In the final week before Election Day, the last two US presidents will hold rallies in Florida, where a seismic political shift now underway could reshape 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 host his own event for Republican Sen. Marco Rubio on Sunday in Miami.
The circumstances of their arrival brought their own intrigue. With Democrats reluctant to promote Penny Biden and his underwater approval ratings elsewhere, the president will spend one of the final days before elections in a state that has been an afterthought for his party for much of the midterm cycle. Meanwhile, Republicans speculate that Trump is holding court in the Sunshine State two days before the election, in part to poach Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a potential 2024 opponent who was not invited to the weekend campaign stop.
In most election years, a visit by a high-profile politician to the Sunshine State would be the norm, if not expected. Trump and Biden had multiple stops in Florida two years ago — including dueling rallies days before the 2020 election separated by a few hours and just 10 miles of Tampa roads. And four years ago, the races for governor and US Senate in Florida were decided in a recount.
But now, Republicans and Democrats are on opposite trajectories. Republicans believe they are headed for their most successful election night in a generation, buoyed by DeSantis’ record-breaking fundraising and wave of enthusiasm. Democrats, trailing in the polls and lagging in excitement, are hoping for an unexpected change in the political winds or they could be left without a single elected official in Florida for the first time since at least Reconstruction.
Below are four factors driving the country’s turn to the right.
When Barack Obama won Florida in 2008, his historic campaign brought in a wave of new Democratic voters. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in Florida by nearly 700,000, their largest advantage since 1990.
This gap has narrowed in the years since then. But after the 2020 election, the upheaval has accelerated and has touched almost every part of the country, from the urban core and their suburbs, to the rural communities that dot the Panhandle and central Florida. Republicans have increased their numbers in 52 of the state’s 67 districts since Biden and Trump were on the ballot. Meanwhile, there are fewer registered Democrats in all but one county than two years ago — a net loss of 331,000 total voters.
As of last month, there were 5.3 million registered Republicans and just under 5 million Democrats in Florida, marking the first time in state history that the GOP carried a voter advantage on Election Day.
“Voter registration was a disaster,” said Thomas Kennedy, a member of the Florida Democratic National Committee. “Our messages suck.”
Kennedy called for the impeachment of Florida Democratic Party Chairman Manny Diaz.
One wildcard left. The fastest growing category of voters in the country are not Republicans or Democrats but people who choose neither party when they register to vote. There are 240,000 more Floridians registered as “no party affiliation” 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 this dynamic more pronounced than in Miami-Dade County, where Trump lost by just 7 points to Biden after trailing Hillary Clinton there in 2020. 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 “Republican” on their forms. However, Democrats are bleeding support from these communities. The party recorded a net loss of more than 46,000 Hispanic voters.
The turnaround is made all the more remarkable because Democrats entered the election cycle well aware of the trend and set out to address it, promising to have a dedicated staff and outreach focused on the various Hispanic communities scattered across the country. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist chose Carla Hernandez, an educator born to Honduran immigrants, as his running mate, and she led the ticket’s Spanish-language outreach.
Those efforts have so far not translated into broad new support, and heading into the election, Republicans believe they are poised to win Miami-Dade County outright for the first time since Jeb Bush was governor in 2002. The Republicans gained nearly 11,000 voters there; Democrats lost nearly 58,000.
“We’re not making it all about identity politics. Hispanics buy groceries, too,” tweeted Christina Poshaw, who runs rapid response for the DeSantis campaign. “Less so these days, like everyone else, because of the bidenflation.”
It’s also worth noting that Republicans have seen a slight but significant increase in black registered voters over the past two years while Democrats have lost more than 71,000, a quarter of which came from Miami-Dade.
In the final months of the 2020 election, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg pledged $100 million to help Biden win Florida. The sum was noteworthy, but foreigners have long been tempted to spend huge sums to transform what was the country’s largest battlefield. The 2018 election attracted tens of millions in outside spending by both parties and their wealthy allies.
This cycle, most of that money goes to one side, the Republicans, and a lot of it goes to one person, DeSantis. The GOP leader is shattering fundraising records on the way to a $200 million campaign for governor. The Republican Governors Association has invested heavily to help DeSantis, donating more than $20 million this campaign cycle, and his political committee has collected more than 250 six-figure checks but also small contributions from every state.
Most of the big blue philanthropists, meanwhile, stayed on the sidelines, leaving Democrats scrambling to advertise in the final weeks of the race. Democrats here are concerned that two decades of poor defeats have hurt Florida donors for the foreseeable future.
Some Democrats regret in retrospect that they didn’t use Bloomberg’s investment and other past donations to build a more sustainable party and register more voters instead of being dragged into a winnable air war every year with few victories.
“The other side of the coin, with Donald Trump on the ballot, how do you not throw everything at him to stop him? The stakes were so high that if you have a dollar left in your bank account, you didn’t try hard enough,” said a party activist in Florida who asked to speak anonymously about the party. “But moving forward, we spend too much money on television and direct mail. It just doesn’t bother you that much. We don’t do deep searches all year. We drop two months before the election. We advertise instead of doing the hard work.”
Florida’s population growth over the past decade has given the state an extra seat in the US House following the results of the 2020 US Census. The effects of this will be felt as early as next week. DeSantis has pushed for an aggressive redrawing of the state’s congressional districts here, which could give Republicans an advantage in 20 of 28 districts. Republicans now hold a 16-11 lead in Florida’s US House delegation.
The extra congressional seat also means Florida will get an extra vote in the Electoral College, bringing the total to 30. Already, Democrats worried about their electoral viability in Florida fear the party won’t be running for president here in two years.
Republicans have publicly stated that this is the outcome they are working for.
“We have no excuses other than to get the biggest election win we’ve ever had,” DeSantis said at a rally Sunday, before adding, “I truly believe the red tide is starting in the state of Florida.”