Over the last few weeks, there have been rumblings about the role that identity politics might play in the upcoming Congressional District 9 primary between Congressman Darren Soto and former congressman Alan Grayson. While it has not happened yet, things could get nasty if it does take a turn in that direction, possibly hurting turnout in the general election, which, in turn, can hurt down-ballot Democrats. However, is the 9th a place where identity politics can play well?
When the 9th Congressional District was originally created, it was seen as a Hispanic-opportunity seat, as well as a safe Democratic seat. But once the district was redrawn for the 2016 election, the seat moved from a Safe Democratic seat to a Lean Democratic seat. In the old seat, Orange and Osceola Counties, the most Democratic parts of the district, made up 88.4% of the district, with Polk County making up 11.6%. Nowadays, Polk County makes up 36.2% of the district. Basically, the new map took Democratic precincts out of Orange County and replaced them with Republican-leaning precincts in Polk County. In fact, Darren Soto lost Polk County with 48.1% of the vote in 2016, though Alan Grayson won Polk County in 2014 with 53% of the vote. So, as we can see, this district has shifted drastically. As far as partisanship, the district went from having 42.5% of the district registered as Democratic in 2012 to 40.5% in 2016. And while that only seems like a small slip, these small margins could play a significant role in any general election scenario, as John “Q” Quinones, who won a “Democratic Hispanic-opportunity seat” multiple times as a Republican.
This shift in the electorate does not only impact the general election, but the composition of the primary electorate as well. If one side decides to play identity politics, and only cater to one electorate, can it be a winning strategy? Probably not. Why? Let me explain.
#1. Hispanic turnout is low in Democratic primaries.
During the contentious 2016 primaries, Hispanic Democratic consisted of only 34.5% of the overall vote in Orange County (which is the only county I have these statistics for currently). However, Hispanics make up 45.2% of the overall Democratic electorate in Orange County. As for white voters, they made up 39.5% of Democratic primary voters, though they only consisted of 29.2% of the overall Democratic electorate in the 9th CD. The actual rate of turnout for Hispanic voters in the primary was 14.26% in the Orange County part of the 9th CD. Black turnout was 21.6%, and white voter turnout was 25.3%.
#2. Polk County has a lot more voters than you think, and Orange has a lot less than you think.
As I mentioned in the introduction, Polk has seen a drastic increase in its clout in the 9th CD. True, Osceola has the highest number of Democratic voters in this district, at over 88,000, consisting of around 43% of the Democratic primary electorate. However, Polk County is not far behind, at 70,000 voters. Interestingly, Orange County only has about half the number of Democratic voters as Osceola, at around 45,000. Considering both candidates are from Orange County, it makes an overwhelming majority of the district up for grabs, with nobody having any “home field advantage”.
#3. Black voters have a pivotal role in this campaign.
There are more white and Hispanic voters in this congressional district compared to black voters. Still, the number of black voters is not insignificant. In both Osceola and Orange Counties, black voters make up around 13% of the electorate (but might account for nearly 20% of Democratic primary votes). However, if we look at black voters in Polk County, they account for around 28% of the Democratic primary vote, while Hispanic account for only around 24%. Additionally, many who identify as Hispanics in Polk County are more likely to come from a Mexican or Central American background, which could result in issues, such as Hurricane Maria, being significantly less salient in Polk County than in Osceola and Orange Counties.
As you can see, playing identity politics in the 9th CD could be an extremely risky game. It may garner some votes in Orange and Osceola Counties, but would probably not nearly enough votes to win. Some campaigns seem to be campaigning on issues of identity as some sort of esoteric targeting plan that make them appear as they know what they are doing. However, there is a lack for seeing the forest for the trees by looking at the CD 9th in a monolithic manner, by only focusing on voters with a Caribbean background and nothing more. If the Democrats deviate toward this type of politics in the 9th CD, instead of having a message that focuses on all overs in the district, then this opens the door for Republicans to compete for this seat in 2020. Remember, only 40.5% of the voters in this district are registered Democrats, so Democrats should worry.