In the final week before Election Day, the last two US presidents will hold a rally in Florida, where a seismic political shift currently underway could change the national political map for years to come.
President Joe Biden lands in South Florida on Tuesday to campaign for the Democrats. Donald Trump will hold his own event for Republican Sen. Marco Rubio in Miami on Sunday.
The circumstances of their arrival brought their own intrigues. With Democrats reticent to welcome Biden and his fraudulent ratings elsewhere, the president will spend one of the final days before the election in a state that has been an afterthought for his party for most of the midterm cycle. Meanwhile, Republicans are speculating that Trump is holding court in the Sunshine State two days before the election, in part to poke fun at Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a potential 2024 challenger who was not invited to the weekend campaign stop.
In most election years, a visit from a high-profile politician to the Sunshine State would be the norm, if not expected. Trump and Biden made several stops in Florida two years ago — including dueling rallies days before the 2020 election separated by hours and just 10 miles on Tampa roads. And four years ago, the race for governor and US Senate in Florida was decided in a recount.
But now Republicans and Democrats are on opposite trajectories. Republicans believe they are headed for the most successful election night in a generation, buoyed by DeSantis’ record fundraising and surge in enthusiasm. Trailing in the polls and trailing in excitement, Democrats are hoping for an unexpected change in the political winds or could be left without a single statewide elected official in Florida for the first time since at least Reconstruction.
Here are four factors driving the state’s turn to the right.
When Barack Obama won Florida in 2008, his historic campaign brought a wave of new Democratic voters. Registered Democrats outnumbered Republicans in Florida by nearly 700,000, their largest advantage since 1990.
This difference narrowed in the following years. But after the 2020 election, the turnaround has accelerated, touching almost every part of the state, from urban cores and their suburbs to the rural communities that line the Panhandle and dotted central Florida. Since Biden and Trump were on the ballot, the number of Republicans has increased in 52 of the state’s 67 districts. Meanwhile, all but one county has fewer registered Democrats than two years ago — a total net loss of 331,000 voters.
As of last month, Florida had 5.3 million registered Republicans and just under 5 million Democrats, marking the first time in state history that the GOP will have a voter advantage on Election Day.
“Voter registration has been a disaster,” said Thomas Kennedy, a member of the Florida Democratic National Committee. “Our news is shit.
Kennedy called for the impeachment of Florida Democratic Party Chairman Manny Diaz.
One wildcard remains. The fastest growing category of voters in the state are not Republicans or Democrats, but people who don’t choose a party when they register to vote. Floridians who registered as “no party affiliation” are 240,000 more than in 2020.
Trump’s surprisingly strong performance among Latino voters helped fuel his 3.5-point victory in the Sunshine State in 2020. Perhaps nowhere was that momentum more pronounced than in Miami-Dade County, where Trump lost by just 7 points to Biden after trailing Hillary there Clinton. 30 points in 2016.
Republicans picked up where Trump left off. More than half of their gains in registered voters can be attributed to the 58,000 new Hispanic voters who checked the word “Republican” on their forms. However, Democrats are bleeding support from these communities. The party saw a net loss of more than 46,000 Hispanic voters.
The reversal is even more stunning because Democrats entered the election cycle firmly aware of the trend and determined to address it, promising to have a dedicated staff and outreach focused on the disparate Hispanic communities that are scattered across the state. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist chose Karla Hernandez, an educator born to Honduran immigrants and a Spanish speaker, as his running mate.
Those efforts have yet to translate into broad new support, and Republicans heading into the election believe they are poised to win Miami-Dade County for the first time since Jeb Bush was governor in 2002. Republicans there won nearly 11,000 voters; Democrats lost nearly 58,000.
“We don’t do everything from identity politics. Hispanics buy groceries too,” tweeted Christina Pushaw, who is quick to respond to the DeSantis campaign. “Less these days, like everyone else, because of Bidenflation.”
It’s also worth noting that Republicans have seen a slight but significant increase in registered black voters over the past two years, while Democrats have lost more than 71,000, a quarter of whom came from Miami-Dade.
In the final months of the 2020 election, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg donated $100 million to help Biden win Florida. The sum was remarkable, but outsiders had long been tempted to spend huge sums to advance what was the country’s largest battlefield. The 2018 election attracted tens of millions in outside spending by both parties and their wealthy allies.
In this cycle, most of that money goes to one party, the Republicans, and much of it goes to one person, DeSantis. The GOP frontrunner is shattering fundraising records on his way to a looming $200 million gubernatorial campaign. The Republican Governors Association has invested heavily in helping DeSantis, donating more than $20 million this campaign cycle, and his political committee has collected more than 250 six-figure checks, as well as small donations from every state.
Meanwhile, most major blue benefactors stayed away, leaving Democrats struggling to advertise in the final weeks of the race. Democrats here worry that two decades of close defeats have left Florida donors reeling for the foreseeable future.
There are Democrats who, in retrospect, regret not using Bloomberg’s investment and other past donations to build a more sustainable party and register more voters instead of getting dragged into a winner-take-all aerial war every year with a few wins.
“The other side of the coin, with Donald Trump on the ballot, how can you not throw everything at it to stop him? The stakes were so high that if you had a dollar left in your bank account, you weren’t trying hard enough,” said a Florida state party operative who asked to speak anonymously about the party. “But going forward, we’re spending too much money on TV and direct mail. It just doesn’t take you that much. We do not do year-round, deep canvasing. We fall two months before the election. Instead of hard work, we advertise.”
Florida’s population growth over the past decade has given the state an additional seat in the U.S. House after the 2020 Census results. The consequences will be felt as early as next week. Here, DeSantis pushed for an aggressively partisan redrawing of state congressional districts that could give Republicans an edge in as many as 20 of the 28 districts. Republicans currently hold a 16-11 majority in Florida’s House delegation.
The additional congressional seat also means Florida will gain an additional vote in the Electoral College, bringing the total to 30. Already, Democrats’ concerns about their electoral viability in Florida have some worried that the party won’t be competing for the presidency here in two years.
Republicans have publicly stated that this is the outcome they are working towards.
“We have no excuses other than we had the biggest electoral victory we’ve ever had,” DeSantis said at Sunday’s rally, adding, “I really believe the red tide is starting in the state of Florida.”