florida was also about 3.5 points more Republican compared to the national popular vote as it stands on Thursday. In 2016, the state was roughly 3 points more Republican than the popular vote.

And while former President Barack Obama won Florida by 1 point in 2012 and 3 points in 2008, the state was 1 point and 2 points more Republican than the popular vote, respectively.

Republicans haven't shied away from the shift.

University of Central Florida politics professor Aubrey Jewett recalled how Trump's first Florida win was propelled by higher-than-expected turnout among white voters. And between 2016 and last week, Florida Republicans hustled to register more than 100,000 people relative to the Democrats, who still lead the statewide registration race by 1 point.

But Jewett remembered, too, similar conversations after Obama's consecutive wins. Those victories stirred projections that Florida would become more diverse, bolstering Democrats. That boon never materialized.

"Florida has grown by 2-3 million people a decade since World War II and is expected to continue that growth," he said. "We may see a bigger surge in people of color yet, and Democrats may be able to take advantage of that. But maybe not as Republicans may continue to craft effective strategies and messages to attract more of those voters and outspend Democrats getting their message out."

Although hopeful Democrats point to Florida's history of close races, it's been a conservative stronghold for those seeking statewide office for more than a decade, according to Florida State University political science professor Carol Weissert.

Weissert explained that Florida has had a Republican governor and a GOP-controlled statehouse since 1999. And the only sitting statewide Democrat is Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried after Republican Sen. Rick Scott ousted Democratic rival Bill Nelson in 2018.

"In 2020, Democrats lost two congressional seats, five state House seats, and maybe a state Senate seat," she said.

National interest and outside money have made the presidential races more competitive than in the past, Weissert reasoned.

She agreed Republicans were particularly skilled at targeting different blocs, such as segments of the Hispanic community, charter school parents, and anti-abortion voters. And they were organizing on the ground last spring and summer. Democrats didn't because of the coronavirus pandemic.

"By the time the Democrats got back in play in person, the Republicans had sold their message very effectively, so it was too little too late," she said.

Weissert contrasted Florida with Georgia, a state that tilted Democratic this cycle thanks, in part, to 2018 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams's group Fair Fight Action and its work investing in voting rights. For Weissert, 2018 Florida Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum's registration push through Forward Florida Action wasn't as successful before it got sidelined due to Gillum's personal issues.

"Florida really is a red state and will likely stay that way until we get a Stacey Abrams-type movement and better leadership in the party," she continued.

University of South Florida communications professor Joshua Scacco warned that the state's Republican expansion may be linked to Trump's rural and exurban voter appeal. But he said that even when Obama featured on the ticket, Florida was more Republican than the country as a whole.

"Democratic presidential campaigns going forward will need to continue to weigh the cost of competing in the state with the slight Republican lean in the past few elections," he argued, especially given its 10 expensive media markets.

Part of that calculus will include trying to notch down-ballot victories, "knowing that the state may be tough to win in the aggregate," Scacco said.

"This does not mean that national party efforts and candidates will disregard the state in the future," he contended. "With a growing population and influence both electorally and in Congress, no party or candidate can afford to leave Florida uncontested in an election."

Tags: News, 2020 Elections, Campaign 2020, Florida, Campaigns, Donald Trump, Republican Party, Joe Biden, Democratic Party

Original Author: Naomi Lim

Original Location: Florida now a Republican state

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