Florida is the most pivotal state in American politics, because it is a demographically evolving swing state with the fourth largest electoral impact in the nation, behind three others (New York, California, Texas) that are all locked up before the election even starts. Notable changes in Florida from 2016 may prove to be the GOP’s Waterloo in 2018 and 2020 and beyond.
In 2018, the three major issues the GOP face are Hurricane Maria, the generic ballot, and Rick Scott’s ending incumbency. One of the most underreported seismic effects of President Trump’s poor handling of the tragic ongoing crisis in Puerto Rico is the acceleration of mass migration to the mainland, particularly Florida. The New York Times recently reported that well over 100,000 Puerto Ricans have already arrived in Florida, and well over 200,000 may arrive before election day next year. Unlike other Latin immigrants, Puerto Ricans are US citizens and can vote once they become state residents, and the energized new Democratic voter registration groups that emerged after Hilary Clinton’s loss are already aggressively registering them to vote. While the Latino take over of Florida has been falsely reported more than once, now may really be the time.
The second issue that the GOP faces is President Trump’s strong unpopularity and the Democrat’s major advantage on the generic ballot. According to Five Thirty Eight, the Democrats have veered between a 7-10 point generic ballot advantage for most of the last six months, and, historically, this metric gets worse for the governing party in their second year in power. The recent elections bore these stats out: Virginia elected Northam governor almost +9, whereas it went +4 for Clinton back in 2016. In 2016, the general popular ballot was about +2.5 Democratic, making Virginia about 2 points above the national median, so the Virginia 2017 performance equates to about +7 Democratic nationally. Florida is about as close to net 0 as you get, veering from +1-2 Democratic in 2008 and 2012 to +1-2 Republican in 2016.
If the generic ballot is +7 next year, or worse, you would expect that to be a comfortable Democratic gubernatorial victory in Florida, with further pickups in the state legislature. To return to Virginia as an example, Republicans went into the elections this month with 64/100 seats in the legislature, and ended the day with a virtually even legislative divide. Florida state republicans currently hold 77/120 seats, and could reasonably be expected to lose around 10-15 of them in this sort of election. If that happened, along with losing the governorship – essentially following the Virginia results less the current Virginia Democratic lean, then the GOP would be unable to again gerrymander the statehouse and House of Representatives districts in 2020 because their Democratic governor would veto it.
This brings us to the last major issue Republicans face in 2018: governor Rick Scott’s term limits. Scott has been a relatively popular governor and would be a very difficult incumbent to unseat even in a poor national environment. But since he’s out the Republicans lose the power of incumbency, and the gubernatorial election is far more likely to resemble the national mood.
For 2020, the importance of Florida’s gubernatorial election really can’t be overstated. Florida has been governed by Republicans (starting with Jeb Bush of the 2000 election fame) since the late 1990s and has both stringent voter ID laws and voter discrimination and is one of only a handful of states with a lifetime ban on felons voting. Currently, over 20% of Florida African American men can’t vote – more than enough to sway a major election, even leaving Puerto Rican immigrants out of the equation. If a Democrat won the Florida governorship and either blanket rescinded this law or manually began restoring former felon’s right to vote, as Terry McAuliffe did in Virginia over the last two years, it would potentially restore well over a quarter-million mostly Democratic voters to vote in 2020. Indeed: in Virginia, which has far less than Florida, there is evidence that Democrats added nearly 50,000 votes in this year’s elections as a result of McAuliffe’s pardons.
If Florida were to become a reliably Democratic state starting in 2020, it would in turn radically alter the Presidential map for decades to come. That would put Democrats at over 267 electoral votes even without states Ohio, Arizona, North Carolina, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania combined, which would make it very difficult for Republicans to win future national elections with their current coalition, even granting them almost the entire Midwest exempting Michigan.
Plus, if you were looking for a bonus round, that’s Michigan. Like Florida, Michigan has a lame duck GOP governor and, unlike Rick Scott, he’s unpopular. Michigan is also traditionally more Democratic than Florida, going Democratic in every presidential election except 2016, which was decided by about 10,000 votes and was marred by rampant voter discrimination and suppression in the Detroit metro area. With a Democratic governor, that would likely change in time for 2020.
So, if you’re a Democrat in 2018, watch Florida and Michigan’s gubernatorial elections closely and donate. Florida is most certainly the single most important race in the nation.