Democrats suffered some serious backsliding in 2012 in two important growing regions of the state – southwest Florida and the Treasure Coast (minus St Lucie County which has acted more as an appendage of southeast Florida, than like northern Palm Beach, Martin or Indian River counties in recent elections). My explanation for this is simple: when Democrats have done well in this area, the party has been strongly identified with environmental protection, promotion of green technology, restoration of the Everglades and clean water. Both regions are very conservative economically but understand maintenance of a sustainable Florida is critical to positive economic growth.
President Obama’s biggest performance drop-off in the state from 2008 to 2012 was southwest Florida where Lee, Collier, Charlotte, and Sarasota were all among the worst 10 counties for Obama as far vote drop from 08′. Indian River and Martin on the Treasure Coast also fit that bill, as do Volusia and Flagler counties in northeast central Florida. In fact the only county that declined at similar rates to these areas for Obama was Sumter where conservative senior growth in the Villages means the population is substantially different today than it was in 2008 and far different than 2004 or 2000.
This morning, the Miami Herald’s Marc Caputo had a very important piece on NextGen’s Ads and the impact they have made in the Fort Myers and West Palm Beach media markets. As I have said for years, for Democrats to be successful in these areas, they must run strong on Environmental issues. Charlie Crist is the greenest Democrat to run for Governor since Buddy MacKay in 1998 and he is running against one of the great polluters we have ever had in executive office.
The pre-Crist de-emphasis of environmental issues by Florida Democrats, I believe no doubt hurt the Obama campaign along the Treasure Coast and SW Florida. Martin, Indian River, Charlotte and Collier counties have been traditionally anti-growth and in favor of punishing polluters in order to fund Everglades restoration. In fact, the only area where Congressmen and legislators from these two regions have broken with GOP orthodoxy over the past two decades is on issues related to environmental protection and preservation. Collier has shifted towards a more pro-growth posture recently, but it is not without serious local opposition that this has taken place.
With Charlie Crist running for Governor, he has begun the process of really helping to refocus the party is on environmental issues. Crist’s green credentials could be questioned based on some of his actions as Governor, but for the most part his heart was on the environmental side of most issues.
President Obama and VP Biden both visited SW Florida during the 2012 campaign but it did little to move votes or increase Democratic turnout. Again, I do not find this surprising as the importance environmental and green technology issues were minimized in Florida in 2012 even though in 1996 they are largely credited with giving Bill Clinton the largest victory margin in the state a Democratic Presidential nominee has enjoyed since FDR’s last campaign 1944.
My hope is that going forward that Democrats stress environmental issues taking a cue from NextGen’s effective ad campaign they can stem a negative tide in these two regions in the future.