LOWRY/Florida is a GOP success story
Florida is about to become the center of the Republican political universe, and not because of Mar-a-Lago.
Ron DeSantis is cruising to a potentially crushing reelection victory. This will set up a highly consequential 2024 decision: Will the governor jump into the Republican primary contest even if Donald Trump does too, or wait his turn?
For President Joe Biden and his Democrats, Florida is the lair of “mega MAGA” extremists, when the reality is that DeSantis represents a Republican takeover of a closely contested, highly prized state.
Florida is not Utah or Alabama. It has been a swing state for much of the past 100 years. One of the most reliable indicators that a candidate is going to become president of the United States is if he wins the Sunshine State. George W. Bush did it twice, and so did Barack Obama. And not by large margins. Trump also won it twice, by 1 point in 2016 and, in a harbinger of the state’s move rightward, 3 points in 2020.
At the state level, it’s been the same picture. DeSantis won the governorship by 0.4 points in 2018. Rick Scott won reelection as governor in 2014 by 1 point, and in relative terms, won in a landslide in his first race, beating his Democratic opponent by 1.2 points in 2010. Neither DeSantis nor Scott got above 50% in these elections.
DeSantis has cultivated a reputation as a Trump-style culture warrior, so it’s easy to miss his practical side. He’s championed environmental protection in Florida and has been a competent steward of his state, as his response to Hurricane Ian underlined. A Florida Atlantic University poll found that 63% approved of his handling of the hurricane, including 41% of Democrats.
DeSantis is so extreme that he leads his Democratic opponent Charlie Crist by double digits in the RealClearPolitics average, and has led by double digits in the last four polls in the average.
It’s not a close call who’s the more marginal figure in Florida, by the way, Biden or DeSantis. According to a Data for Progress poll, Biden is underwater 42-58, with 52% having a “very unfavorable” view of him. DeSantis has majority support at 55-43, with 48% “very favorable.”
The overall political message of Florida isn’t that Republicans are lurching into mega-MAGA irrelevance, but that Democrats are losing ground in a vital part of the country.
As The Economist wrote recently: “Florida has become emblematic of much of America and central to all of it. The state is on the rise.” Its economy has doubled since 2002 and, were it a sovereign country, it would have the 15th largest economy in the world. “Between 2010 and 2020,” the magazine notes, “its population grew at double the national rate. Florida has overtaken New York to become America’s third-most-populous state after California and Texas, with a dynamic and diverse demography, including fast-rising numbers of Hispanics.”
This should make the Democratic fade in the state all the more concerning to the party. Since 2020, there are roughly 330,000 fewer registered Democrats in Florida. Republicans have now ticked ahead of Democrats in registrations for the first time, taking a 5.3 million to 5 million lead. Contrast that with 2008, when, benefiting from an Obama-era influx, registered Democrats outnumbered Republicans by 700,000.
As a CNN report noted, Republicans have picked up nearly 60,000 new registrations among Hispanics, while Democrats have lost 46,000 — another indication of Democratic erosion with this key demographic. Republicans could conceivably win this year in heavily Hispanic Miami-Dade County, the most populous county in the state that has traditionally been a pillar of the Democratic statewide coalition in Florida.
If Democrats want to chalk this all up to extremism, they are deluding themselves. Florida is a GOP success story, and one that will become even more important after Election Day.
Rich Lowery is editor of National Review, a leading conservative magazine founded by William F. Buckley.