- Schuyler Beltrami
The Man the Democrats Hope can Turn Florida Blue
On Tuesday, voters in Florida went to the polls to vote in primary elections to choose candidates for the array of local and state-level general elections in November. Florida, a state that Barack Obama won in both of his election campaigns for President, has been trending to the right for nearly a decade. The gains made by the Republican Party in the state have become so pronounced, that some consider statewide elections to be lost causes for the Democrats. Now however, the Democrats hope they have found the man who can turn the tide back in their favor: A former Republican.
Centrism over Progressivism to Regain the Governorship
In 2008, Barack Obama won the state of Florida by nearly 3%; in 2020, fellow Democrat Joe Biden lost the state by more than 3%. This six-point swing in favor of the Republicans has followed a pattern in the state, which was once considered the ultimate battleground state, but now seems like an ever-growing challenge for the Democrats. Republicans now control almost all aspects of Florida politics. The Governor, Ron DeSantis, has become a favorite of right-wing conservatives and is seen as possibly the only Republican who could challenge Donald Trump for the party’s nomination for President in 2024. Both of Florida’s representatives in the US Senate are Republican and Republicans fill 16 of the 27 House seats allocated to Florida. Now, the Democrats are hoping that a former Governor of the state can retake control of the highest office in the state’s government and begin to turn Florida blue. By a margin of nearly 25%, Democratic voters in Florida’s primary elections on Tuesday selected former Governor Charlie Crist as their candidate for this November’s upcoming gubernatorial election. In a state like Florida, in which there are so many political and demographic differences in the state, Florida Democrats chose traditional centrism in their election of Mr. Crist. Crist, 66, served as Governor of Florida from 2007-2011 and is currently a member of the House of Representatives representing Florida’s 13th district. As Governor of Florida, Mr. Crist ran and served as a Republican, before flipping to the Democratic Party in 2012. Now the Democratic Party in Florida is hoping that Mr. Crist’s appeal to both sides of aisle will be enough to defeat the incumbent Governor Ron DeSantis who ran unopposed in his party’s primary on Tuesday night. Although Governor DeSantis’ policies have been controversial, his support from conservatives and right-wing Floridians has been surging since the beginnings of the Covid-19 pandemic where he entered the national spotlight for his refusal to close the state or enact strict health protocols. With his image growing both within the state and on a national level, Democrats know they will need a broad coalition of voters on their side in order to defeat Governor DeSantis in November; it is exactly this broad coalition of moderate Republicans, centrists, and traditional Democrats which Mr. Crist hopes to attract in November. Speaking to supporters after this primary victory, Mr. Crist said that Floridians “want a Governor who cares about them, who solves real problems, who preserves our freedom. Not a bully who divides us and takes our freedom away.”
A Question of Demographics and Money
Speaking about the state of the current Republican Party, Mr. Crist told his supporters that he “no longer recognizes” the party he was once a part of and is trying to stop them from “undermining democracy in ways no one could have imagined.” Many Democratic candidates have echoed this theme of the threat to democracy from right-wing voters during this primary season and it may be well-placed, as recent polls have shown that threats to democracy are now the number one concern for prospective Democratic voters across the country. This apparent urgent need to protect personal freedoms and the American democratic system may not be enough however to elect a Democrat as Governor of Florida, even if a broad coalition of voters comes out in support of Mr. Crist. The first major issue facing Democrats in their bid for the Governorship is Mr. DeSantis’ immense popularity among conservative and right-wing voters. The current Governor’s approval ratings are over 55% in the state and in a recent poll among Florida Republicans, a majority said that they would support DeSantis before Trump in a hypothetical primary between the two. Polls taken before Tuesday’s primary also show that DeSantis has a lead of around 7 points compared to Mr. Crist, who is only polling at around 43%. The lead enjoyed by Governor DeSantis in the polling is the latest result of a stark shift in political attitudes in Florida, the second major problem for Democrats heading into the November Gubernatorial Election. Among the most important of these shifts was the change in attitudes of the Hispanic electorate in the state. Republicans in 2020 were able to make strong gains among the Hispanic population in Florida, especially the Cuban-American population in South Florida, a group of the electorate, which were some of the strongest supporters of liberal politics before the presidency of Donald Trump. These Hispanic-majority districts in South Florida will be key to Mr. Crist’s ability to win in November, but Mr. Crist is also hoping to mobilize former Republicans like himself who have become disillusioned by the recent developments within the Republican Party. All of these challenges may be even smaller than the ultimate problem that the Crist campaign is currently facing: finances. Due to his national exposure, Mr. DeSantis has been able to raise more than $130 million dollars for his reelection bid in Florida, an unusually high amount for a gubernatorial race and an amount that guarantees his ability to buy almost unlimited ad campaigns throughout the state for the entire duration of the race. Meanwhile, Mr. Crist is hoping to fund his campaign off a high number of small donations from supporters across the state who his team says will support his message of bringing calmness and cooperation back into Florida politics.
Over the next two and a half months, the race for the Governorship of Florida will hold national implications. As one party hopes to reverse their fortunes in a state where their strong messaging of support for Social Security and Medicare expansion brought them continued electoral successes in the past, the current Governor will be looking to notch one more key victory to add to his political résumé before the primaries to become President begin in 2024. The election will also send a strong message to Democrats if they have a chance to recapture Florida in the 2024 election, or if the state is indeed, already a lost cause.