TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Has Florida lost its battleground status ahead of a pivotal midterm election? Analysts aren't sure as Democrats could lose more ground to Republicans this cycle.
Democrats suffered a big blow in 2021 when the party lost its lead in registered voters for the first time. And it's getting worse.
According to recent state data, a 43,000 voter margin last year has tripled to about 176,000.
"The jury is out," Dr. Sean Foreman with Barry University said. "Florida may be losing its battleground status."
Foreman said Republicans have been working hard to overtake Democrats since the 1990s. The GOP, he believed, benefited from several changes since then including:
- Better organization on the state level
- Florida's surge of new residents leaning right
- Perhaps, most importantly, making inroads with Hispanic voters
"All these factors show that Florida may be trending a little bit more to the right and be a little bit redder on the map," Foreman said.
And that's not all.
This week, the Associated Press reported Florida Republicans nabbed 70% of those switching parties during the last year. That's up from 58% while former President Donald Trump was in office.
During a recent interview, Democratic National Committee Chair Jaime Harrison said his party hasn't written off the state.
"You got some great candidates down there," Harrison said. "We're going to do all that we can to be supportive of Florida and the Florida Democratic Party."
He touted bolstered registration efforts, communications and more Spanish language outreach. Harrison also said the state Democrats are investing tens of millions on their own.
Gov. Ron DeSantis remains a top target, Harrison said, especially given that his successful reelection could lead to a presidential bid.
Harrison criticized DeSantis for his pandemic mitigation efforts, taking note of the state's refusal to recommend COVID-19 vaccines for young children. That's despite federal regulators at the FDA and CDC recently signing off on the shots as safe and effective.
"Saying that Florida is firmly against vaccinating young children, I mean, who does that?" Harrison said. "Does he think that's the type of leadership we need in the rest of the country? So, what we want to do is make sure that Florida gets rid of DeSantis, and let's call it that."
DeSantis has defended his decision on shots saying there isn't enough evidence to support their use in children. He also continues to dismiss 2024 speculation when asked.
"What is this obsession with ’24?" DeSantis said during a press conference last week. "We don't even have the '22 election. I think it's because the media knows Democrats are going to get hammered in 2022. They don't want to talk about it."
Concerned about getting "hammered" is possible. Some Democratic legislators have started to take action on their own.
State Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Miami Beach, announced Monday a $500,000 contribution of his funds to boost key Democratic races.
"I don't have a race," Pizzo said, who heads into the election unopposed. "So, we're sitting on a healthy chunk of money that would be better not just sitting there."
Pizzo said every bit of cash will matter come November. Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book faces a primary challenge. That's siphoning away her funds that would otherwise be used to help members of the party win races.
Pizzo also said the GOP's edge isn't mere speculation. It's real.
"They're messaging better," Pizzo said. "They're resonating better. I think innately, you know, the overwhelming majority of Floridians share a number of the values that are espoused, that we fight for as Democrats. We just need to reach them, and we're not."
Pizzo and other Democrats remain hopeful the party has time to rally as Election Day nears. Nov. 8 is currently a little more than four months away.
Republicans have their challenges ahead of the midterms elections as well. Political experts say far-right and Trump-backed GOP candidates are shaking up primary battles across the nation, including Florida. The party is trying to figure out its standard-bearer, the former president, or someone new.