Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Sunset for Florida Democrats - The Sequel

Georgia ain't on my mind now.  Let me talk about Florida.
Two weeks ago today, I saw Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum and incumbent Florida senator and re-election candidate Bill Nelson come up short in their respective campaigns but by the end of the night, neither race had been called and subsequent recounts had to be held, providing a modicum of hope for Democrats in the Sunshine State.
As of this weekend, however, Ron DeSantis is to be the new governor of Florida, and Rick Scott - who, like Madonna, somehow manged to turn accidental fame into a long career - is the state's new U.S. Senator. 
So what went wrong?  How did the two most loathsome Florida politicians not named Debbie Wasserman Schultz (who, alas, was re-elected to the House) pull off such high-profile wins when much of the rest of the country was turning against Trump Republicanism? The answer is not in the incompetence of Broward County election officials, but rather in three simple facts.  First, Florida is as divided as the country at large.  Second of all, despite Florida's young multiracial population, retirees - most of whom are white - keep moving into the state at a pretty good clip, and even the registered Democrats among them are more conservative than the state's younger and browner residents.  Older people, of course, vote more than younger people, though Florida likely has a lot of young white conservatives - DeSantis, at 40, is one of them.  Third, retirees and working people alike live in Florida for the low taxes as well as the (mostly) sunny weather, and the policies Gillum in particular espoused meant more amenities and, thus, more spending.
Florida has long been seen as the country's most populous swing state.  But is it time to cede Florida to the Republicans?  Probably.  Because after the debacles of centrist candidates for statewide office such as Alex Sink and Patrick Murphy, Florida Democrats tried something new by nominating a black progressive for the governorship even as it renominated a tried-and-true incumbent three-term white moderate senator for re-election.  They both ended up losing, albeit narrowly, to Republicans.  Two different sorts of Democrats . . . losing to Republican opponents . . . in the same state in the same year. 
That show of solidarity Gillum and Nelson had with former President Obama made for good pictures but also made for ineffective politics.
At 76, Bill Nelson is now, like many Floridians his age, retired.  And Gillum?  Pundits are already saying that Gillum isn't going anywhere, though by that they mean that he will remain active in Florida politics.  Really?  As the mayor of Tallahassee?  That's hardly a springboard for future endeavors for higher office.  Florida doesn't have another election for statewide office until 2022, when Ron DeSantis runs for a second term as governor and Marco Rubio is up for re-election to the Senate.  A rematch between Gillum and DeSantis is unlikely; Democrats never renominate to oppose an incumbent Republican officeholder the guy that incumbent Republican defeated for that office; DeSantis would like nothing better than a rematch with someone he's already creamed once.  And Rubio is such a huge political star that Floridians will keep sending him back to the Senate for as long as he wants to be sent back.  Gillum said that the struggle to move Florida in a more economically and socially just direction wasn't about him.  He's right; by 2022, Florida Democrats will have moved on to someone else.
But who?  Gwen Graham?  (Excuse me while I laugh at the thought of her name.)  Philip Levine, the millionaire businessman who ran for governor in the Democratic primary in 2018 and was mayor of Miami Beach from 2013 to 2017, might want to try again for either the governorship or Rubio's Senate seat.  But even having been mayor of Tallahassee is preferable to being a former mayor of Miami Beach.
So, despite a few key (no pun intended, if you get my drift) U.S. House victories two weeks ago, Florida Democrats are still in the dumps.  And their queen bee, their top honcho, their most visible pol, is still Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
I have friends and relatives in Florida who keep inviting me to come down there.  In their dreams.  As long as Florida keeps electing bigoted climate-change deniers to office, I plan to boycott Florida completely.  (California orange juice all the way!)  Instead of traveling to Florida, I hope to take a vacation to warm, sunny, exotic . . . Wisconsin! :-D
Congratulations to Wisconsin's incoming Democratic governor, Tony Evers.

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