A swing state no more? GOP confidence grows in Florida
Ron DeSantis. Image via AP.

Is Ron DeSantis' Florida taking a hard right turn?

Democrats are increasingly concerned that Florida, once the nation’s premier swing state, may slip away this fall and beyond as emboldened Republicans capitalize on divisive cultural issues and demographic shifts in crucial contests for Governor and U.S. Senate.

The anxiety was apparent last week during a golf cart parade of Democrats featuring Senate candidate Val Demings at The Villages, a retirement community just north of the Interstate-4 corridor. Once a politically mixed part of the state where elections were often decided, some Democrats now say they feel increasingly isolated.

“I am terrified,” said 77-year-old Sue Sullivan, lamenting the state’s rightward shift. “There are very few Democrats around here.”

In an interview, Demings, a congresswoman and former Orlando police chief challenging Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, conceded that her party’s midterm message isn’t resonating as she had hoped.

“We have to do a better job of telling our stories and clearly demonstrating who’s truly on the side of people who have to go to work every day,” she said.

The frustration is the culmination of nearly a decade of Republican inroads in Florida, where candidates have honed deeply conservative social and economic messages to build something of a coalition that includes rural voters and Latinos, particularly Cuban Americans. Donald Trump’s win here in 2016 signaled the evolution after the state twice backed Barack Obama. And while he lost the White House in 2020, Trump carried Florida by more than 3 percentage points, a remarkable margin in a state where elections were regularly decided by less than a percentage point.

President Joe Biden will visit the state Nov. 1, exactly one week before Election Day, to rally Democrats. Demings said she’s had two conversations with the President about campaigning together, but she could not confirm any joint appearances. And Charlie Crist, the Democratic nominee for Governor, said he would attend a private fundraiser with Biden on the day of the rally, but he wasn’t sure whether they would appear together in public.

“If we could squeeze in a little public airtime, that’d be a wonderful thing I would welcome,” Crist said in an interview.

Still, the GOP is bullish that it can keep notching victories, even in longtime Democratic strongholds. Some Republicans are optimistic the party could carry Miami-Dade County, a once unthinkable prospect that would virtually eliminate the Democrats’ path to victory in statewide contests, including presidential elections.

And in southwest Florida’s Lee County, a major Republican stronghold, not even a devastating hurricane appears to have dented the GOP’s momentum. In fact, Republicans and Democrats privately agree that Hurricane Ian, which left more than 100 dead, may have helped Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis broaden his appeal. On Monday, he’ll participate in a debate against Crist in which he’ll likely highlight his stewardship of the state during a searing crisis.

But the 44-year-old Republican Governor has spent much of his first term focused on sensitive social issues. He’s signed new laws banning abortions at 15 weeks of pregnancy with no exceptions for rape or incest, along with blocking critical race theory and LGBTQ issues from many Florida schools. He has also stripped millions of dollars from a major league baseball team that spoke out against gun violence and led efforts to eliminate Disney’s special tax status for condemning his so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

On the eve of the hurricane, DeSantis shipped dozens of Venezuelan immigrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard to call attention to illegal immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Crist, a former Congressman and one-time Governor himself, acknowledged some voters “dig” DeSantis’ focus on cultural issues, “but most Floridians are good, decent people.” He noted that at least one Hispanic radio host has compared DeSantis to former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.

“Customarily, when you come out of a primary, people will move to the middle. He’s clearly not doing that, to say the least,” Crist said of his Republican rival.

But to the horror of many Democrats, DeSantis could become the first Floridian to win a governor’s race by more than 1 point since 2006. That kind of showing might lift Rubio in the U.S. Senate election while helping the GOP win as many as 20 of the state’s 28 U.S. House seats.

Should DeSantis win big as expected, his allies believe he would have the political capital to launch a successful presidential campaign in 2024 — whether Trump runs or not.

“It’s shocking and it’s scary,” state Democratic Party Chair Manny Diaz said about DeSantis’ repeated willingness to use the power of his office to attack political rivals, whether individual opponents or iconic corporations like Disney.

DeSantis, who declined an interview request, has found success by bucking the conventional wisdom before.

