Last Sunday, we asked six big questions before Tuesday’s election results. Here’s how they were answered:
Jeb! like numbers for Ron DeSantis?
Nope. Better. DeSantis’s 19 point victory margin over Charlie Crist nearly doubled Jeb’s best performance, a 12.8 point win over Bill McBride in 2002. The win marks the largest margin of victory by a Republican governor candidate since the Civil War era, and the largest by any candidate since Democrat Bob Graham’s 1982 smoking of Republican Skip Bafalis by a whopping 29.4 percentage points.
But as with all things political these days, there are those who think DeSantis could have – indeed should have – performed better. Former Republican strategist and ad-man-turned Trump scourge Rick Wilson didn’t pull any punches in his analysis of Tuesday night’s outcome.
“DeSantis winning in Florida against the spent political force that is Charlie Crist, a bankrupt Democrat Party that can’t organize a two-car motorcade, a tone-deaf progressive cohort determined not to win anywhere north of the I-4 corridor or west of I-75, while sitting on a mountain of money, is not the flex Team DeSantis thinks it is,” Wilson said. “Frankly, I think DeSantis under performed. That should’ve been a 40 point race with all the advantages he had.”
Others, like Florida’s National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB/Florida) Executive Director Bill Herrle, recognized the significance of the win and how it was achieved.
“The DeSantis win was historic, it was the largest margin of victory in modern times and he did it the old fashioned way: he governed and he governed well,” Herrle said.
The End of a Long Democrat Line?
Yes. For the last 155+ years, Florida has always had at least one Democrat elected to statewide office (U.S. senator, governor, attorney general or agriculture commissioner). As long as Nikki Fried stays in her role as ag commissioner, that line will continue. But she can’t stay past inauguration day in early January 2023, a day that will mark the last of Florida’s long blue line of leadership and influence in state politics.
On January 3rd, 2023, the swearing in of Fried’s replacement, Agriculture Commissioner-elect Wilton Simpson, will mark the pinnacle of Republican statewide dominance in Florida, with all statewide offices controlled by the GOP
GOP Supermajorities in the Florida House and Senate?
Yes. In addition to controlling all executive branch offices and both United States Senate seats, the GOP also won supermajorities in both the Florida House and Florida Senate. Short of defeating every last Democrat in every local, state and federal contest in Florida, Republicans now wield all the political power that is available to be wielded in the Sunshine State.
Could Miami Dade and Orange both flip red?
Almost, but no. Miami Dade did flip red, with statewide Republicans winning the county by around 10 percentage points. In Orange County, though DeSantis and Rubio lost by 7 and 12 points, respectively.
But something equally stunning happened.
DeSantis engineered a 20 point swing and flipped Palm Beach County red in the governor’s race. He edged Crist by 3 points there Tuesday night, a county he lost to Andrew Gillum by 17 points in 2018. Rubio fared only slightly worse, trailing Demings there by just a third of a percentage point (0.35%). The actual turnout results are worth diving into, with about 43,000 fewer ballots cast compared with 2018. Official turnout figures on Tuesday were 54.3 percent, but compared with 2018’s turnout figure of 63.9 percent, it’s obvious that something smothered voter enthusiasm like a wet dishrag in formerly deep-blue Palm Beach County. And the down-ballot implications had some impact, too, with a pair of presumably solid Democratic county commission seats – including one held by the current mayor – now controlled by Republicans.
“This goes far beyond the normal mid-turn red wave narrative,” said Jeremy Ring, a former Democrat state senator from South Florida. “I can see a five point swing. Not twenty. It’s absurd.”
Ring, who ran for Chief Financial Officer in 2018, ultimately losing to Jimmy Patronis statewide by just 3 points, campaigned heavily in and easily carried Palm Beach by nearly 20 points that year. But even then, the Palm Beach Post noted some 2018 warning signs that should have troubled Democrat party leaders:
Palm Beach County turnout was 63.9 percent — slightly higher than the statewide average of 62.7 percent and better than most of the large Democratic counties that Nelson and Gillum carried. But beneath the blue county’s overall turnout figure was a small red flag for Democrats. In the 165 Palm Beach County precincts that have a majority of Democratic voters, turnout was 59.3 percent. In the 55 county precincts that have a Republican majority, turnout was 72.9 percent.
Ring says it was a warning that Florida’s Democrat Party leadership should have heeded, but clearly didn’t.
“In 2018, Democrats effectively lost statewide by a field goal in overtime,” Ring notes. “We kept it close and had a shot. And we left the party in decent shape. But nobody took advantage of that momentum. We have this real problem in the party where we focus on niche issues rather than problems that impact 20 million people, like property insurance. Crist touched on it, but he didn’t hammer it.”
But Ring also cautions that Democrats can’t blame Crist for the loss. The problem runs far deeper, and DeSantis’s strength is impossible to ignore.
“No Democrat could have defeated DeSantis this cycle. It was like the Harlem Globetrotters versus the Washington Generals. A foregone conclusion. But there were plenty of issues we could have hammered him on,” Ring said. “Property insurance. His anti-business stance on several issues. That whole thing with Disney could still result in one of the biggest tax increases in Orange County history. And we let him get away with it.”
Do Democrats even understand why it’s happening?
Some do, some don’t. In last week’s story, we showed that Democrats were campaigning on very narrow niche issues like LGBT issues, abortion and gun control, ceding the pocketbook issues to Republicans. But we also pointed out that Republicans weren’t solely focusing on the pocketbook – the closing message from many GOP candidates zeroed in on parental rights, an issue with wide-ranging impact, particularly for voters with school-aged children.
Democrats largely handed Republicans the issue by rising to the defense of controversial political and sexual curriculum in schools, walking into the niche-issue trap that Ring warned about. While acknowledging that Andrew Gillum’s post-election problems proved he wasn’t the right choice in 2018, Ring urged Democrats not to turn their nose up at Gillum’s successes in the election cycle.
“We need to go back to 2018 and take a hard look at what Andrew Gillum was about,” Ring says. “The guy was attracting thousands of people to rallies all over the state. They were on their feet. There was excitement. We just didn’t have that this year, and we need to figure out why.”
Some Democrats and the media point to the money differential. It was clearly a factor. Crist and the Democrats had little, while DeSantis and the Republicans had more than they needed. But that fundraising differential didn’t happen in a vacuum. As we pointed out in a recent column, success breeds success. DeSantis’s national star is rising, and that attracted big bucks. The obvious advantage helped choke off serious investment by national Democrats, exacerbating the situation.
“While the dinosaurs were wiped out by a meteor, the Democrats in Florida are facing a similar extinction-level event,” says Skylar Zander, State Director for Americans for Prosperity. “Their national donor class and organizations recognized this early on and bailed.”
Could the GOP be in for disappointment?
Nationally, yes. In Florida? Obviously not. We’ll have more on this in our Sunday column.