With just hours remaining in the 2022 election cycle, expectations are astronomical among Florida Republicans, while Democrats are bracing for the worst. Recent polling data and conversations with some of the state’s top political operatives from both parties have combined to set an almost impossibly high bar for GOP performance, yet answers to the biggest questions still loom.
Here are the Big Q’s at the top of our list:
Jeb! like numbers for Ron DeSantis?
In 1998, Jeb Bush won Florida’s gubernatorial election by a 10-point margin over Democrat Buddy McKay, then managed to top that performance with a 12-point win over his 2002 Democrat opponent, Bill McBride. Is it even conceivable that DeSantis might drop a double-digit electoral anvil on Charlie Crist’s head on Tuesday?
The often-wrong-but-never-silent Tallahassee insiders say “Yes!”
A sampling of sentiment from top Florida GOP operatives yielded predictions that are remarkably similar, yet so over-the-top that they’re almost embarrassing to print: one expects a DeSantis blowout of Charlie Crist by 13 points, though most came in right around 10 points. The lowest end of the GOP operative prediction spectrum? A DeSantis win by just 7 points.
We also checked in with several Democrat operatives to see what they had to say on the matter. None had any positive predictions for Crist (or any other big Democrat race). One wrote back and simply said, “We all know what’s going to happen.”
The End of a Long Democrat Line?
The Orlando Sentinel posted a story on Friday citing another Democrat operative, Dennis Ross, who shared the same sentiment, noting that Democrats have also basically conceded the three statewide cabinet seats to the Republicans.
If that holds true, then no matter what else happens on Tuesday night, history will be made in Florida. Because if Democrats fail to win a single statewide race (Governor, U.S. Senator, Attorney General, Agriculture Commissioner, and Chief Financial Officer), then come January, when Nikki Fried leaves her Agriculture Commissioner office, it will mark the end of an unbroken chain of at least one Democrat holding a statewide elected office in Florida since the Civil War era.
GOP Supermajorities in the Florida House and Senate?
Another startling prediction from Tallahassee insiders: several who are paid to count legislative seats predicted GOP supermajorities in both chambers of the state legislature, requiring Republicans to capture Democrat seats in both the House and the Senate to get to the two-thirds threshhold.
Possible? Yes. Likely? Eh…only if we see some major GOP turnout differential in Miami-Dade and Orange Counties…which brings us to:
Could Miami Dade and Orange both flip red?
Yes, there are really more than a few Tallahassee insiders who think this is possible on Tuesday. If early voting ballot numbers are any guide, the Democrats are in serious trouble, with their only salvation being Souls to the Polls this Sunday, combined with a stunning Election Day turnout.
The Democrat challenge, however, is that there’s just no excitement for that kind of late surge. And Florida’s history when it comes to early vote numbers bear that out. On Election Day 2018, Democrats started the morning with a ballot advantage of 31,641. That means 34,641 more Democrats had turned in an early or mail-in ballot than Republicans. Of course we’ve no idea how those ballots were voted, but Democrats generally vote for their candidates and Republicans, generally, for theirs. But on election day 2018, Republicans swamped the early Democrat lead and managed to turn out enough voters to give DeSantis a victory margin of over 30,000 votes, while Ashley Moody and Jimmy Patronis also cruised to wins. Republican Matt Caldwell, running for Agriculture Commissioner, almost beat Nikki Fried, too, only falling to Fried’s populist medical marijuana messaging by around 6,000 votes.
The point is that if Democrats want to feel comfortable heading into Election Day in Florida, they need to have already run up the score by a big margin beforehand. And as of this weekend, they aren’t getting it done. As of Sunday morning, Republicans had already cast 1,999,376 ballots to the Democrats’ 1,662,191 ballots. That’s a Republican advantage of 337,185 ballots, and though the final Sunday of “Souls to the Polls” will eat into that GOP lead, it won’t be nearly enough.
Orange County’s newspaper of record, the Orlando Sentinel, knows it, too:
It’s been a remarkable mid-term election in Florida, with months of campaigning and millions of dollars of ad spending soon coming to an end as voters go to the polls Tuesday to determine the future of the state. But as that final day draws near, the two parties appear to be headed in opposite directions…
Although Democrats have said this is the most critical midterm election for the nation’s future, there has been noticeably less enthusiasm among the party faithful than in previous years.