He beat Democrat Andrew Gillum four years ago by 32,436 votes out of more than 8.2 million cast, a margin so narrow that it required a recount.

But in the four years since then, Republicans have erased a voter registration advantage that Florida Democrats had guarded for decades. When registration closed for the 2018 election, Democrats enjoyed a 263,269-vote advantage. As of Sept. 30, Republicans had a lead of 292,533 voters — a swing of nearly 556,000 registered voters over DeSantis’ first term.

“We’re no longer a swing state. We’re actually annihilating the Democrats,” said Florida GOP Chairman Joe Gruters, a leading DeSantis ally.

And while he says his party has focused on traditional kitchen-table issues, such as gas prices and inflation, Gruters leaned into cultural fights — especially the Florida GOP’s opposition to sexual education and LGBTQ issues in elementary schools — that have defined DeSantis’ tenure.

“I don’t want anyone else teaching my kids about the birds and the bees and gender fluidity issues,” Gruters said.

Strategists in both parties believe Florida’s political shift is due to multiple factors, but there is general agreement Republicans have benefited from an influx of new voters since DeSantis emerged as the leader of the GOP resistance to the pandemic-related public health measures.

Every day on average over the year between 2020 and 2021, 667 more people moved into the state than moved away, according to U.S. Census estimates.

Part of the Republican shift can also be attributed people living in rural areas of north Florida, remnants of the deep South, changing registrations to reflect their voting patterns. Many people registered as Democrats because generations before them did, but the so-called Dixiecrats still voted solidly Republican.

But that alone does not explain the Democrats’ challenge this fall.

Democrats are particularly concerned about the trend in Miami-Dade County, home to 1.5 million Hispanics of voting age and a Democratic stronghold for the past 20 years, where the GOP made significant gains in the last presidential election. In two weeks, the region could turn red.

“We have seen so many Hispanics flock to the Republican party here in Miami-Dade County,” Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Núñez said at an event with other party leaders last week. “I’m going to make a prediction right now: We are going to win Miami-Dade County come Nov. 8.”

Meanwhile in Southwest Florida, thousands of Republican voters are literally picking up pieces of their shattered homes and vehicles in the wake of Hurricane Ian, which left more than 100 people dead and caused tens of billions of dollars in damage.

Mangled boats and massive chunks of concrete docks still litter the coastline in Fort Myers, the county seat of Lee County, one of the nation’s most Republican-leaning counties. Thousands of homes were destroyed and several schools remain closed nearly a month after the Category 4 hurricane made landfall.

Still, Matt Caldwell, the county property appraiser and a member of the state GOP, was confident about his party’s political prospects.

“Most of the people, 90% of the people who live in the county are more or less back to life at this point,” he said as he toured a Fort Myers marina covered by twisted metal and crumpled yachts.

Caldwell praised the Republican Governor for being a regular presence during cleanup efforts, suggesting that voters across the political spectrum will reward him on Election Day.

DeSantis himself was upbeat as he delivered a storm update not far away in Punta Gorda over the weekend. The Governor referenced the upcoming election, but focused his remarks on relief efforts.

“We’ve had success with bridges and all these other things partially because we have the community rallying together,” DeSantis said. “Everyone’s rowing in the same direction. It makes a difference.”


Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Associated Press


  • Tom

    October 24, 2022 at 7:25 am

    The far left ultra extremism of the Dems has turned the FGOP to the right. It’s socialist, Marxist.

    The Dems in Florida and nationally are in for a major shellacking in 2 weeks. The idiocy of the Dems yo try to make abortion the number one issue is hysterical. It’s a 5% issue, and always on the bottom.

    The 560,000 voter registration swing, with the 300,000 new Repub. registrations is a disaster for the Dems.

    Gov Ron, Senator Marco, sweep of constitutional offices, super majority legislature, county boards, and school boards.

    Shellacking coming.

    • Charlie Crist

      October 24, 2022 at 10:36 am

      👆 Victim of health care for the rich and broken education system in Florida. Mentally impaired, intellectually disabled, no treatment. This is the result.

    • marylou

      October 24, 2022 at 1:34 pm

      Abortion is not “always on the bottom”, although a lot of the media are trying to convince voters that the price of milk is more important than fundamental rights.

