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Joe Henderson: Democrats win polls but GOP dominates Florida elections … again

The polls said this Florida election was supposed to be the Democrats’ night. Andrew Gillum was going to be the next Governor and that Bill Nelson would be headed back to the U.S. Senate for a fourth term. They would finally have a real seat in the room where it happens in Tallahassee.

But Florida reminded pundits again that polls don’t vote, voters do, and that’s why Ron DeSantis gets to be the Governor and Rick Scott gets to work as the state’s next Senator.

Democrats can keep their noses pressed against the glass.

Gillum may be heard from again, or maybe not. Barring a last-ditch miracle if there is a recount, Nelson’s political career is certainly over at age 76.

Florida Democrats by now should be used to playing the role of Charlie Brown to the Republicans’ Lucy because they know how it ends. The football gets pulled away and they wind up flat on their backs.

It happened again Tuesday in the two highest-profile races on the ballot. In both cases, Democrats told themselves they were running against flawed candidates at a time when a midterm “blue wave” was supposed to be building.

Blue wave?

More like blew by you, Democrats.

In the past, they were second-guessed for running candidates who appealed to centrist voters. This time, they went all-in with an unabashed progressive and that didn’t work either.

Now what? Democrats are going to need a hug this morning.

What will Gov. DeSantis bring to the state?

More of the same, most likely.

More support for the expansion of gun rights. More support for charter schools and vouchers. More bureaucratic interference with public schools. Continued disinterest in environmental protections.

The jobs forecast will look good but forget about a serious push to mandate the $15 per hour minimum wage Gillum promised. Those Floridians hoping for Gillum’s promise of statewide health insurance for everyone will have look elsewhere or go without.

It has been winning formula for Republicans and they’ll see no reason to change it.

Something else that won’t change is Florida’s bitter cultural divide. Scott won two terms as Governor by about 1 percentage point both times, and DeSantis followed the same script.

It’s not exactly a mandate, but in politics, it only matters who gets to put their hand on the Bible and take the oath.

As the late football coach Al Davis once said, “Just win, baby.”

This result should once and forever dash any perception about what matters to people when they go to the voting booth and what doesn’t.

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre was supposed to a game-changer, especially after a massive student march on Tallahassee and rallies around the state demanding change.

It wasn’t.

Red tide was an environmental disaster that was supposed to trigger voter retaliation against Scott.

It did not.

Instead, Scott’s relentless pounding on Nelson as out of touch and ineffective appeared to have worked just well enough. And the steady attack on Gillum’s link to an FBI corruption investigation, while he was Mayor of Tallahassee, will be interpreted by many as inflicting fatal damage on him, but I think it was driven by something more basic.

I think people are just focused on their own lives, especially when it comes time to pull the lever. Everything else just bounces off.

For instance, if you’ve got health care, you probably don’t think much about those who don’t. If you’ve got a good job, you’re thinking about your own problems and not so much about those working two or three jobs to get by.

Red tide? Well, yeah, that was bad. Those dead fish washing up on beaches around the state were icky. But people only have so much mental bandwidth to spend on things they don’t believe will affect their everyday lives.

Oh, and there was this: If Florida’s highest-profile political races were supposed to be a referendum on President Trump, the voters sent a message to the rest of the nation Tuesday that looked kind of like an upraised middle finger. They don’t care what anyone says, they like him.

So deal with it.

At this point, opponents are out of options — just like always.

Written By

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

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Publisher: Peter Schorsch

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Jim Rosica, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Dan McAuliffe, Michael Moline, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Bob Sparks, Andrew Wilson.
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