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Florida Democrats face election night hangover; GOP gets newfound strength

"From my perspective, when you're this far down, the only way that you can go is up,' Rep. Fentrice Driskell says
Posted at 6:59 PM, Nov 09, 2022

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Few are feeling the Election Day hangover worse than Florida Democrats. The party suffered devastating blows Tuesday night as Republicans won races up and down the ballot.

The Florida GOP achieved supermajorities in each chamber of the state Legislature, a clean sweep in the Florida Cabinet, and a near 20-point re-election margin for Gov. Ron DeSantis. Some Republicans are now declaring Florida's swing status dead.

State Senator-elect and DeSantis surrogate Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, attributed the GOP success to, not just general apathy from Democrats, but gains with Hispanic voters in places like Miami-Dade County and rejection of the Biden administration.

"This is a mandate that they like what we're doing here in the state of Florida," Ingoglia said Tuesday. "There is a reason that people are moving to this state in droves. We're going to realize that it is a mandate and, quite frankly, they're going to want us to continue."

Now comes the hard part warn some political experts. The party will have to deliver on Tuesday's promises and work to maintain its newfound strength.

"Republicans appear to have achieved in Florida politics the sort of dominance that they've hoped for," Professor Josh Scacco, a University of South Florida political communications expert. "So, the question will be— can they sustain this?"

Meanwhile, Florida Democrats were pointing fingers Wednesday. The Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida urged the resignation of state party chairman Manny Diaz, calling his two-year tenure a "vacuum in leadership."

"Lack of financial oversight, lack of messaging, lack of grassroots involvement in the conversation, and breaking of the state party's own rules have made it evident of his gross incompetence," DPCF said in a statement. "Chair Diaz never understood the electorate, the timely need for outreach, registration, and community participation. There was no outreach plan for FDP's most reliable voters, including minorities, youth and progressives."

Diaz, however, blamed drastically reduced national support this cycle. He highlighted it to party members in a Tuesday memo showing that national committees spent more than $58 million in 2018 versus less than $1.4 million in 2022.

"Almost none of us have ever seen a midterm — with the exception of the election following 9/11 — where a first-term president didn't lose seats," Diaz said in the message. "Across a majority of states, two-thirds of voters who have switched their official party registrations in the past two years have switched to the Republican Party. Additionally, NPA (non-party affiliated) voters are overtaking both parties in states across the country."

Others think the top of the ticket featured a weak candidate, suggesting Charlie Crist was the wrong person to challenge DeSantis. Most polling showed he was behind by double digits in the campaign's final weeks. His fundraising was a small fraction of the incumbents.

"It's always tempting to do the Monday morning quarterback thing where we try to second guess, you know, so much of what happened in a race when the outcome isn't as we wish," incoming House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, said. "When you look at how much money Ron DeSantis spent, I mean it was close to $100 million, or perhaps over that. So, this was one of the most expensive gubernatorial races in history, and it was all one-sided."

Driskell was trying to stay positive Wednesday. Though her caucus returns with even less power than it had before, she believed there was still room to work with Republicans on big issues like property insurance and time to rebuild what the party lost.

"There's going to be a lot of what I would say that kind of like post-mortem analysis — trying to understand a better way forward," she said. "But from my perspective, when you're this far down, the only way that you can go is up."