Despite the excitement and anticipation that stirred among Democrats in Florida heading into Tuesday’s election, when the votes were all counted they faced the stark reality that nothing changed. Florida is a swing state in presidential elections, but it’s still a state dominated by Republicans and that dominance grew stronger Tuesday night.
When Democrats seized the lead in early and mail-in ballots over the weekend they felt confident in their ground game heading into election day.
“I said it yesterday and I’ll repeat it today, I’d still rather be us, than them,” said Juan Peñalosa, executive director of the Florida Democratic Party in a memo sent out to reporters Monday morning.
That confidence was shaken Tuesday evening when the returns started filtering in from the western part of the Florida Panhandle, a rural, more conservative part of the state. Republicans Ron DeSantis and Gov. Rick Scott surged into narrow leads in their respective contests for governor and U.S. Senate. They were leads that both candidates would hold for the rest of the night.
For Democrats, the results marked the loss of the only statewide elected seat in Florida held by a Democrat. Bill Nelson held the U.S. Senate seat since first being elected in 2000. The moderate senator with a folksy draw was the Democrats last tie to an era more than 20 years ago when Democrats used to carry some clout in Florida politics.
After Tuesday’s election, the Democrats’ anticipation of winning the governor’s seat, holding onto Nelson’s U.S. Senate seat, perhaps picking up a seat in the Florida Cabinet, has slipped from their grasp, again, leaving the party soul-searching and asking itself one more time: what went wrong?
Not all was lost Tuesday night. Democrats did manage to flip two congressional seats in South Florida.
Former Health and Human Services secretary and University of Miami president Donna Shalala flipped the District 27 seat which was left vacant by retiring Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
In the race for the District 26 seat, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell ousted Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo from the District 26th seat.
But, they are merely consolation prices for a party that has lost its way over the last 25 years and is left scratching its head figuring out what went wrong and how to fix it.
The truth is, while Florida might be a swing state every four years in presidential elections, it’s a state controlled by Republicans who support President Donald Trump. It’s a state that might be more red than political observers have thought.