I’ll come out and say it- I hate third ways. But in this case the debate between those in the Democratic Party who see organizing as a contest between emphasis on northern Florida versus urban areas (which increasingly means just southeast Florida and the Orlando area, excluding Tampa Bay at the same level where Democrats and allied have not expended the same effort as the other two huge urban clusters in the state) can be supplemented by a logical third option. Democrats racked up record margins for a Presidential campaign in Broward, Miami-Dade, Orange and Osceola counties on Tuesday which speaks highly of the Clinton operation considering those were virtually the only places the campaign REALLY focused on beides college communities, the Tampa Bay area and increasingly enigmatic Palm Beach. It is however something that must be asked…how many more votes can Democrats squeeze out of Broward, Dade, Orange and Osceola…we’re probably hitting the point of diminishing returns in those places and need to mine for votes elsewhere in addition to continuing the critical organizing in the aforementioned places.
With Patrick Murphy’s loss, Democrats have now lost 17 of the last 20 statewide elections dating back to 2002. The three victories were Bill Nelson in 2006 and 2012 and Alex Sink in 2006.
Tuesday saw some remarkably pathetic performances from Democrats in medium-sized counties where a good chunk of Floridians live.
John Kerry carried Volusia in 2004 even while losing statewide by five points. On Tuesday, Hillary Clinton lost Volusia by over ten points. This county has over a half million residents. It’s not a “rural” area. Volusia has more voters than all the counties between the Apalachicola River and Suwannee River COMBINED.
Won by Al Gore in 2000 this county with half a million residents (more than all the counties between the Apalachicola River and Suwannee River COMBINED) delivered a 20-point PLUS margin to Donald Trump on Tuesday.
Al Gore won Hernando County by about three points in 2000. On Tuesday, Hillary Clinton lost the county by TWENTY NINE points.
Up and down I-75
Let’s talk about the counties up and down I-75 where Democrats are got their clocks cleaned, both in 2014 and 2016. This includes Hernando and Pasco counties.
Beginning in Marion County, which has been growing rapidly since 1980 the drive south on I-75 to Collier County represents more than the margin of victory for the GOP in the last two Governor’s races, and some of the best performing counties for the Republicans in terms of vote margin in the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Presidential elections.
Democrats last elected a state legislator from south of Sarasota along the I-75 corridor in 1996 and have seen Republicans increase their vote bank in every county up and down I-75 save Sarasota and Hillsborough since 2000. Pasco and Hernando Counties both supported Al Gore in the 2000 Presidential Election but have since supported Republicans nominees for Governor and President in each contest. During the 2000 Gore Campaign and 2002 McBride Campaign it was thought that Collier, Lee and Charlotte were where GOP margins could be potentially be cut due to environmental considerations. But after not being successful in those counties in the 2000 and 2002 cycles, the Democrats disengaged and have left the area largely uncontested since.
Hillsborough County has also become an issue worth discussing as we look at this corridor. Democrats have carried the city of Tampa and highly urbanized areas around I-275 in most recent statewide contests, but have seen GOP margins increase dramatically in places like Brandon, Riverview, Ruskin and other spots along I-75. This year, Hillary Clinton carried the county by less than President Obama did in either election and Charlie Crist carried the county by a far narrower margin Alex Sink did, owing itself largely to a spike in Republican performance in the areas closest to Interstate 75.
In 2000, the Democrats even made an effort to win a State Senate seat that included Marion, Sumter and Lake Counties. No such attempts to carry legislative seats in that area have been made since. Marion County has been producing larger margins for GOP candidates in recent years providing a nice vote bank for any statewide Republican. Yet the Democrats haven’t put resources in the area to even consider cutting GOP margins or finding the voters in the county that might support Democratic causes.
We have seen clear signs of improvement from the Democrats in Sarasota County. The party overperformed in 2008 and 2014 but neighboring Manatee an area with lots of working class voters and a population of African-Americans has not shown any signs of improvement. This overperformance ended on Election Day 2016 with Sarasota voting much like the other counties up and down I-75.
Every county along I-75 from Collier through Marion has over a 100,000 residents. Every single one – as compared to I-10 where the counties are almost entirely rural. No doubt Democrats need to make a better effort in North Florida, but it will only get you so far. Engaging voters up and down I-75, who are largely transplants from other parts of the country should help the party hone its messaging and cut the enormous margins GOP candidates are taking out of these counties. Up and down I-75 voters now are acting just like they are in non-urban areas of the midwest. The parallels were eery with the states that cost Hillary Clinton the Presidency – Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
Voter registration numbers overwhelmingly favor Republicans in most of the corridor, but as Sarasota County has proven, a 15 point GOP registration advantage can become only a 4-5 point GOP victory with some effort. Collier and Lee, counties where environmental issues are important can be worked similarly while Marion, Sumter, Hernando and Pasco all have the potential to see GOP margins cut based on smart economic messaging.
Up and down I-95
Now let’s look at the areas up and down I-95 north of Palm Beach County and south of Duval. St John’s County has been Republican since the 1960’s but Flagler was a county President Obama carried in 2008 which gave Donald Trump a 20-point win the other night. We’ve spoken about Volusia above – the once Democratic bastion now delivering larger and larger GOP margins with every passing election. Brevard County with over a half a million residents gave Trump almost a 20-point victory and even larger margin for Marco Rubio. Indian River and Martin Counties continue to be heavily Republican and both counties have over 100,000 residents.
One of the great surprises of Election Day 2016 was the collapse of the Democratic vote in growing St Lucie County. Hillary Clinton got just 47% of the vote in the county which was twice carried by President Obama (though Patrick Murphy carried St Lucie, the only county he won which Clinton did not) and that is a reflection on an unwillingness to engage white working class voters.
We will undoubtedly continue this conversation in the next few days. In the meantime what are our readers thoughts on these areas?