      What issue is more important than the government dictating that women don’t have equal rights to men?
      What issue is more important than the government forcing a 10 year old to have her rapist’s child?

    • X

      October 25, 2022 at 11:12 am

      Absolutely 100% correct. The left wing extremists have taken over the Democrat party and even the government to a certain extent. People are scared and will vote for any Republican over the left wing extremist.

  • Tom

    October 24, 2022 at 7:44 am

    Real Tom legend here
    Marco Rubio is a warm drink of piss on a hot summers day. A rusty nail who lost the debate. Vote for VAL DEMINGS!!!

  • Virginia Dart

    October 24, 2022 at 8:27 am

    I never meet anyone who likes DeSantis here in North Florida. Then there are the hundreds or thousands of people moving from New York and New Jersey into this area. I doubt they answer cell phone surveys.

  • Kno Mohr

    October 24, 2022 at 9:17 am

    “But to the horror of many Democrats, DeSantis could become the first Floridian to win a governor’s race by more than 1 point since 2006.”

    I was going to say that I sense a whiff of desperation, but it’s much more than that. Horror is the right word. So many Democrats may flee Florida next year that ground itself will rise a couple inches. It’s tough, I know, to give up all the truths you learned sitting around a half-empty fondue pot with a doobie in your hand a half century ago, but this AIN’T the ’70s anymore. They times, they are a-changin’.

  • Elliott Offen

    October 24, 2022 at 9:25 am

    Truths my ass. Right wingers have just become more and more deplorable and because of Trump it’s all out in the open. People moving out is good for those people and bad for Florida as more deplorable right wingers and the dregs of NYC move here to spend all their money before they kick the bucket. Only the rich get richer in Florida. This is a truth that hasn’t changed. Only through cocaine was Miami built and allowed regular people to thrive. The rest were and still are in Church praying for the Lord to make it rain and voting for snake oil billionaires from NY🤡

  • Tom

    October 24, 2022 at 9:29 am

    Feel free to leave now.
    The far left ultra extremism of the Dumtards did it.

    America’s Gov saved Florida.
    Over 500,000 voter change, GOP leads by 300,000 in registration.

    Stop your whining, see ya.
    Don’t let the AlaBAMA sign hit you in the ass.

    • Charlie Crist

      October 24, 2022 at 10:40 am

      👆 Victim of broken Florida education system. Can’t spell properly. Can’t compose paragraphs or sentences correctly. Can’t punctuate correctly. Also lest we forget “tropical 2 swirling ocean typhooncane.” Point is, not competent to vote. This is why grifters run Florida.

  • Margarita Senorita

    October 24, 2022 at 10:29 am

    DeSantis is Center-Right, not “hard right.”

  • Itold Usoh

    October 24, 2022 at 12:35 pm

    I did not vote for Governor Ron in 2018, but, he has done a great job on Covid. None of the blue state insanity with vaccine mandates and passports. And he kept the schools mostly open. Great job too with Ian.

  • PeterH

    October 24, 2022 at 12:43 pm

    If Americans want women to control their own bodies, qualified teachers to replace DeSantis’s culture wars in classrooms, intelligent teacher-student conversations concerning the social issues facing Americans in the 21st century, non-bullying discussion about classroom students who are different, common sense gun regulations, and a new honest approach on how best to address climate change……

    • Tom

      October 24, 2022 at 12:52 pm

      LMAO with peter h.
      Same old retread lies from peter h.
      You are yesterday’s news.
      You really are sad. Lincoln getting ass kicked. I torched it earlier. New Congress will shut them down, they gone.

      Btw, FGOP now has a 300,000 reg lead. It’s a 550,000 registration flip.
      You are done with Lincoln and party registration.

      • The Real Tom

        October 24, 2022 at 5:19 pm

        👆Fake Tom is at it again

    • Tom

      October 24, 2022 at 12:52 pm

      LMAO with peter h.
      Same old retread lies from peter h.
      You are yesterday’s news.
      You really are sad. Lincoln getting ass kicked. I torched it earlier. New Congress will shut them down, they gone.

      Btw, FGOP now has a 300,000 reg lead. It’s a 550,000 registration flip.
      You are done with Lincoln and party registration.

Comments are closed.


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