Politics & Policy

Purple Florida Turns Red with GOP Sweep

For Floridians, red is the new purple.

The deeply divided state had historically been jointly-owned territory — a state carried by Clinton, then twice by Bush, and then by Obama in 2008. But during Tuesday’s election, it was all red, all the time.

In fact, Republicans swept every major competitive contest. Marco Rubio emerged victorious from a three-person Senate race; Panama City funeral home owner Steve Southerland ousted 2nd-district incumbent Allen Boyd; former state legislator Daniel Webster dropped progressive icon Alan Grayson in the 8th district; tea party favorite Allen West came out on top of a grudge match with 22nd-district incumbent Ron Klein; former sheriff Sandy Adams retired 24th-district freshman Suzanne Kosmas. Many of the races weren’t even close.

Moreover, Republicans were elected to fill the three state cabinet offices of CFO, attorney general and agriculture commissioner. And Rick Scott is in a tight race for the governor’s mansion, leading Democrat Alex Sink by approximately 72,000 votes. The Scott campaign believes it will be enough for victory.

Not that state legislature would necessarily need him. Republicans expanded their control over both chambers of the state legislature to a veto-proof majority: 28-12 in the senate and an expected 80-40 in the house.

All in all, the storm was big enough that it should have been given a name by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

It all probably happened for two reasons. First, the enthusiasm gap was real. The Division of Elections doesn’t display instant partisan voter data, but consider the early and absentee voting numbers. More than 2.2 million Floridians voted prior to election day. Of those, 1,102,090 were Republicans and 825,103 were Democrats, giving the GOP an advantage of 276,987 voters, or approximately 14 percent.

All caveats apply. Absentee and early voters are self-selecting and may not represent the broader voter base. Trends from two weeks earlier may not hold on election day. But early voting was both an indicator of the wave to come and, ultimately, a voter deficit that Democrats had to make up on election day.

Down-ballot candidates such as state legislators and cabinet members — and even possibly Rick Scott — may also have been buffeted by Rubio’s coat-tails. As a major party energizer, Rubio likely brought voters to the polls, where they then voted down the ticket.

It’s also hard to view the election results without filtering them through the tea party prism. Each of the five federal candidates above was portrayed by opponents as extreme. For Rubio it was his supposed desire to gut Social Security. For Southerland and Adams it was offhand statements about repealing the 17th amendment. Daniel Webster found his social conservatism and personal religious faith were a source of hit points. West, meanwhile, was attacked for tongue-in-cheek comments made at tea party rallies.

Whether out of frustration at the negativity or out of simple pragmatism, voters largely refused those claims, handing conservative candidates victories at huge margins: 20, 18, 13, and 8 points, respectively.

But as important as federal candidates are, state candidates might have a larger long-term impact. If the GOP captures the governor’s mansion and increases its control over the statehouse, the agenda will likely be sweeping. The simplest place to start? Charlie Crist’s vetoes of a teacher merit pay bill and an abortion ultrasound requirement.

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