Express Lane special: Dems woes worsen as GOP turnout surges across the “collar counties”leading to a potentially tragic end to Charlie Crist’s great career serving this state

A few days ago, it appeared that inspite of horrible polling, Democrats might still be in the game in Florida. Why? GOP turnout was low and many Dems who had requested VBM’s has yet to return their ballots. But as we close the book on the week before the election, the GOP has been able to stimulate a turnout surge in what we call the “collar counties”- those like Pasco, Lake, Clay, St Johns, etc that bracket major metropolitan areas. You could even apply this thinking to outlying areas of the three metropolitan southeast Florida counties, where turnout has surged this week – it’s not mixed news, it’s all good for the GOP and bad for the Democrats.

In 2020, Donald Trump won Pasco County by a larger margin than Joe Biden won Hillsborough and Pinellas COMBINED. The collar counties around Orlando (if you include Brevard and Volusia in this ) gave Trump a bigger margin than Orange, Seminole and Osceola gave Biden. And so on, and so forth. This time it’s going to be even worse, because Democratic turnout is far below 2018 levels, let alone 2020 in major urban counties.

Of course the Democrats could correct this with a massive early voting surge Saturday in urban counties followed up by a robust GOTV effort that gets everyone out on Election Day. But since the party infrastructure has disappeared and the party seems to have only scattered areas where GOTV is actually being done, the odds are long indeed. In fact, it’s looking more and more likely that Ron DeSantis might get close to 60% on Election Day, beating Jeb Bush‘s 57% against Bill McBride which is a high-water mark for the GOP in this state when it comes to Governor’s races.

Charlie Crist has been a fantastic public servant for this state and one of the few elected officials who understands what the historic culture and politics of this state was like and should be like. A 15-20 point loss would be a true Shakespearean tragedy in how it ends for someone who deserved a much more fitting and honorable exit from the stage. It’s even more tragic considering it’s going to come at the hands of someone in DeSantis, whose entire mission in life appears to be to destroy the Florida we once knew and loved.

Crist’s 2012 party switch (to Democrat from NPA- he had left the GOP during the 2010 legislative session), in a period when Democrats seemed to be surging forward in Florida, seems especially ill-timed in retrospect. Then again, Crist had no future as an NPA, and was too moderate to ever come close to winning another GOP primary (Crist’s 2006 GOP Primary win over Tom Gallagher where he ran a centrist campaign and won by 30 points, almost seems surreal in hindsight). But still it’s hard to delink Crist’s fall in fortunes to his decision to become a Democrat.

In 2014 and again in 2022, Crist appeared to be a stopgap to give the Democrats a proven winning candidate while grooming a new generation of leadership. But it turned out to be the opposite, as Crist’s polite and decent way of campaigning ran afoul in a new era of performance art and an undignified GOP in Florida. Worse yet, as thuggish as Florida GOPers are regularly, they became even more so with Crist, a party-switcher as the opposition. They are after all a party that rejected Crist, but has fully embraced the sickeningly embarrassing Matt Gaetz, who it will be argued by this publication, is actually Florida’s second most powerful elected GOPer, ahead of both US Senators and the entire cabinet outside the governor. Yet this is the party that now has a clear majority of Florida voters on its side.

So many prominent people in addition to Crist, who were once considered leaders within the Florida GOP have now realigned toward association with the Democrats – be it Paula Dockey, Mac Stipanovich, Dave Jolly, Rick Wilson, or others. Yet, Florida’s drift towards reactionary politics has accelerated in this period. It’s hard to unpack what has happened especially since 2019 in this state. But we will attempt to do it as we write our post- election analysis and attempt to explain what has happened in recent years in the Sunshine State.

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