Florida Back to Red? - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Florida Back to Red?
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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis introducing judicial appointments in 2019 (Hunter Crenian/Shutterstock.com)

Tampa — After toying with purple for a bit — two narrow victories for the slick little hustler from Chicago in 2008 and 2012 — Florida seems to be moving pretty solidly back to red. Before Obama, the last Democrat Floridians (a motley lot, fewer than 40 percent of whom are native to the state) voted to send to 1600 was Billy Bob in 1996. Our history does reveal a weakness for slick hustlers.

Now, thanks to an unending supply of new residents, some demographic changes, and certain voting blocs breaking away, at least a bit, from previous party loyalties, Florida’s 30 electoral votes in 2024 seem about as secure for the GOP as anything can be in today’s unpredictable politics. Late last year, thanks to all these political moving parts, for the first time in Florida history Republican voter registration surpassed that of Democrats. Now the Florida GOP enjoys a state-wide registration advantage of more than of more than 110 thousand voters. And the large bloc of voters not affiliated with any party seems to be leaning more conservative than in the past.

Midwesterners have moved to Florida’s west coast at such a rate that Tampa could be most accurately described now as Peoria with palm trees.

OK, some might be wondering how a state just now achieving a Republican registration majority could have been previously reliably red, at least at the top of the ticket. This oddity can be explained by the presence in the past of Dixiecrats, very conservative folks who voted for Democrats for sheriff, county commission, and state house seats, but at the top of the ticket always picked the most conservative candidate. Mortality has reduced the numbers of these folks. But until recently Florida, and other Southern states, boasted an untold number of voters who had been registered Democrat all their lives, but hadn’t pulled the voting machine handle for a Democrat for President since LBJ.

Florida’s 30 electoral votes are no small matter. They amount to a little more than 11 percent of the 270 needed for victory. Florida is politically big because it’s, well, big. So big in fact as to contain 21.2 million souls. And getting bigger daily. It sometimes seems to this Tampa native that there are only three kinds of people in the lower-48, (1) those who live in Florida now, (2) those who are on the way here with all their belongings, and (3) those who plan to move to Florida as soon as they can arrange it. Among other effects, this immigration from all points helps make Florida a microcosm of the country at large. The Florida electorate now contains a racial, sexual, class, and education mix remarkably similar to the nation’s as a whole. “As Florida goes, so goes America” is probably an overstatement. But the size and makeup of Florida’s electorate makes what happens here politically of more than just local interest. We’re worth keeping an eye on.

It’s not hard to see why so many are deserting high-tax, high cost, high-crime blue states for Florida. Here we have no income tax, a business-friendly state government headed by a conservative governor who kept the state open during the late COVID hysteria, and prosecutors who actually prosecute and make every attempt to keep criminal predators off the street. If anyone here is in a New York state of mind he’s keeping it to himself.

The benefits listed above come with the bonus of no frigid winters. All to the good, but fairness here requires I at least mention that Florida summers are very hot and humid and last roughly 18 months of every year. But the newbies don’t seem to mind this. Especially the ones from New England or the upper Midwest.

Lazy reporters still refer to Florida as a Southern state. It isn’t, other than geographically. When I was coming up Florida was culturally Southern, with all the good and the bad that comes with this. Thanks to all those transplants from frostier places it no longer is. Midwesterners have moved to Florida’s west coast at such a rate that Tampa could be most accurately described now as Peoria with palm trees. So Florida rookies no longer have to learn how to say howdy, or to know that you’all is always plural. But for year-round comfort, it’s best to learn how to blow gnats.

But back to politics. For a host of reasons, polls today are not very reliable, though they certainly are consistent here. The top two Florida Republican office holders who must face the voters this November appear now to be on cruise control, especially Governor Ron DeSantis, who is very popular for doing popular stuff. His approval ratings are running about 15 percent above water, even with the usual constant negative press which is the lot of all conservatives.

Democrats have tried various points of attack against DeSantis, but have failed to get much traction. They tried alleging DeSantis caused Floridians to die by not insisting on locking the state down and obliging all adults, children, and pets to wear masks 24-7. But a large majority of Floridians were happy that Florida stayed open during the panic. And-state-by-state mortality rates demonstrate that Florida did as well as states where governors insisted that all residents hide under the bed until the all-clear is sounded.

Democrats also claimed that Florida’s new parental rights law that prohibits pestering 5- to 8-year-olds about sexual orientation and transgenderism is “anti-gay.” It obviously isn’t, and a majority of Floridians like the new law. Floridians also tend to side with the governor in his dispute with Disney, a kingdom that has lost its magic on the altar of wokeness.

Democrats appear to have no answer for DeSantis. Their weak bench has only coughed up two candidates with no state-wide name recognition, and former Florida governor Charlie Crist, the current front-runner for the nomination. Crist hasn’t held state-wide office since January of 2011, but found time in 2014 to fail in an attempt to re-claim the governor’s office. Since 2017 Crist has been hiding out in a safe St. Petersburg congressional seat that, thanks to redistricting, is no longer safe. The new district lines are the only reasonable explanation of why Crist is in a race he has almost no prospect of winning.

Marco Rubio also appears to be in a strong position to extend his U.S. Senate career for a third term. The conservative, bilingual Rubio appears to be very strong with Hispanics, who make up almost 20 percent of the state’s electorate. At last count there were eight Democrats hoping to win that party’s nomination, a question to be settled in August. The strongest candidate appears to be Orlando Congresswoman Val Demings, who before being elected to Congress in 2016 served as Orlando’s police chief. If Democrats are looking for Demings to help them flip a Senate seat and hang on to their slim Senate majority, polls to this point offer them cold comfort.

As savvy American Spectator readers know, political lifetimes are shorter than any other kind. Things could change in the almost six months between now and Nov. 8. But in DeSantis and Rubio, Republicans have two strong incumbents, and nothing much seems to be going the Democrats’ way in either Florida or Washington. Absent the unexpected, look for Florida to be warm, humid, and red on Election Day.

Larry Thornberry
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Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.
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