If Republicans intend to dig themselves out of their current electoral rut, studying Florida would be a good place to start.
Once a purple swing state that was considered to be in play as late as 2020, the Sunshine State has turned a bright-crimson shade of red over the course of Ron DeSantis’s time in office. The Florida governor has overseen record growth in registered Republican voters: Republicans added “over 553,000 voters to statewide GOP rolls since 2018, after adjusting for people who died, moved, switched parties or stopped voting,” Bloomberg reported in an election postmortem. “By Election Day, the GOP had 292,000 more registered voters than Democrats, state data show, flipping a 257,000-vote Democratic advantage in 2018.” Barack Obama narrowly won Florida in 2012, and before 2022, the state had decided its past three governors’ races by about one percentage point. In the midterms, however, Floridians elected Republicans to every statewide office for the first time since Reconstruction. Marco Rubio was reelected to the Senate by over 16 points, cleaning the clock of Democrat Val Demings, who had been considered a strong challenger. That’s more than double his margin of victory in 2016. And the GOP won 20 of Florida’s 28 U.S. House seats — a net gain of four.
DeSantis — the man of the hour — won reelection by more than 19 points. That’s 46 times larger than his margin of victory — less than half of 1 percent — four years ago, and he “increased his share of the vote across all of Florida’s 67 counties by a median of 8 percentage points compared with 2018,” according to Bloomberg. Up and down the ballot, all across the state, Republicans routed the last vestiges of Democratic power. The Tampa Bay Times summed it up: “This week’s midterm results signaled perhaps the official end of Florida’s status as a purple state.”
One of the pivotal demographics in the Florida red wave was the state’s Hispanic population. Exit polls showed DeSantis carrying the Latino vote — which had previously fluctuated from purple to bluish — by a whopping 18 points, helping him to become the first Republican gubernatorial candidate in 20 years to win Miami-Dade County, which is now 69 percent Latino. That’s a stunning 16.3-point improvement on his 2018 performance in the county, the Sunshine State’s most populous. Four years ago, DeSantis’s roughly 21-point deficit in Miami-Dade was the largest of any Republican’s since 1990. This cycle, he won the county by the largest margin of any Republican in at least 40 years.
Notably, DeSantis’s statewide performance with Florida Latinos was not confined to traditionally Republican-friendly demographics such as Cubans. He carried Puerto Ricans — generally a much bluer voter bloc — by double digits, besting Democrat Charlie Crist’s showing by 13 points. Florida’s Latino vote, while generally skewing Democratic, has long been more Republican than its counterparts in other states owing to its large Cuban population: In 2018, DeSantis carried 44 percent of the Latino vote — ten points behind his Democratic opponent, Andrew Gillum, but still a larger margin than the GOP’s typical national showing of about a third. In 2022, however, DeSantis won 58 percent of the Latino vote, blowing Crist out of the water with 68 percent of Cubans, 56 percent of Puerto Ricans, and 53 percent of all other Latino demographics combined.
DeSantis’s inroads with Latino voters also far outpaced Trump’s gains in 2020 — an important feather in the cap of the former president’s presumptive rival in the 2024 Republican presidential primary. Two years ago, Joe Biden won the state’s Hispanic vote by a comfortable seven points. Some of that, of course, can be attributed to the different composition of midterm and presidential-year electorates. But it’s also because of concerted, targeted outreach efforts by the Florida GOP. As NBC News reported:
Republicans have been actively registering Hispanic voters for the past couple of years and have gone up in numbers from 640,049 registered Latino voters in 2020 to 697,911 in 2022, an increase of about 58,000. Meanwhile, the number of Democratic Latino registered voters decreased from 947,853 in 2020 to 901,481 in 2022. The number of Latinos registered with no party affiliation exploded, from 879,984 in 2020 to 966,795 in 2022.
Rubio, too, benefited from this outreach. The Cuban-American senator bested Demings among Florida Latinos by a whopping 15-point margin, 56 to 41 percent. That was a significant improvement on his last electoral showing in 2016, when he carried 48 percent of the voter bloc. And it also included inroads with non-Cuban Hispanics: Rubio won 67 percent of that group, compared with Demings’s 31 percent, and he also carried 54 percent of Puerto Ricans, compared with Demings’s 43 percent.
The Florida GOP’s successful Latino outreach runs in contrast to Republican efforts in other regions of the country. While Kari Lake made a serious play for the Latino vote in the Arizona gubernatorial race, her 47 percent showing still lagged four points behind her Democratic opponent’s — and other statewide Republican candidates on the ticket lost Arizona Latinos by double digits. In South Texas, a heavily Hispanic region where Republicans had hoped to capitalize on their significant 2020 inroads — sponsoring aggressive outreach efforts via voter registration and the opening of four new Latino outreach centers — Democrats were largely able to hold on to their traditional dominance of the region.
As has been noted many times over at this point, the Florida model stands out as a resounding Republican success in an otherwise dismal year for the GOP. With the notable exception of this summer’s overturn of Roe v. Wade, scriptwriters couldn’t have come up with a more perfect red-wave scenario going into Election Night. Historic trends dictated that voters tend to punish the president’s party in the midterms. This election’s specific issue set — the economy, crime, and the border — was supposed to favor Republicans. Joe Biden was a deeply unpopular president: In late October, Pew Research found that just 38 percent of Americans approved of Biden’s performance in office — more or less identical to Donald Trump’s approval rating going into the 2018 midterms, which saw Democrats gain 41 House seats in the largest blue wave since the post-Watergate election in 1974. And voters went to the polls with serious reservations about the state of the country: In the weeks leading up to the election, some 68 percent of Americans told pollsters that the country was on the wrong track. Nevertheless, many of the voters that Republicans had counted on winning over to their side took a look at the GOP candidates on offer and decided it was better to stay the course.
Nationwide, the GOP mustered only the slimmest of majorities in the House, failed to procure a Senate majority, and may well suffer a net loss of seats in the Senate when all is said and done. For the first time since 1934, the midterms did not result in the president’s party losing a single legislative chamber at the state level. In fact, Democrats made down-ballot gains across the country: They flipped the Minnesota senate to secure trifecta control in the state, flipped both the Michigan house and senate — giving them full control of the Great Lakes State for the first time in four decades — and regained a bicameral supermajority in Vermont. At the national level, Republicans lost winnable race after winnable race to a party led by an aged, enfeebled president. In Pennsylvania, they sacrificed a previously Republican U.S. Senate seat to a left-wing Democrat mentally impaired by a stroke. Republican hopefuls in purplish states like Virginia, New Hampshire, and Arizona fell short of flipping Democrat-controlled House and Senate seats. And blue states like Massachusetts and Maryland ceded Republican control of the governors’ mansions because of Trump’s ill-advised interventions.
In Florida, however, the red wave materialized — and then some. DeSantis did what Republicans had hoped to do on the national stage, not just by flipping large numbers of Latino voters, but by leading his party to dominate Democrats up and down the ballot. In contrast to the strong Democratic showing in purple-state legislatures, Florida Republicans gained four seats in the state senate and the largest Republican majority in the Florida house in history, awarding the GOP supermajorities in both chambers of the legislature. The Florida model works. Republicans would do well to pay attention.
Reporting from National Review.