So many wins, so many losses, it was hard to narrow down. Three current and former governors and one failed gubernatorial candidate made it to our list of Florida Winners & Losers for 2022, a sign of the outsized influence that the Executive Office of the Governor has on the Sunshine State’s political landscape. The current holder of the office, Republican Ron DeSantis, may also become a candidate for the highest office in the land. The man he beat in 2018, Democrat Andrew Gillum, now faces federal criminal charges of grifting his own campaign by scheming to pocket contributions for personal use. The man he beat in 2022, Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist, likely faces the end of his political career after that walloping 19-point loss. Democrats in the state Legislature face two years of likely political irrelevance after the GOP won ⅔-plus supermajorities in both chambers. At least one Democratic lawmaker, Angie Nixon, is even considering resigning her seat to run for Jacksonville City Council. The GOP’s overwhelming success, along with wins in local races across the state including school boards, amounted to a red wave – we now swear never to use that expression again – in contrast to Republicans’ poor performance elsewhere in the country. (Georgia Senate race, we’re looking at you.) But Florida Ds can take solace in the election of Maxwell Frost, the first Gen Z member of Congress. And House Democratic Leader Fentrice Driskell of Tampa, who will lead her caucus for four years, is the first Black woman in that leadership post. Take your wins where you find them. Now read on for the Winners & Losers of 2022.
Ron DeSantis: If Florida’s governor didn’t headline our winner’s list, we could only imagine the angry emails we would receive. You would be hard pressed to find another politician across the country that racked up as many victories as DeSantis in 2022, whether it be his impact on redistricting, the Republican avalanche he unleashed across Florida during the midterms or his emergence as Donald Trump’s biggest potential 2024 rival. We’re not cheerleading here, just stating reality. You don’t have to like it. You don’t have to like him. But really, the only other things he could have done to top himself would be to colonize Mars or cure cancer.
Maxwell Frost: It was a markedly dismal year across the state for Democrats, but one of the party’s silver linings came from one of its brightest rising stars out of Orlando. Maxwell Frost, a progressive gun control advocate, is the first member of Generation Z elected to Congress. The 25-year-old has gotten extensive national media coverage for someone this early in his political career, having been profiled in the New York Times, Rolling Stone and many more. We just hope he was able to find an affordable apartment in D.C.
Paul Renner & Kathleen Passidomo: Of all the Republicans that benefited from Florida’s shift further red this November, the incoming Florida House speaker and Senate president have the most to be thankful for. Republican flips in key House and Senate races in traditionally purple or blue areas, like Sen. Corey Simon’s victory in the Panhandle and Rep. Fabián Basabe’s razor-thin margin in a traditionally blue Miami-Dade seat, handed both of these politicians supermajorities in their legislative chambers. Their party’s opposition will have even fewer tools to fight back, giving Renner and Passidomo two years of relatively smooth paths to the goal for their policy playbooks.
Tina Descovich & Tiffany Justice: Florida Republicans also racked up victories down ballot this year, flipping several school boards red and winning dozens of local races backed by DeSantis. Tina Descovich and Tiffany Justice’s Moms for Liberty organization, which calls itself conservative but nonpartisan, likely played the largest hand in that success. It galvanized culture-war-in-the-classroom talking points across the country while local chapters recruited candidates friendly to their cause to run in those local races. It’ll be interesting to see how those flipped school boards and the Florida Legislature may work in tandem in 2023.
Marco Rubio: Val Demings outraised him. Her ads were plastered on televisions and computer screens in every major Florida media market. She was getting extensive coverage from the news media. It didn’t matter. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio beat her by over 15 points, allowing the incumbent to essentially walk into his third term. While Rubio may not be as bright of a star as the state’s other two resident GOP presidential contenders, he has showcased the longevity required to be an influential Republican power player in the state for even more years to come.
Charlie Crist: During the Democratic gubernatorial primary, Charlie Crist regularly angled himself as having the best chance at beating Ron DeSantis. That “best chance” devolved into a 19-point loss that was delivered to him in front of a mostly empty election night crowd. Everyone (well, everyone but UNF polling) thought Crist was going to lose, but that margin on his second gubernatorial loss in eight years, plus the reshaping of his former House seat, leaves a big question mark on whether Crist has any future at all in Florida elected office. Who knows, John Morgan may be calling on him again soon.
Andrew Gillum: Four years ago, Andrew Gillum was an influential Democratic figure, nearly beating Ron DeSantis in the gubernatorial race. Then the hotel room scandal happened. He revived somewhat as a podcast host (remember that?). Then this year, he hit rock bottom again after being charged with federal crimes for allegedly soliciting and personally pocketing campaign contributions from his 2018 race. Going from Florida Democrats’ next big thing to possibly wearing an orange jumpsuit is quite the stunning fall for Tallahassee’s former mayor.
Eric Silagy: Whether it is the continued prosecution of those involved in the ghost candidate scheme or a firm connected to his utility paying independent news outlets for favorable coverage, it didn’t seem like a month could go by without news breaking about Florida Power & Light’s questionable methods to influence news coverage in Florida. (It’s so meta.) On the positive side for CEO Eric Silagy, the company is still as politically influential as ever, but DeSantis vetoing FPL’s net metering bill could be a sign that its standing may be slipping.
Bob Chapek: Disney’s former CEO didn’t exactly have a magical year. Florida’s largest company’s original inaction on, then criticism against, the legislation known as “Don’t Say Gay” brought the governor’s wrath while ticking off board members and irking fans. With the return of Bob Iger likely signaling a return to, you know, not publicly voicing political stances, Bob Chapek’s tenure with the company can be viewed as a failure that will see several changes promptly reversed. Just don’t change our Disney+. We’re paying enough for it, and look what Warner Bros. Discovery did to HBO Max.
Rick Scott: While one of Florida’s U.S. senators had a fantastic year, the other one piled up political loss after loss. Mitch McConnell shot down Rick Scott’s ill-fated 11-point tax plan. Scott was accused of fumbling as National Republican Senatorial Committee chair and criticized over candidate recruitment in several Senate race losses. Then he stumbled through an unsuccessful coup of McConnell later in the year. The poor guy even got beat up over taking his wife on a wedding anniversary trip that included a cruise on a luxury yacht off the coast of Italy. But let’s be honest, he’ll easily be reelected to another term in 2024 – if he wants it.
Written by Tristan Wood & Jim Rosica, edited by Jon Lentz.
NEXT STORY: This week’s biggest Winners & Losers