Democrats have been able in the last two election Gubernatorial election cycles to effectively further minimize Republican strength in urban areas. Comparing 2010 when Alex Sink ran a campaign which appealed to moderate voters, those dissatisfied with President Obama’s job performance and classic rural Democrats, once the bedrock of the party in this state with 2014 and 2018 when Democratic nominees ran openly liberal campaigns (Charlie Crist was more openly liberal in his appeals than Andrew Gillum, though Gillum was more easily identified as being to the left by opposition ads, so determining the differences in ideology for the two without a deep data dive is at least from this vantage point a wash.) is an interesting exercise.
What is apparent is that outside of Palm Beach County which is growing more Republican in general, urban areas are consolidating behind the Democrats. The biggest percentage gains for Democratic candidates between 2010 and 2018 were in the Orlando Metropolitan Area, as well Miami-Dade and Duval Counties. Even Broward County, long the Democrats sole fallback in the state was able to grow its percentages for the party now having delivered over 2/3 of its votes to the Democratic nominee for Governor in successive elections, a remarkable feat in a county of two million people.
The flip side of the coin are rural counties particularly in the Panhandle and the interior of the peninsula. While we must assume race was a factor in Andrew Gillum’s poor showing in many of these places, Charlie Crist, whom I mentioned above ran a more openly liberal campaign than the moderately conservative Alex Sink began the trend of Democratic Gubernatorial vote collapses in these counties. Gillum’s showing in most of these places was significantly worse than Crist’s which had been much worse than Sink’s. So the trend line was already apparent before the Democrats nominated an African-American candidate.
However, it must be noted that Sink in 2010 generally ran better in these counties than President Obama who won the state twice did in 2008 and 2012, indicating a race-based component to the electorate. We will get more data and provide more analysis on this in the future. (As a point of reference it is worth noting Sink’s Husband, Bill McBride carried many of these rural counties in his 2002 race against Jeb Bush. But it’s important to remember that McBride didn’t win a single I-4 corridor county, including the urban centers and was also beaten in Miami-Dade. McBride was the last top-of-the-ticket Democrat to not carry Miami-Dade or Orange counties) While I don’t like crying racism about rural southern voters who I feel have been treated with contempt by elites in the Democratic Party, it’s tough not to draw a conclusion of at least some race-based voting when looking at the numbers.
For years, I have beat up the Democrats on not engaging in medium sized counties up and down I-75 and I-95 that are the biggest reasons the GOP continue to win the state. I see some positives in the Gillum performances in these places. I don’t think the Democrats did well by any stretch and continue to fall further and further behind in counties like Marion, Pasco and Volusia (once a Democratic bastion). But to his credit, Gillum seems to have stopped the bleeding, in vote rich Southwest Florida, improving Democratic performances in both Lee and Collier counties above previous Governor’s races or even Presidential ones. Trimming margins in these places is critical. There are just too many votes (and legislative districts) south of Sarasota on thew west coast for the Democrats to avoid and ignore the area as they have for decades now.
Here is the link to the full data: