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How Florida, a one-time swing state, turned red

ELISSA NADWORNY, HOST:

Let's turn now to the whole of Florida, where Governor Ron DeSantis was reelected by a margin of nearly 20 points. Incumbent Senator Marco Rubio also won by double digits, and Republicans will soon have a supermajority in the state legislature. At least this year, what was once a swing state turned quite red. Here to talk about this shift is Tampa Bay Times political editor Emily Mahoney. Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

EMILY MAHONEY: Thanks so much for having me.

NADWORNY: So only 537 votes famously separated George W. Bush from Al Gore in Florida in 2000. What has happened in Florida since then?

MAHONEY: Well, the state has obviously changed a lot. A lot has changed from that famous moment in 2000. And I think that change happened slowly at first. But Republicans have been working for a long time in Florida to, first off, increase the number of Republicans who are registered in the state of Florida. And we saw recently Republicans surpass Democrats in terms of their voter registration numbers recently for the first time in state history. So I think that we can't really overstate how big of a shift that is just in terms of raw numbers. And then I was talking to a high-ranking Republican about the results, and he said that, you know, this kind of represented a candle, and Governor Ron DeSantis poured gasoline on that candle. He has really drawn a lot of attention to the state as sort of a Republican-led - I think he calls it an oasis of freedom during the pandemic and has, you know, most likely caused more Republicans to move to the state of Florida as well and really sort of accelerated that transformation that was already happening.

NADWORNY: Were there any regions that normally vote for Democrats that swung towards Republicans in this election?

MAHONEY: Absolutely, yes. Miami-Dade County, which is the largest county in the state, went red this time for the first time in two decades, as did Palm Beach County, which was really not something that even the most sort of enthusiastic Republicans that I had talked to before election night - nobody had predicted that.

NADWORNY: The red wave that some expected didn't really materialize nationally, but it did in Florida. Why is Florida so different?

MAHONEY: Exactly. Well, you have to ask, what is different about the state of Florida? And I think, you know, Governor DeSantis really has to be part of that conversation. He really has made the state sort of the focal point of the Republican Party nationally. But the other thing is also that, nationally, Democrats sort of gave up on Florida this cycle and chose to spend their money elsewhere. And, you know, you can argue whether or not that was a correct strategy, but they did obviously have victories elsewhere. But their margins in Florida were just - the losses are so gigantic, in part because the Democratic candidates there received very little support from national donors and really faced a massive fundraising disadvantage. So they weren't really able to get their message out there. And finally, Hurricane Ian also sort of, I think, sort of put the nail in the coffin of some of the top Democratic candidates. It really sort of kind of minimized the discussion of issues like abortion, where they tend to poll higher, and gave DeSantis sort of uninhibited air time looking gubernatorial very shortly before Election Day.

NADWORNY: We just heard from Maxwell Frost. Do you think Florida's Democrats have an opportunity to take back some votes?

MAHONEY: Well, his optimism is definitely something that Democrats need an injection of right now. There's a lot of kind of despondency, frankly, within the Democratic Party in the state because of the numbers that we've seen. And so it's really going to take people like Frost with energy and with that kind of optimistic spirit, I think, to sort of perhaps pull them out of what is actually a new low for the party in the state in terms of numbers.

NADWORNY: Yeah. Emily Mahoney of the Tampa Bay Times, thank you for your reporting.

MAHONEY: Thanks so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAHALIA SONG, "IN THE CLUB") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Linah Mohammad
Prior to joining NPR in 2022, Mohammad was a producer on The Washington Post's daily flagship podcast Post Reports, where her work was recognized by multiple awards. She was honored with a Peabody award for her work on an episode on the life of George Floyd.
Elissa Nadworny reports on all things college for NPR, following big stories like unprecedented enrollment declines, college affordability, the student debt crisis and workforce training. During the 2020-2021 academic year, she traveled to dozens of campuses to document what it was like to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. Her work has won several awards including a 2020 Gracie Award for a story about student parents in college, a 2018 James Beard Award for a story about the Chinese-American population in the Mississippi Delta and a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in innovation.