Florida Democrats Plot for 2022 as GOP Voting Numbers Grow

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to supporters and members of the media after a bill signing on Nov. 18, in Brandon, Fla.  (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara, File)

In Florida, for the first time in modern history, registered Republican voters outnumber Democrats. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis is heading into a reelection campaign buoyed by a national profile and a cash reserve unmatched by any Democratic challenger. And Republicans control virtually all of state government.

When Democrats met recently for their annual strategy conference, Annette Taddeo, a Democratic state senator running for governor, said there was a clear sense of the difficulties ahead for the party.

“Of course this fight will not be easy, but it’s about so much more than any one of us, and as Florida Democrats, we have lost so many times that donors and pundits have given up on us,” Taddeo said.

With the 2022 election approaching, Democrats are confronting a host of disadvantages as they work to rebuild campaign networks and try to reignite excitement in their party. There is a growing worry that big donors and the national wing of the party may consider Florida to be GOP territory after years of bruising losses.

Florida Republicans are coming off a string of victories that include Donald Trump’s two presidential campaigns, and have been aggressive in organizing at the local level, especially as DeSantis has gained in popularity due to his opposition to coronavirus lockdowns and mandates.

Some have noted that there may be hesitance for Democratic donors to pour money into Florida given the party’s track record — most recently in 2020, when Trump carried the state and Republicans gained additional seats in the statehouse and in Congress, despite a $100 million infusion by former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

DeSantis announced last month that Republicans had gained a slight advantage over Democrats in the number of registered voters for the first time in state history. Over the past decade, Republicans had slowly been gaining on Democrats, and DeSantis and Republicans had made a sustained push on registration.

The most up-to-date figures from the state election agency show 5,118,357 registered Republicans and 5,114,039 Democrats. At the same time, the number of unaffiliated voters has swelled to 3.8 million. DeSantis won office in 2018 by a margin of about 32,000 votes after a key endorsement from Trump, in a year when Democrats outnumbered Republicans by more than 250,000 registered voters.

Manny Diaz, chair of the Florida Democratic Party, acknowledged that Democrats had not been as aggressive in registering voters in previous years, though he added, “We have more people than we’ve ever had on the ground as of right now.” He also disputed the idea that the national party was making the state less of a priority and he played down the shift in registered voters as a record-keeping “shell game” of designating Democrats as inactive voters.

“The last time we had any kind of statewide organization here was during the Obama campaign, in ’12, but then he got elected, and again we broke down the tents and didn’t maintain that kind of organization for the last 10 years,” he said. “We’re not going to be outworked by the other side this year, I promise you that.”