The vote projection models provided daily here at the Florida Squeeze by my colleague Dave Trotter have been invaluable to understanding how the 2018 election is shaping up to be potentially different than the most recent contests in this state. Growth rates have slowed in Florida over the last eight years and the population though still fluid, tends to be slightly less transient and more stable than in the past. This makes it easier to actually make comparisons and see where either party and candidates are improving. Per our modeling the GOP will not clear 60% in any county that touches I-95 this cycle, which very well could be devastating for the party’s chances.
We’ve previously spoken about the potential importance of the I-75 and I-95 corridors on this site, singling out several counties outside large urban areas where Democrats need to perform better. Per our modeling, Democrats are performing better than in recent years past up and down I-95. Palm Beach County (which is part of a large urban area) is poised to have its best Democratic performance since the Iraq War-related wave election of 2006, while Democrats are over performing in Brevard while stopping thus far what has been several years of bleeding in Volusia and Flagler Counties. Martin County is at this moment under-performing for the Republicans. For years, local GOPers on the Treasure Coast stressed environmental issues and differences with the national party. But with the red tide outbreak following on heels of the algae issues of the past, those lines just aren’t believable anymore. Republicans have had complete control of state and local government in the area and enough voters have lost faith in them to possibly tip the scales statewide.
Just off the I-95 corridor, Orange and Osceola are becoming more Democratic than ever while Seminole shows signs of flipping away from the GOP who last lost the county in a highly contested statewide election in 1990.
It’s early days still, but all signs point to the Democrats performing well enough up and down I-95 to potentially win mutiple top-of-ticket cabinet races for the first time in generation. The Democrats it bears repeating have lost 17 of the last 18 races for Governor and Cabinet as well as losing 20 of the last 21 statewide races where Bill Nelson has not been the Democratic nominee. Nelson should be re-elected if these trends hold and several other Democrats could win statewide.
Coastal communities ultimately do care more about environmental issues than the rest of the nation. For many years in this state these communities have kept faith with Florida Republicans believing they were better stewards on these matters than the national party. In fairness, the environmental record of many Florida Republicans, particularly from coastal areas isn’t nearly as bad as that of national Republicans. The Democrats themselves have plenty of environmental baggage in the state as well, but in 2018 the framework has changed thanks to the red tide outbreak.
While it’s obvious Flagler and Volusia Counties are unlikely to ever return to the Democratic fold as they generally were from the late 80’s until the mid to late 2000’s, cutting margins in these counties are critical. Brevard County with over a half a million residents gave Trump almost a 20-point victory in 2016 and even larger margin for Marco Rubio. While Brevard was one of the first counties in the state to flip to the GOP, electing Ed Gurney in 1962 to Congress and backing Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon for President in the 1960’s, it’s never been a county where the GOP has run up the sort of huge margins they have lately. It’s also been a place where Democrats could compete, until recently at the local level. Brevard potentially trending upwards for the Democrats could have a huge statewide benefit for the party.
One of the major disappointments of Election Day 2016 for Democrats was the collapse of the partisan vote in growing St Lucie County. Hillary Clinton got just 47% of the vote in the county which was twice carried by President Obama. St Lucie in our early modeling is coming back toward the Democrats though not to the levels it was at in the Obama years. This bears watching as margins are thin statewide – St Lucie is a bellwether in this state for the Democrats as it has been for about a decade now.
Ultimately, Palm Beach County could be responsible for the Democrats winning in 2018 – who’d have thunk Donald Trump’s adopted home county and the epicenter of conservative media in this country would be responsible? The likes of Newsmax led by Christopher Ruddy, Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh calling the county home could a devastating blow to the Trump Presidency. It’s early yet, but the signs are looking good for the Democrats thanks to voters up and down I-95.