Florida voters head to primary polls as Democrats look to break losing streak

Florida voters will head to the polls on Tuesday to determine which candidates will have the chance to face off in this November’s general election. Voters will cast ballots in races for the governorship and Congress, all the way down to circuit courts and local school boards.

Democrats are competing to run against the state’s governor, Ron DeSantis, and US senator Marco Rubio, both of whom are considered potential Republican presidential candidates for 2024. On the House side, a new congressional map drawn by DeSantis is expected to give Republicans a hefty advantage in the November midterms.

Although Florida has long been considered a swing state, Republicans have a considerable edge heading into this election season. Republicans last year overtook Democrats in Florida’s voter registration rolls. And Donald Trump carried the state by three points in the 2020 presidential race, although Joe Biden defeated him in the electoral college while also winning the national popular vote by four points.

Since then, DeSantis has approved new voting restrictions to limit access to voting by mail and ballot drop boxes in Florida, sparking allegations from the justice department of racial discrimination. Those methods were more likely to be used by Biden supporters in 2020 than voting at a polling place on election day, according to the Pew Research Center.

With the new House map in place, Republicans are expected to win 20 of Florida’s 28 congressional seats, up from the party’s current control of 16 of the state’s 27 seats. The state’s additional House seat resulted from the latest round of redistricting.

Republicans’ severe gerrymandering, which will severely curtail Black political power in Florida, has made many of the state’s congressional races a foregone conclusion this fall. Not a single one of Florida’s House races is considered a toss-up for the general election, according to the Cook Political Report. That means that the winners of the Tuesday primaries are very likely to be elected to Congress this fall.

The anticlimactic forecast for Florida’s House races has many election watchers turning their attention to statewide races. All eyes will be on Florida’s Democratic gubernatorial primary, with Charlie Crist, a Democratic congressman and former governor, running against Nikki Fried, the state’s agriculture commissioner.

Crist and Fried have attacked DeSantis over his aggressive approach to culture war issues in Florida, which may preview the governor’s 2024 presidential campaign. Just this month, DeSantis drew a lawsuit from a state prosecutor whom the governor suspended after the attorney said he would not enforce a 15-week abortion ban.

DeSantis last week also announced charges against 20 people for illegally voting, a move meant to highlight the work of a new office aimed at uncovering voter fraud. The governor provided few details about the charges, and voting rights advocates have denounced the arrests as voter intimidation.

“Quite frankly, he is anti-democracy,” Crist told MSNBC on Sunday. “I am a Democrat running to protect democracy, to protect a woman’s right to choose, and I’m running against an autocrat who wants to be dictator of America.”

But DeSantis is not backing away from his far-right agenda, instead choosing to double down on the political strategy. DeSantis has issued endorsements in dozens of non-partisan school board races, and he has campaigned alongside candidates who have backed his calls for more “parents’ rights” in the classroom.

DeSantis has made education a central part of his platform after signing multiple laws aimed at limiting what can be taught to Florida children. Earlier this year, DeSantis signed a bill restricting the discussion of race and racism in the classroom and the workplace. DeSantis in March approved a bill forbidding instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity for students in kindergarten through third grade, a measure that has been attacked by critics as a “don’t say gay” law. More recently, DeSantis put his signature on a bill requiring students be taught about the “victims of communism” each November.

Despite those controversial policies, DeSantis heads into the general election with a clear advantage over his Democratic challengers. DeSantis has amassed a campaign war chest of more than $100m, and he has consistently led his potential opponents in recent polls.

Florida’s Senate race has provided Democrats with more optimism, as Rubio – a former and potentially future Republican presidential candidate – seeks a third term in office. Congresswoman Val Demings has led the pack of Democratic candidates seeking to defeat Rubio, and polls indicate she may have an opportunity to do so.

A University of North Florida poll taken this month found that Demings had the support of 48% of likely general election voters, compared with 44% for Rubio.

But Democrats know to take nothing for granted because they have previously been on the losing end of heartbreakingly close races in Florida. The state proved to be an exception to Democrats’ “wave” of victories in 2018, when the incumbent senator Bill Nelson and gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum were both narrowly defeated by their Republican opponents.

Tuesday could provide some key clues as to whether Democrats will finally be able to break their Florida losing streak.


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