Purple state, high stakes for Florida
This election year features a blizzard of races that could reshape both state and national politics. Nobody knows what to expect.
Elections can be intense in Florida, the biggest purple state in the country, particularly in presidential years when the state’s 29 Electoral College votes are in play. But most people in Florida have never seen a campaign season quite like this one.
At the top of the ticket is the most unpredictable presidential election in recent memory and an intense U.S. Senate race, in which Marco Rubio reversed course and announced he’s running for re-election. A little further down the ticket, some of the state’s best-known politicians are scrambling to find new political homes after courts ordered state lawmakers to redraw congressional boundaries. Meanwhile, historic change may be coming to the Legislature itself, where newcomers will claim nearly half of the 40-seat Senate and more than a third of the 120-seat House.
With so many competitive elections around the state and an electorate bent on change, not even the shrewdest political experts know what to expect this fall. But everyone agrees the stakes are enormous.
“In Florida, I think the big question is really how much damage Donald Trump is going to do to the Republican ticket among Latino voters and Hispanic voters. I conducted a poll in May of this year, and it showed that only 37% of Cuban- American voters would vote for Trump if the election were today. And 10% of Cuban- American Republicans would not show up to the polls. Those numbers are daunting if they hold up. Does he hurt other Republican candidates in Florida for Congress and the state Legislature? There are several Hispanic seats in Miami-Dade County that are tossup seats, and the presence of Donald Trump is certainly not very helpful.”
— Dario Moreno, political science professor, Florida International University, Miami
“Trump will do much better with Hispanics than the pundits suppose, and his hard rhetoric against bad trade deals will help him with senior Rust Belters who have retired to Florida. All this leads to a Trump victory in Florida and beyond. As to what Trump’s victory means, I am not sure. He is not a limited-government conservative, and he seems incapable of inspiring leadership. So he will reflect the anger of the moment, and then what his presidency and what the Republican Party become afterward remains to be seen.”
— Brett Doster, former Florida executive director for President George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign; founder/ president, political consulting fi rm Front Line Strategies, Tallahassee
“With Florida’s growing diverse population, Hillary Clinton will be able to grow a coalition of voters in central and south Florida to run up the numbers while I expect Donald Trump to try to run up the numbers in north Florida. The crisis in Puerto Rico will be a pivotal issue in central Florida among the growing Puerto Rican voter base. Florida has been won by a narrow margin in the last few election cycles and this year may be no different, but Donald Trump’s unusual and insulting tone could pave the way for Hillary Clinton to grow her coalition among moderate Republicans in south Florida, leading her to carry Florida’s 29 electoral votes and with those the White House.”
— Christian Ulvert, former director of state House campaigns for the Florida Democratic Party; founder/president, political consulting firm Edge Communications, Miami
“This is going to be an impossible election to poll because I’m sure Trump is going to be bringing out voters who are new, but I’m also sure he’s going to be turning off voters who would have otherwise voted Republican.”
— Dan Gelber, former state House Democratic leader and former state senator; 2010 Democratic nominee for attorney general, Miami Beach
“The most unusual thing about this presidential election is that the Republican nominee isn’t a Republican. He is at best a charlatan and at worst a fascist. And hopefully the Republicans of conscience and conservatives who know what they stand for and why will not vote for him in November. I’m starting to feel very strongly that you can’t abstain — you have to make some sort of statement. From my perspective, I may write someone in. I may vote for Gary Johnson. All I know for certain is that I won’t vote for Donald Trump.”
— Mac Stipanovich, campaign manager and chief of staff to former Gov. Bob Martinez; senior adviser to former Gov. Jeb Bush, Tallahassee
“Millennials, women and minorities. The key question about millennials is turnout. About women, it is whether Trump can nearly split the female vote. Will suburban Republican-leaning women cross over and vote for Hillary? Will young women Sanders supporters not vote in the presidential race at all? About minorities, it is all about turnout among black voters, and whether Trump can garner at least 40% of the Hispanic vote (historically a benchmark for whether a Republican can win a statewide race). The debates will be critical. We have a long history in Florida of debates making a difference in who a citizen votes for.”
— Susan MacManus, political science professor, University of South Florida, Tampa
“On the Republican side, the driving force for this election is anger and frustration with politics as usual and a deep-rooted feeling that the country has been and remains on the wrong track. On the Democratic side, the driving force is disbelief that Donald Trump could receive the GOP nomination and fear and anger that he could actually become president.”
— Aubrey Jewett, political science professor, University of Central Florida, Orlando
“Any honest observer would have to tell you the outcome of the presidential race this November is impossible to predict given the results of the primary season. Florida will be pivotal once again if the election is close, but you have to wonder about the broader issue of how we elect presidents. Will 2016 stick out as an anomaly — or is this the new mindset of many Americans? Have we entered, as one commentator said, ‘post policy’ elections where the public is so fed up they don’t care about the specifics of a candidate’s vision (or lack of one) for the country? Intriguing times in American politics and disheartening if the 2016 trend continues.”
— Cory Tilley, deputy chief of staff/communications director to former Gov. Jeb Bush; founder/president of public relations firm CoreMessage, Tallahassee