My home state of Florida is in the news. It usually is one way or another in a bizarre fashion like “Alligator Eats Lawn Furniture” or “Man Robs Liquor Store, Leaves Wallet.” But the news as of late concerns the two statewide political races that will have national repercussions.
The first, the senate race of incumbent GOP Governor Rick Scott versus incumbent Dem Senator Bill Nelson is a tight race with the advantage going to Nelson because he is perceived by much of Florida to be a moderate. The second, the gubernatorial race between GOP Congressman Ron DeSantis and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum leans GOP because Gillum has had myriad late-breaking ethical problems and is considered hard left by most of the state’s electorate.
Now, I left Florida for chillier climes almost thirty years ago, returning on occasion to cavort with local friends. So what do I know of the current scene above and beyond the common pundit? Well, I cut my political teeth in South Florida as a kid. Volunteered in politics there for about ten years. First race I worked was the 1970 midterms when I was nine years old. Yes, I realize that makes me lame as hell, but it was what a pre-adolescent history geek did in those days to hang out with other history geeks. Last race was working for Connelly in the 1980 GOP primaries.
The point is that some of my fellow nerds stayed and went on to climb the rungs of Florida politics, one of them even to Congress. So when I write a piece on home I call them and they natter on, knowing the cognoscenti in Miami or Jacksonville aren’t exactly hanging on the every word of a virtual auslander who resides on the shores of Maryland. As such, they speak relatively freely and I pass that intel on to you, dear acolytes. They range the state over and are operationally bipartisan, as there is not much profit for a Dem to be too liberal in the Panhandle or a Republican to be too conservative in Broward County.
The Florida of the 70s politically and in most other ways is not the Florida of today. Its essentially ideologically libertarian character has changed as multitudes moved there, as my family did in 1969. What was primarily an immigration to South Florida from the northeast has widened to a Midwestern exodus to the non-Florida in lifestyle midstate of the Orlando area. Those of us who grew up on a beach regard any place not within 10 miles of such as essentially Peoria, Illinois. Thus, Orlando and its treacly, hideous, just this-side-of-hell main attractions are anathema to us.
But what hasn’t changed is the multifaceted political environment. For unlike many other states that are internally politically and culturally cohesive and by definition easy to gage, Florida is composed of five different political regions. To take a page from Colin Woodward, we know that they live and vote very differently. Somehow smelting them into an always shaky coalition is the solution for any Sunshine State political operative worth their Cuban cigars. The real ones you get on Calle Ocho if you speak Spanish. Not the overpriced fake ones we sell to tourists.
For shorthand sake we’ll refer to the areas as South Florida, the East Coast, the Panhandle, the Gulf Coast, and Orlando. Major cities like Miami, Ft. Myers, Hollywood/Ft. Lauderdale (my hometown), Jacksonville, and St. Pete/Sarasota are separate entities unto themselves and add urban voting patterns to the mix. Now, how will the races fare in each?
South Florida: Advantage Dem
Defined as Palm Beach County southward into the Keys, excluding the west coast, it’s an area where the older rabidly conservative Cubans (their kids are a tad less frothing) of Dade County are next door to the liberal Jews of Broward and gays of the Keys. The key is the Latin, urban, and Caribbean melting pot of Miami. The massively vote-heavy area will outpoll the cowboys of Davie and the lah-de-dah set of Palm Beach and it skews Dem because of the reliable voting of Broward Jews and the sheer number of the Dade minority vote. Those Cubans stop Dade from going totally Dem. Nelson is famous for his Potomac Two Step (saying one thing at home, voting another way in DC), thus making him non-radioactive to moderate Republicans. Gillum will appeal to most of the minority vote in Miami and the culturally libertarian youth of the area, who think that any candidate who may imperil their God-given and constitutional right to shoot crack straight into their eyeballs, while drunkenly driving down I-95 at 104 miles an hour, is a stone-cold fascist. Do they get the dichotomy of lifestyle license versus authoritarian socialism at the heart of the Dem ethos? No, they’re too exhausted from last night’s South Beach shindig to think much past their bong-hit breakfast.
Because of the size of its population, this is the most influential area in the state when it comes to turnout numbers. How it goes is not dispositive. But it can heavily tip the scales.
The East Coast: Advantage GOP
The coastline from north of Palm Beach all the way up to but not including Jacksonville, this is old Jimmy Buffet (Jimmy’s current Bolshevism notwithstanding) Florida from the Daytona 500 to the Space Coast and beyond. There Floridians, as did Broward County in my day, just want to be left alone to start drinking at noon and enjoy the waves. They prefer to be not encumbered by high taxes or school marm social justice warrior buttinskis. It’s natural GOP territory.
The Panhandle: Split Decision
Shouldn’t really be part of the state at all, though not as obnoxious as Orlando. They properly belong to the deep southern states they abut, as smartass South Floridians will come to ken about five seconds after they get there. The good ol’ boys of Ocala and Gainesville, ignoring the college town leftism of the only State University of Florida , don’t have much time for know-it-alls from Broward and vote accordingly. Nelson is a Vietnam vet, Gator grad, and an astronaut. That’s the way the Panhandle likes its Dems. DeSantis is not down home, but Gillum’s hard leftism, even though he is mayor of the region’s Tallahassee, is too much to take. The area has a heavy military presence and that usually tells for the GOP. Jacksonville falls in here, as it is really part of Georgia.
The Gulf Coast: Advantage GOP
Taking in the west coast up to the Panhandle, the place also has a Biloxi flavor to it, but not as much as the Panhandle. It’s beachfront includes St. Pete/Sarasota, which votes GOP in large part because so many of the recent inhabitants of the I-4 Corridor, from the coast to around Orlando, hail from the Midwest and the rust belt. That’s one of the reasons Trump and the populist GOP do well; an economically nationalist culturally conservative message plays there bigtime to the former denizens of a post-industrial region.
In fact, at the start of general election day 2016 I was convinced, as were many, that much to my dismay, Hillary was going to pull off a close victory. But being a former political operative I had pals in the business busy at work on E-Day. Knowing I had no professional horse in the race, they called me to kvetch and worry. I called them to vicariously work a race on Election Day. When I spoke to my associates working the ground in the I-4 something emerged early. Big turnout for Hillary. But unbelievable turnout for Trump. Given we all knew what mutual political inclinations were still extant between them and where they were from, we were able to extrapolate by mid-afternoon that Trump was going to do much better than expected in places like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. And if he could pull that off it would it would be a sad night in Brooklyn. Heh.
Orlando: Advantage GOP
It is Kansas transferred to within a couple of hours from a beach. Full of evangelicals and entrepreneurial Republicans, only the urban vote in the area balances out the GOP numbers. Lots of military around too. As the eastern part of the I-4, it acts the same for the most part. But it doesn’t have the hefty voting public of a SoFlo and thus might be the least influential part of the five states of Florida. It is about as exciting a place for anyone past nine years old as a paint-drying festival and should only be visited for fiendish schadenfreudish purposes.
So, to recap: Nelson will win with the Dem base, the conservative Panhandle, and some moderates in his corner. The power of senate incumbency can’t hurt either. Rick Scott is a good candidate. But not quite good enough to overcome the wide appeal of Nelson to various groups and Florida regions. Plus Nelson has better hair. DeSantis will win because moderates will be turned off by Gillum’s ethics problems, hard left pals and PC message. Gillum will get clobbered in the Panhandle, which any Dem must be competitive in to win statewide.
On to Tuesday.