Politics “junkies” will forever remember the great Tim Russert’s “Florida Florida Florida” in the 2000 election. Russert predicted the results of the election would come down to who won Florida. As we learned, the ballot in Palm Beach County was manipulated in such a way as to intentionally confuse voters who intended to vote for Al Gore to accidentally vote for Pat Buchanan. Buchanan’s vote tally soared in a very unlikely electorate while Gore’s votes were inexplicably low in the same electorate. Thousands of Gore votes unintentionally went to Buchanan and George W. Bush won Florida by an even smaller margin, thus the direct impact. It was not “Hanging chads,” it was the scheme to divert votes from Gore to Buchanan to help Bush win.
The country is still watching Florida as the state has a pivotal role in the 2018 midterms. Pundits refer to Florida as an important swing vote, especially in Presidential elections. Bush won Florida, Obama won Florida, and Trump won Florida. A large state with many media markets, Florida is an expensive state in which to compete, especially in close, contentious elections for state and federal elections. Florida is a diverse state in many ways – politically, economically, demographically, socially, and culturally. As a populous state, the electoral prize is often worth the fight.
Although President Obama won Florida and Senator Bill Nelson has served as one of Florida’s U.S. Senators, Florida has been a reliably Republican state for about 20 years. Republicans have dominated both houses of the Florida Legislature and almost exclusively held all statewide elected offices, especially Governor. Previously, Florida was led by strong, widely respected Democratic leaders including Bob Graham and Lawton Chiles, both of whom served as Governor and Senator. Democrats have not been able to win Florida statewide elections since. There is some debate whether this is caused by the state becoming more conservative or because the Democratic candidates who won the primaries were not competitive enough. The theory is they were too liberal to gain support in large parts of the state and may not have been strong campaigners.
The result of solid Republican control, Florida became one of the worst Gerrymandered states in the nation. This helped Republicans maintain control of the legislature and many Congressional seats, giving them a base and unfair advantage. Republican leadership has gutted education with Florida ranking near the bottom of the 50 states, an absolute shame. Republicans have also eliminated environmental funding, directly resulting in contaminated water, problems with flooding, and other critical challenges. In 2018 Florida Democrats are energized by prospects of a “blue wave” in the midterms and a bona fide opportunity to win statewide elections. Democrats have done well in recent special elections, closing the gap in the state Senate and poised for big gains in the state House. Democrats have an excellent opportunity to pick up a few Congressional seats as well. It all starts with nominating the right candidates.
Florida Democrats nominated Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum for Governor to lead their effort to wrest control from Republicans. He ran in the primary as the most progressive candidate, beating more establishment and moderate candidates. He had the support of Bernie Sanders, donors George Soros and Tom Steyer, and strong minority voter turnout. Gillum is running against Ron DeSantis, a former Congressman and handpicked Trumpist who lacks the experience, substance, and character to be Governor. At this point, Gillum leads in the polls by an average of 6 points, while DeSantis flounders to create a platform and message. DeSantis has thus far run a campaign vague on issues and priorities, although he has tried to strike a Democratic tone on issues such as education and the environment, knowing these are priorities of Florida voters. Gillum should maintain his traditional Democratic values and emphasize a more moderate approach to governance to win over a Florida electorate that has for 20 years supported Conservative Republican candidates for all statewide offices. He supports strengthening public education, environmental protection, an economy with good jobs, access to health care, etc. This is a winning formula.
Senator Nelson is fighting to keep his seat against outgoing Governor Rick Scott, also a hand-picked Trumpist. Polls have been back and forth. Nelson appears to have a slight lead, but he is considered extremely vulnerable and will rely heavily on favorable turnout. Nelson, a military veteran and former astronaut, has proven himself to be a dedicated public servant with a strong record on the environment, health care, education, Social Security, Medicare, etc. It is distressing to see an honorable man like Nelson in a close race against Scott, one of the most corrupt politicians to ever hold office.
Scott was responsible for the largest Medicare fraud in the nation’s history, resulting in a 1.7 billion dollar fine. He has steered hundreds of millions of dollars in state contracts towards business in which he has an interest. Scott hides his vast fortune (reported at over 200 million dollars) in Cayman Island tax havens. Scott is personally responsible for Florida’s environmental crises. He supported chemical dumping, cut funding to prevent red tide and blue algae, and supports drilling in the Everglades and off the Florida coast. He opposes climate change to the extent he foolishly banned even the use of the term in all state business and documents. Climate change is impacting Florida in a significant way. He is a disaster on public education.
Florida Democrats have fielded a strong slate of candidates for the state legislature, state offices, the House, and of course the proven Bill Nelson. These races must be about the future of Florida more than about President Trump. 2018 is the best election cycle in many years for Democrats and it is imperative for the Florida Democratic Party to finally show it can win. It is even more important for the people of Florida to eliminate the extreme corruption of Republican rule and restore much overdo public education and environmental funding before it is too late.