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Steve Schale: Ray Pilon bill confirms Florida’s swing-state status

In late September, state Rep. Ray Pilon, a Republican legislator from Sarasota, filed a piece of legislation that makes an interesting, and probably unintended, statement about the state of presidential politics in Florida.

Rep. Pilon’s bill, House Bill 75, would change the way that Florida allocates its presidential electors from winner take all, to an allocation by congressional districts.  In other words, Florida would no longer be worth 29 electoral votes to the winner of Florida, but instead would be worth two to the winner, plus however many congressional districts carried by the candidate.

So instead of President Barack Obama winning 29 electoral votes, he would have won two for carrying the statewide vote, plus 11 more for the 11 congressional seats he carried for a total of 13.  Mitt Romney would have won 16 electoral votes, for the 16 congressional seats he carried.  In other words, despite losing the popular vote, Mitt Romney would have carried a three-electoral-vote advantage out of Florida, which is very similar to the advantage he would have had under Pilon’s proposal if neither campaign had contested the state.

Notwithstanding the many issues with awarding by congressional seats, the bill is an interesting admission:  Republicans are finally admitting some 20 years after Florida entered the pantheon of swing seats that the state is no longer safe GOP territory, but, in fact, Florida might even lean a slight tinge of blue in presidential years — enough so that a few members of the Legislature would rather trade the chance of carrying home a huge electoral prize in exchange for a guarantee of a small plurality every four years.

Why would they do this?  Well, under virtually any alignment in nearly the last 100 years, the GOP doesn’t have a real path to the White House without winning Florida.  In fact, Calvin Coolidge was the last Republican to go to the White House without Florida, at a time when we only had six electoral votes.  They simply can not make up the 29 electoral votes if they lose Florida, but if they can guarantee a 3-5 electoral vote plurality — even if they lose Florida, their math gets a lot easier.  At the same time, given the way congressional districts perform, it would also mean Florida was as significant in the presidential arena as Idaho or Maine.

I bring this up for this reason:  in my space in the Florida punditocracy, I feel like I’ve spent much of the past six or seven years debating the silly question of whether Florida is actually a swing state.  No less than Nate Silver openly raised this question between 2008 and 2012, and countless GOP pundits (that’s mostly you, my brother from another party, Albert Martinez!!!) love to spend the summer months of each leap year spinning the tale that the Democrats don’t actually take Florida seriously in presidential elections.  In fact, as late as a week before the 2012 general election, I was still having to make the case to both national and state press — not whether we could win Florida, but whether the state was even competitive for President Obama. Frankly, as a few of my friends in the press corps know, I found that debate mind-numbing.

But here are the facts:

Since 1992, the presidential elections in Florida have been decided by 2, 6, 0, 5, 3, and 1 percent margins, in that order.

The Democrats have won 3, the Republicans have won 3.  I’d argue one as a tie, but history gave it to the team that was the home team that year.

Since 1992, 39,134,751 ballots have been cast in Florida for president, and only 132,763 votes separate the GOP and the Democrats — with the edge going to the Democrats.

That margin is only 0.34 percent, within the margin of recount here.

In other words, despite the every-four-years debate, the facts are clear: Florida is a swing seat at the presidential level.

And my friend Ray Pilon, whether he meant to or not, simply confirmed it.

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