Why Florida Is No Longer A Swing State

Julia Gomez/PantherNOW

Robert Crohan/Staff Writer

Two years ago, I was excited. Scratch that — I was giddy.

Andrew Gillum, a likeable and humble progressive who was running for Florida governor, was riding off anti-Trump sentiment in the sunshine state. He was favored to win and his promises of overdue change in a poor and polluted state excited young voters into actually hitting the polls. Add to that the more moderate and humble sitting U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, and it looked like Florida would finally turn blue.

But they lost.

I still remember that night. Although I was excited about the national blue wave, it was raining when Ron DeSantis and Rick Scott were declared the winners of Florida’s main elections. Perhaps the rain represented the dark cloud hanging over Florida Democrats’ heads.

I expected Florida Democrats to learn the hard lessons of 2018 and make a winning strategy to end decades of Republican dominance come November.

The Florida Democratic Party was talking about a restructuring to “completely blow up the model and start anew,” in the words of pollster Fernand Amandi. Given the national environment, I expected Florida Democrats to learn the hard lessons of 2018 and make a winning strategy to end decades of Republican dominance come November 2020. And we all saw how that turned out.

I expected a Joe Biden win here, but most of my peers did not. They observed President Trump’s obsession with Florida, strong Latino support and north Florida’s southern-ness. And the President not only ran away with a win, he got a full three-point advantage — a landslide by Florida standards. Tied on the tracks in front of the Trump train were seven Florida House seats, two state Senate seats, and two U.S. House seats in Miami. Among the losers was progressive FIU alum Cindy Polo.

Ever since the 1992 election, where George H.W. Bush narrowly won the GOP stronghold, we have called Florida the ultimate toss-up. It was, after all, the state where George W. Bush won by only 537 votes in 2000. By comparison, that is less than twice the population of one of Florida’s smallest towns, St. Marks.

But this long era of dominant contestation has scratched some heads for several years with increased suspicion it could end. And, my friends, it at long last has. Florida is no longer a swing state. It is red. 

A tough pill to swallow for Democrats, but it is time to cut their losses and move on.

This historic shift comes at a time of increased partisanship. And even in the simpler times of politics, swing states usually came around and eventually picked a side. Oftentimes, it is top figures that help put the nail in the coffin.

Michael Dukakis turned Washington state blue. Bill Clinton turned California blue. Richard Nixon turned the south red. Barack Obama turned Colorado and Virginia blue. And Donald Trump turned Florida red.

In many ways, Trump can be seen as the state’s perfect candidate: he is on the older side, at 74. He touts the capitalism of his country and turns his rage towards Latin American despots. He is well-off financially, as are many of our retirees.

But Florida’s right turn runs deeper than that. It lies in the failings of the Florida Democratic Party and the political climate of the state, which continues to perplex me at how stubbornly conservative it remains after so much urbanization and diversification. In general, these things move a state left, as we are seeing in Arizona and Georgia, but Florida bucked the trend. It would really speak volumes if Georgia went for Biden when Florida went for Trump.

Democrats had the golden opportunity to take the state in the 1990s. Prior to that, Florida delivered double-digit wins for Republicans for decades. However, Bill Clinton flipped it comfortably in 1996. This was due to a growing, diverse population.

But losses are losses, with profound consequences. For years, Democrats have assumed that they would automatically flip the state with minimal effort due to changing demographics. Indeed, the state is growing more Latino and black, burgeoning with liberal young voters, and the cities are booming. Andrew Gillum’s loss in 2018 was within a hair.

For years, Democrats have assumed that they would automatically flip the state with minimal effort due to changing demographics.

In 2000, many assumed that Democrats rightfully won Florida, and four years later Bush carried the state by a whopping five points.

As Democrats lost rural voters, Florida’s rural counties became blood red. The state’s growing economy and low taxes were touted by Republicans as a success story, all while ignoring low wages and rampant poverty. With the exception of liberal Palm Beach County, Florida’s retirees are largely conservative, with The Villages becoming something of a Trump-loving Mecca for senior citizens. Cuban Americans wary of socialism turned to the right, and during the Venezuela crisis Republicans won with that demographic, too. What did Democrats do? Absolutely nothing.

Inherent disadvantages for the Democrats have worsened in the Trump years. Turnout in South Florida was low yet again, and I understand that the party must offer more, but if even 2018 could not bring these voters out, nothing will. Registered Republicans may soon outnumber Democrats.

We are approaching a point where Barack Obama’s two wins in Florida were a fluke.

Had Biden countered Trump’s red-baiting, given his gains elsewhere in the state, he might have narrowly won. But this shift was so drastic that it seems irreversible. There are signs of hope for Democrats, as young Cubans are shifting leftward and Orlando is becoming a very liberal city, but it might be too little too late, at least for now.

Florida shows what happens when you don’t take lessons to heart. Democrats must finally see the reality in front of them and learn that the GOP is an extremely stubborn political force, never quite kicking the bucket. And as I have said before, I can appreciate the passion of President Trump’s base, and I have enjoyed good debates with Miami’s Latino conservatives.

But if Florida wants to continue tolerating climate change, people losing insurance coverage, brutally low wages, child poverty, gun violence and polluted beaches just to save ten cents in taxes, let it go right ahead. Time to give up. This is no doubt excruciating for the many dedicated FIU students who worked for progressive candidates and rely on things like Obamacare and a living wage.

Other states appear ready to make progress. Biden is on track to win Arizona and Georgia, and North Carolina and Texas have become swing states, so we can win national elections without Florida and we will. Should Biden win the presidency, it will be the first time Florida backed the losing presidential candidate since 1992.

Florida appears to be having its Missouri moment: after being deemed a swing state for years, Democrats eventually lost so many races that the status was revoked and Missouri turned safe red. I would argue that Florida and Texas are switching roles, with Texas becoming the largest swing state and Florida becoming the Republican center of dominance.

As a Democrat from liberal New England who loves Florida, this shift is certainly disappointing, to say the least. To my conservative friends, a sincere congratulations. You guys earned it.

But for the time being us Democrats are not counting on anything. Goodbye, Florida. Thank you for the memories, and have fun in your conservative haven. From liberals everywhere, peace out.


The opinions presented within this page do not represent the views of PantherNOW Editorial Board. These views are separate from editorials and reflect individual perspectives of contributing writers and/or members of the University community.

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