Florida’s 2022 election cycle has less the usual feeling of a sporting contest and more that of a funeral. Veteran political strategist and former Republican Mac Stipanovich says he’s looking for “any ray of light in the gathering darkness, any glimmer of hope, for Democrats.”
“A Bastogne in terms of geography. A turnout surprise among a key constituency in terms of demography. An upset winner with a future in terms of personality. To mix metaphors, any flicker of a pulse,” he told City & State.
But, to take one example, GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis is polling an average of almost 10 points ahead of Democratic challenger Charlie Crist.
“It's actually a large margin in Florida, where no governor or presidential candidate has won the state by more than four points in 14 years,” FiveThirtyEight's Galen Druke noted on Monday. “DeSantis is the clear favorite in this race, so what we'll really be looking out for on election night is the margin DeSantis wins by. That will give us some insight into his popularity in the state and could signal if he has enough support to take on another campaign he's been hinting at – a presidential run.”
For Democrats, the outlook is similarly bleak in the U.S. Senate race, and all three statewide Cabinet seats – chief financial officer, agriculture commissioner and attorney general – are expected to be kept or won by Republicans. Here are five things to pay attention to before the results come in:
1. The margins of victory
Democratic political data analyst Dave Trotter tweeted what many in the party think but are loath to speak: “I believe that this will be the worst @FlaDems performance since Reconstruction. Whenever ‘since Reconstruction’ is included in a phrase, that's always a bad sign for Democrats.”
Indeed, for many old hands, it’s not just a matter of winning and losing, but how badly the numbers are going to look. As Tallahassee Democrat politics columnist Bill Cotterell told City & State, “Size matters.”
Historically in the governor’s race, “Jeb Bush won by 11% and 13% in 1998 and 2002,” he said. “Crist won by 6% in 2006. Since then it’s been close – even 0.4% last election. If DeSantis and Rubio win by double digits, we’re no longer purple or a swing state.”
A prominent DeSantis fundraiser and supporter, who asked to speak on background, added that the governor doesn’t even need that much of a margin: “Anything over seven points is a monumental victory and a validation of everything the governor has done over the last four years.”
Here’s the likely coda: Through his text messaging service, Florida Politics publisher Peter Schorsch reported that “multiple Florida Democrat sources” had told him “not surprisingly, Manny Diaz will announce his resignation as FDP Chair not long after the party takes it on the chin” on Tuesday.
2. DeSantis’ vision for second term
How much the governor lays out in terms of goals for the next four years likely will depend on how big of a margin he wins by, said one person close to the campaign who also asked not to be named.
But it may just be more of a “DeSantis’ greatest hits” than a roadmap for the future. The governor, for example, has evaded questions on how much further he plans to push abortion restrictions in the state should he win reelection.
“He is going to attempt to lay out what led to his big victory, the wins for Florida – which translates into what he can do for the country,” this person said, telegraphing that whether it’s 2024 or beyond, the governor has his sights set on a White House run.
When asked how detailed the governor would get in election night remarks about the next four years, the person said, “Hopefully not too much.”
Added conservative lawyer and activist John Stemberger: “It’s a victory speech; I don’t really expect to hear any substantive policies set forth. I do think he’ll define the results of the election in terms of what it was a rejection of – namely the radical policies of the left found in the Democratic Party in Florida and beyond.”
3. Voter turnout
Be on the lookout for Republican turnout in counties such as Pinellas, Hillsborough and Miami-Dade, politics watchers say. If those areas start posting increased “R” votes, particularly on Crist’s home turf in Pinellas, they might win some of the more “squishy” seats.
“Look at the stronghold Democratic counties, (including) Orange and Palm Beach,” said one Democratic former state House member who didn’t want his name used because, he said, “I’m tired of all these Dems saying I’m too pessimistic and talking shit.” The question is: “How much do Republicans cut into those counties?”
Democrats “can hope to have a better than expected day on Election Day. But at the current rate, we will lose Miami-Dade for the first time in decades,” the former representative said.
The Division of Elections’ website on Monday showed Democrats leading Republicans in Miami-Dade in vote-by-mail returns 97,698 to 70,572, with 51,746 from no-party-affiliated voters. But Miami-Dade GOP voters lapped Democrats in early voting, 109,467 to 76,286. No-party early voters were at 54,869.
Democratic “turnout so far in Orange and Palm Beach isn’t great, in my opinion,” the former lawmaker said. “At this point, I’d just be happy with the usual midterm turnout.”
4. A legislative supermajority
As we’ve said before, the question isn’t which party will hold the Florida Legislature this election – it’s exactly how much of a hold the GOP will have on either chamber.
Republicans are pressing for two-thirds supermajority control. As of now, the split in the state House is 42 Democrats, two vacancies and 76 Republicans – just a few seats shy of the 80 the GOP is aiming for.
In the Senate, Republicans hold a 23-16 advantage, with one open seat, as they try to expand to at least 27 seats. Democrats are largely playing defense, trying to hold on to districts to stop further Republican gains.
State GOP official Evan Power called Democratic state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith’s race “the canary in the coal mine … on how big the wave could be.” Smith, a progressive in office since 2016, is running against Republican Susan Plasencia this year.
Power – who holds the title of Republican Party of Florida “chair of chairs,” or leader of the county-level parties – said Smith’s Orlando-area seat is “a Biden performing district with an active member, but appears winnable in this environment. If we win that, I expect we will win a number of the toss-up level races in the House and Senate.”
5. The weather
One spot of good news: A storm is far enough out in the Atlantic that wet weather won’t affect the state on Election Day, forecasters say. For the most part, that is.
“By the late afternoon, the first wave of moisture from Subtropical Storm Nicole should reach Florida,” the New York Times reported. “What any of this precipitation might mean for voter turnout is a classic election-cycle parlor game.”
Nonetheless, a hurricane watch was issued Monday along the east coast as Nicole “showed signs of further strengthening,” according to AccuWeather. “Meteorologists expect this sprawling storm to take a turn and hit Florida as a hurricane later this week before it takes a run up the Eastern Seaboard.” Moreover, DeSantis issued an emergency declaration for 34 counties.
So watch the skies – as well as the returns.