Democrats in Florida haven’t won an election for Governor, President, or U.S. Senator since 2012.
Hundreds of millions of dollars have poured into this state in the last four elections cycles with nothing to show for it in those races, and Democratic donors are understandably frustrated to the point of starting to seriously think about writing Florida off as a lost cause.
Florida is not a lost cause for Democrats. However, if the status quo is maintained then donors will just be continuing to waste their money if they fund the typical way of doing business that has lost every one of the most significant elections for Democrats going back almost a decade.
Florida Democrats are in such bad shape that it would be wise to expect to get swept in every statewide election in 2022. Democrats have always held on to at least one statewide office since Republicans took control of Florida back in the 1990s, but that streak will come to an end next year. Statewide Democratic candidates should still look to maximize their vote total. But if they focus only on themselves, we will not only get swept next year, but Democrats will have no hope of being competitive anytime in the near future.
Democrats have only one real job in the next year that can build the foundation upon which future victories can be achieved, and that one job is voter registration.
Democrats had an advantage over Republicans when it came to the number of registered voters in Florida for the entire recorded history of this state, but they were overtaken by Republicans within the last month.
A simple regression analysis of the last seven gubernatorial and presidential elections in Florida (2008-2020) shows that the voter registration advantage is a good predictor of who wins those elections. It shows that if there are the same number of registered Democrats as registered Republicans in Florida, Republicans would win either the presidential or gubernatorial election in Florida by more than 375,000 votes.
That analysis assumes a neutral political environment, and 2022 won’t be that.
A state legislator texted me this week that President Joe Biden is killing Democrats in Florida when it comes to the elections next year. I responded that he can’t kill something that is already dead. The hole Florida Democrats are in is too deep, and the headwinds too strong, to have any hopes of salvaging any of the statewide races next year. Millions of dollars, and probably low eight figures, need to be invested in voter registration in order for Democrats to be competitive in Florida statewide beyond 2022. Progressive organizations are supposedly working on voter registration, but the numbers show that their impact has been anemic.
Michael Bloomberg threw away, I mean invested, $100 million last year on television and digital ads. If only a portion of that money had been spent on voter registration, then Democrats would be in much better shape than they currently find themselves. Having disparate organizations all try their best to register voters with their limited resources is not working and will not work.
There needs to be one coordinated effort with metrics, goals, and an approach that is based on scientific thinking. I know this may be asking too much of Democrats, but it is what is desperately needed. Without it, any money spent on the campaigns of a statewide Democrat next year will be set on fire.
The last entity to do a successful voter registration drive on a large scale for Democrats was Barack Obama‘s campaigns. Rep. Val Demings‘ campaign for U.S. Senate is likely to be the most well-funded campaign in Florida next year, and while a voter registration campaign on the scale that is needed shouldn’t be the job of her campaign there isn’t currently an entity better suited to do what needs to be done. Will she beat Sen. Marco Rubio if she does it? Most likely not, but nothing else she can spend money on will help her chances more. Additionally, thinking both more globally and long-term might make her the Florida version of Stacey Abrams and set her up for the next act of her political career.
The old Will Rogers quote about not belonging to any organized political party because he is a Democrat rings too true for Democrats here in Florida.
Should Rep. Demings decide that a massive voter registration effort isn’t the best use of her campaign resources, and no other apparatus that can do voter registration on a large scale rises up to meet this monumental challenge, then Florida Democrats will continue to wander in the wilderness for many years to come.
Georgia and Arizona are proof that Florida is not a lost cause yet. It will become a lost cause for Democrats statewide unless someone who isn’t one of the usual suspects rises up and meets the obvious need that has been neglected for so long.
Sean Phillippi is a data scientist, pollster, and Democratic campaign consultant based in Broward County. He is the Managing Member of TLE Analytics LLC, the political data and consulting firm he founded in 2012.