The changing base for Democratic gubernatorial nominees

The Democrats last won a Governor’s race in 1994 which was before the current era of Democratic competitiveness of Presidential elections in the state began (The Democrats have basically won 4 of the last 6 Presidential elections in the state, the 2000 election being unquestionably won by Al Gore if you consider voter intent). Prior to Bill Clinton’s 1996 victory in the state, Florida was solidly Republican in Presidential elections. In fact in the 1980’s Florida was the most Republican state in the southeast. By 2000, it was the most Democratic state in the region. In 2008, 2012 and 2016, Florida was the second most Democratic state in the region behind Virginia.

With 2018 being an off-year election where Democrats are looking to win the Governorship for the first time in over two decades, looking back at 1994 might not be as irrelevant as many think. But it is important to contrast that to the 2014 results and realize outside of Broward County, the Democrats electoral coalition has shifted dramatically. But Democrats must  be concerned about a potential failure  to recreate the 2008/2012 turnout in urban counties again for 2014.  Thus it might be wise to start thinking about other parts of state and at the very least cutting Republican margins of victory in several counties. How this impact who the Democrats nominate – someone like Gwen Graham who ran ahead of Crist in most of the former CD-2 in 2014 (most importantly in Bay County) seems a strong nominee based on this but it must be pointed out she’s run for office just once, and that could constitute a “one-off,” due to a largely unpopular incumbent, Steve Southerland.

In 1994, Lawton Chiles won reelection by just over 70,000 votes statewide. In 2012, President Obama carried Florida in his reelection by almost the same exact raw vote margin, and in 2014, Governor Crist lost by a similar small margin to Republican Rick Scott. However, the consistencies between the vote numbers stop there. Chiles won by combining the traditional Democratic counties of Leon, Alachua and Volusia, with close victories in a large number of rural north Florida counties and runaway wins in Broward and Palm Beach counties. This was the traditional Democratic road map to victory from 1970 until 1996.

Chiles was beaten along the I-4 corridor even in his home county of Polk, carrying just Pinellas (by an extremely narrow margin) and Volusia. The Governor was beaten throughout the traditional Republican “horseshoe” which at the time was anchored by the Orlando area. Chiles also in 1994 became the first person to win the Governorship without winning Hillsborough County in modern Florida history (Rick Scott would become the second in 2010 and repeated the feat in 2014 albeit having cut Crist’s expected margin in the county substantially).

In 2012, President Obama won reelection and carried the state because of his performance in urban areas. He was routed throughout the rural areas of north Florida, and in the traditionally Republican areas of southwest Florida. Two years later, Crist’s electoral map looked similar. In 2016, Hillary Clinton lost Florida with an even smaller base . As the below chart indicates, Crist’s gains in the Orlando Metropolitan Area were most significant when compared to the Chiles result in 1994, and reinforces the shifting demographics and growing urban/rural split in the state. It is also worth noting that even though Crist did not carry Duval County, he ran better there than Chiles did. Duval County/Jacksonville throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s was electorally polarized by race with very few white voters continuing to support Democrats at the top of the ticket, and virtually no black voters supporting the GOP.

Additionally, Broward County which accounted for three times Chiles margin of victory in 1994, has grown even more Democratic which is contrary to the conventional wisdom  that was prevalent in the 1990’s. After the 1998 loss for Buddy MacKay, where he still won Broward and Palm Beach by large margins but was crushed just about everywhere else in the state, a theory began to be floated that when elderly Jewish condo leaders died off, Broward and Palm Beach would gradually shift towards the Republicans. As we’ve discussed on this site, Palm Beach in the 2012 and 2016 elections underperformed for Democrats but Broward has grown stronger even as those leaders passed on.

Miami-Dade is also rapidly moving towards Broward like levels in Democratic performance, as indicated by recent performances performance. As recently as 2002 when Jeb Bush was the GOP nominee running for re-election, the Republicans carried Miami-Dade County at the top-of-the-ticket.

While the Democratic percentage fell by double-digits in 18 counties, each of these counties with three exceptions are classified as “small” having a population under 100,000 as of 2014. In each Metropolitan Counties (over a 1,000,000) Crist performed better than Chiles had twenty years earlier with the exception of Palm Beach where the percentages were nearly identical.