Do Democrats even understand why its happening?
The Orlando Sentinel and Democrat operatives all seem to have a handle on what is happening, but it’s not clear they understand why. Oh, sure, they point to the national economy as part of the problem, as the Sentinel’s favorite “political scientist,” University of Florida professor Dan Smith, states:
“Democrats have been campaigning on abortion and gun control, issues that don’t resonate as much as the economy and inflation that the Republicans have hammered away at,” Smith said. “Those don’t put food on the table or gas in the tank.”
But if the economy were truly the biggest problem for Democrats, then Smith should do some of that “political science” he gets paid for, to help Democrats find out why so many GOP candidates made their closing messages not about economic issues, but about parents rights in education and political and sexual indoctrination in schools. Even the incoming GOP Senate President, Kathleen Passidomo, went out of her way last week to generate headlines about expanding parental rights in Florida.
Democrats have tried desperately, and failed spectacularly, to paint Republicans as extremists or “culture warriors” for daring to take on the sensitive subject matter of sexual and racial issues in the classroom. They’ve tried to claim that DeSantis and his GOP allies are leading a “culture war” over things are, to Democrats, “no big deal.” But to parents across the country, regardless of political party, those things are a big deal. A very, very big deal, as Tuesday’s results will show.
Whether or not Democrats will learn the lesson, though, remains to be seen. Their legacy media allies, which have a knack for bending the perception of reality, have done their part to echo the Democrat Party messaging, that championing parental rights in the classroom makes Republicans the “extremists.” The “Don’t Say Gay” mantra, though it was false and misleading, was easily picked up by newspapers and gave Democrats a false sense of security that their messaging was winning the day.
Even as recently as Friday, in the Orlando Sentinel’s same article about the demise of Democrats, they point the extremist finger squarely at the GOP:
Hard Right Republicans: As Florida appears on its way to being a fully Republican-controlled state, it’s also becoming the spawning ground for extreme right-wing candidates.
The Sentinel floats several possible excuses for Democrats’ woes this year, from “young voter apathy” to the “GOP’s big campaign bucks,” failing to consider that both are more the result of Democrat failures rather than some magic wand that the GOP maliciously wielded to suppress turnout and donations for Democrats. It’s always “hard right, GOP extremism.” Never do they consider the possibility that Democrat extremists had a role to play. Here we are, on the precipice of what is shaping up to be a historic election performance by the GOP, yet the legacy newspapers like the Orlando Sentinel ignore the real reasons driving people to the polls. At least on the national stage, there are Democrats who seem to grasp reality.
Could the GOP be in for disappointment?
With expectations this high, it’s possible that the final tally on (or after) election night could actually fail to deliver in the way Republicans hope, not just in Florida, but across the country. While there’s little chance that GOP voters stay home because they think the whole thing is “in the bag,” there is a chance that Democrats could still rise to the occasion, or that independents don’t quite break the way polling suggests it will.
And regardless of the hype from political pundits and pontificators, there are still a number of incredibly close contests that could break either way. Some of those are bound to go to Democrats. If the GOP fails to win a supermajority in one or both chambers, is that a failure?
On the national level, there are aggregate outcomes by which many will be judged. U.S. Senator Rick Scott, the man in charge of leading the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) is in the hotseat, and he will need to pull a couple of rabbits out of his hat in order to deliver a clean sweep on the national front. A failure there will be a major disappointment to Republicans across the country.
Next week’s column: We’ll obviously be picking through the wreckage of the Democrat Party, to see just how catastrophic Tuesday really proved to be, and to see what, if anything, can be salvaged. Because, let’s face it: Florida is better when there is healthy debate that keeps both parties on their toes and at the top of their respective games. But we’ll also take a post-mortem look at other big stories, including Florida’s role in the national spotlight, with some very big names on the stage: DeSantis, Trump, Rubio, Scott, and how Tuesday’s results impact their future plans.