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Florida Democrats ‘confronting an increasingly bleak outlook’ ahead of 2022 midterm election

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Florida Democrats have long struggled to match their counterparts across the aisle when it comes to political organizing, which may explain why the Republican Party has had a stranglehold on power in the Sunshine State for better than two decades, controlling both chambers of the state house and the governor’s mansion since 1999.

Heading into the 2022 midterm elections, things are not looking much better. In fact, according to The Hill, Democrats “are confronting an increasingly bleak outlook in Florida.”

Of the many obstacles the party faces, voter registration numbers top the list. Democrats have long held the advantage but it’s quickly fading, dropping from about 100,000 at the beginning of the year to less than 24,000, the online political news site reported, pointing out that in 2008, when Barack Obama won Florida by about 200,000 votes, “there were nearly 700,000 more registered Democrats in the state than Republicans.”

Almost as if coming from left field, no pun intended, Republican leaders in the state suddenly put a premium on voter registration and it’s clearly paying dividends. While it’s been a strength of Democrats, the party is reportedly engaged in a renewed effort to keep pace. One such effort involves Orlando-based Democratic state Rep. Anna Eskamani, who took a page from Stacey Abrams’ playbook in Georgia in using her political committee People Power For Florida to make a voter registration push.

Keep in mind that former President Donald Trump increased his margin of victory in Florida in 2020 over 2016, easily defeating President Joe Biden 51.2% to 47.9%. That’s a million more votes than Trump received when he beat Hillary Clinton in 2016 49% to 47.8%. These results make it that much harder for people to accept the overall outcome of the 2020 election.

The Hill also said Florida Democrats are “facing a yawning fundraising gap with the Florida GOP,” and are also “facing daunting structural challenges, including Republican-led redistricting and a controversial new election law pushed by Gov. Ron DeSantis that puts new restrictions on the collection of mail-in ballots and the use of drop boxes.” (See ballot harvesting.)

“It feels a little bit like we’re kind of set up to fail,” one Florida Democratic official was quoted in the article. “It’s not any one person’s fault. A lot of these problems have existed for years. But for a party that has been decimated in the last few elections and especially the last one, I’m not seeing a sense of urgency yet.”

Last year, Florida Democratic Party chairwoman Terrie Rizzo announced that she wouldn’t seek another term after the election setbacks in 2020. Not only did Trump win by a greater margin, the party lost the governor’s race in 2018, with DeSantis narrowly defeating Andrew Gillum — who would be found unconscious a few months later in a Miami Beach hotel with a male prostitute and drugs —  and a U.S. Senate seat, with former Republican Gov. Rick Scott defeating longtime Democratic incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson

Rizzo was elected to run the party in Dec. 2017 as a replacement for then-chairman Stephen Bittel, who abruptly quit after a year on the job amid workplace harassment allegations.

As for the money woes, the Florida Democratic Party ended 2020 sitting on $800,000 in bills it could not pay, according to Florida Politics, which reported that things got so bad that Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida “canceled health insurance coverage for party employees.”

“I knew going in that things were going to be bad. I just didn’t think they were this bad,” current party chair Manny Diaz said at the time, according to the website.

As for the possibility of things getting better in 2021, earlier this year Florida Senate Democrats were embroiled in controversial infighting, ousting the leader in place in favor of another choice.

Looking ahead to the 2022 midterm elections, Democrats are looking to prevent DeSantis from being reelected, and defeat U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. 

State Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., are vying to be the Democratic nominee to take on DeSantis. Crist served as governor of Florida from 2007 to 2011, running as a Republican before switching to an Independent in 2010. Two years later, he became a Democrat — a feat that earned him the reputation of being a chameleon, or political opportunist. The viability of these potential matchups will be bolstered by the state and national media almost certainly pushing all in to help defeat the popular Republican governor.

U.S. Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., one of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s impeachment managers, is the frontrunner to take on Rubio. Demings, a former police chief who once received a “written censure” for not properly securing her agency-issued 9 mm Sig Sauer in her unlocked car, which was subsequently stolen, lacks dazzle and experience. If the GOP senator can’t hold his own in this contest, it says more about him than Demings.

Tom Tillison

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