In fact, several small counties in Big Bend and Panhandle backed the Democrats as late as 2010.  Below is the map from the 2002 election, the biggest landslide for the GOP in Florida history. Bill McBride won a total of three counties outside the Big Bend and was beaten statewide by 13 points. McBride’s candidacy represents the low water mark for Democrats at the top-of-the-ticket in the era where Florida is a mega-state.  Also significantly, this was the last top-of-the-ticket contest in Florida where the GOP candidate carried Miami-Dade County and the second-to-last where the Republican carried Orange County. Both counties have in recent years followed the urban core trend in this country and raced toward massive Democratic majorities.

 

2002 Florida Governor  By Tennisace101 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4873003

The entire comparison chart of county percentages in 1994 and 2014 can be found below. Two party vote counted only.

 

County Chiles Bush Crist Scott D % swing County Size
Alachua 61 39 58 42 -3 Medium
Baker 31 69 27 73 -4 Small
Bay 44 56 25 75 -19 Medium
Bradford 37 63 32 68 -5 Small
Brevard 46 54 44 56 -2 Large
Broward 65 35 69 31 4 Metro
Calhoun 51 49 32 68 -19 Small
Charlotte 46 54 43 57 -3 Medium
Citrus 49 51 42 58 -7 Medium
Clay 29 71 25 75 -4 Medium
Collier 39 61 32 68 -7 Medium
Columbia 42 58 33 67 -9 Small
Desoto 46 54 47 53 1 Small
Dixie 50 50 33 67 -13 Small
Duval 41 59 44 56 3 Large
Escambia 42 58 36 64 -6 Medium
Flagler 53 47 47 53 -6 Medium
Franklin 66 34 38 63 -28 Small
Gadsden 69 31 72 28 3 Small
Gilchrist 47 53 27 73 -20 Small
Glades 51 49 37 63 -14 Small
Gulf 57 43 29 71 -28 Small
Hamilton 51 49 45 55 -6 Small
Hardee 50 50 36 64 -14 Small
Hendry 44 56 41 59 -3 Small
Hernando 51 49 48 52 -3 Medium
Highlands 46 54 37 63 -9 Medium
Hillsborough 49 51 51 49 2 Metro
Holmes 42 58 19 81 -23 Small
Indian River 44 56 39 61 -5 Medium
Jackson 47 53 40 60 -7 Small
Jefferson 62 38 53 47 -9 Small
Lafayette 45 55 31 69 -14 Small
Lake 49 51 41 59 -8 Medium
Lee 44 56 40 60 -4 Large
Leon 63 37 63 37 0 Medium
Levy 51 49 34 66 -17 Small
Liberty 48 52 33 67 -15 Small
Madison 54 46 49 51 -5 Small
Manatee 46 54 45 55 -1 Medium
Marion 44 56 42 58 -2 Medium
Martin 45 55 42 58 -3 Medium
Miami-Dade 52 48 60 40 8 Metro
Monroe 57 43 52 48 -5 Small
Nassau 35 65 25 75 -10 Small
Okaloosa 34 66 21 79 -13 Medium
Okeechobee 49 51 41 59 -8 Small
Orange 48 52 56 44 8 Metro
Osceola 45 55 54 46 9 Medium
Palm Beach 62 38 61 39 -1 Metro
Pasco 52 48 49 51 -1 Medium
Pinellas 51 49 55 45 4 Metro
Polk 47 53 44 56 -3 Large
Putnam 48 52 35 65 -13 Small
Santa Rosa 37 63 23 77 -14 Medium
Sarasota 47 53 48 52 1 Medium
Seminole 43 57 46 54 3 Medium
St. Johns 37 63 31 69 -6 Medium
St. Lucie 51 49 54 46 3 Medium
Sumter 51 49 30 70 -21 Medium
Suwannee 43 57 30 70 -13 Small
Taylor 49 51 33 67 -16 Small
Union 29 71 40 60 11 Small
Volusia 53 47 48 52 -5 Large
Wakulla 60 40 43 57 17 Small
Walton 44 56 23 77 -21 Small
Washington 48 52 26 74 -22 Small

2 comments

  1. Give the voters a candidate with integrity and we will win. The voters want someone to vote for instead of someone to vote against. That candidate must go to forums and town halls. Be willing to debate and answer constituents questions. We need to unify behind a smart and passionate candidate. That candidate is Gwen Graham.

  2. Maybe. Between Graham, Gillum, King and maybe Levine, I think we have four good candidates and four potentially good governors. Whoever wins the primary will need to be at the top of their game to defeat the GOP, I’m going to assume Adam Putnam. Doable but not easy.

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