Published: November 18, 2022

The Curious Case of Ron DeSantis: Has Florida Gone Deep Red?

In an otherwise dark night in the Sunshine State, the brightest lights were progressive movement leaders winning on the ballot.

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Although Gen-Z voters, women, and MVP’s grassroots partners helped stop the red wave in its tracks across the country, Republicans saw some of their strongest wins in Florida during the 2022 midterm elections. But that doesn’t mean we’re giving up on Florida — it’s one of the most critical states for us to win.

In an otherwise dark night in the Sunshine State, the brightest lights were progressive movement leaders winning on the ballot. Maxwell Frost became the first Gen-Z and first Afro-Cuban member of Congress when he won his Orlando area district (CD 10) by a 59-39 margin. His work with March for Our Lives, Sunrise Movement, and the ACLU led him to run for office. Haitian movement leader Marleine Bastien won her Miami Dade county commission 2 seat, 59-41. Her race was a priority for MVP partners in Miami.

In the state legislature Angie Nixon (HD 13 in Jacksonville, won 71-29), Anna Eskamani (HD 42 in Orlando, won 57-43), Johanna Lopez (HD 43 in Orlando, won 57-43), and Michele Rayner Goolsby (HD 62 in St Petersburg, won 70-30). They represent a caucus of legislators that either currently work with or came from work with MVP partners.

Both Ron DeSantis and Senator Marco Rubio easily won against the Democratic candidates – but we saw it coming. There’s a lot of speculation that DeSantis, who’s the new rising star of the GOP, could be considering a presidential run in 2024. This is why we have to continue supporting our groups on the ground that are working hard to ensure we don’t lose Florida for good.

MVP has kept close tabs on the Governor’s decisions across the state, and the more we look at his trajectory, the more we’re worried – and straight up frightened – about what’s to come in 2023-2024.

DeSantis has deployed governmental power to attack and remove whatever obstacles or even mild annoyances that can stand in his way – from suspending the Democratic State Attorney in Tampa for signing a statement saying that he wouldn’t prosecute women pursing abortions, to employing a grand jury to remove a majority of the school board in solidly-progressive Broward County and appointing a conservative majority. America, if you want to see what Viktor Orban would look like in this country – watch Florida.

A native of Dunedin, Tampa Bay, 44-year old DeSantis is very well connected to the media and money men on the right. He went to Yale and Harvard Law, and packs fundraising power. Not only that, but folks in Florida just seem to like him. He represents the clean-cut, young leader that conservatives have been dreaming of – especially after Donald Trump drove the GOP to the ground over the past few years.

We know that Democrats were critically underfunded across the country during the 2022 midterms. Overall, the total cost of the 2022 federal and state midterms is projected to surpass $16.7 billion, based on a recent analysis by Washington, D.C. non-profit OpenSecrets. In the governor’s races, Republicans out-fundraised Democrats: the latter raised an estimated $823 million, while Republicans raised about $1.1 billion. When it comes to federal candidates and political committees, OpenSecrets said that Republicans outspent Democrats at $4.6 billion, while Democrats spent $3.9 billion

Looking ahead to 2024, we worry that the situation can only get worse. We also know that not all Democrats or progressive voters are too fond of Biden – to say the least.

The message we got from the 2022 midterms from DeSantis is that what he’s doing is working, so he’s going to do more of it. That probably means increasing more of the education wars and attacking voting rights – especially as his newly created Elections Police Unit starts to run at capacity. Yes, that’s right, he started an Elections Police Unit. Florida is now the first state in the country to have a unit dedicated to election crimes and voter fraud — but MVP’s partners and allies on the ground say the agency was created to target opposition.

DeSantis may not have announced that he’s running for office in 2024, but he sure is acting like it.

If Republicans continue to unite behind DeSantis, we’re going to have an even bigger problem – he’s already leading ahead of Trump in early polling memos.

A polling memo by the conservative Club for Growth shows Trump trailing behind DeSantis by double digits in one-on-one matchups in New Hampshire and Iowa, the first two states on the GOP nominating calendar. The survey also shows DeSantis outpassing Trump by wide margins in their shared home state of Florida – and also Georgia, which is holding a Dec. 6 runoff for one of its Senate seats.

But as much as DeSantis says that the rest of the country should be more like the “Free State of Florida”, (those are his words) there are real crises in the state – that if he’s not able to manage – could make some of his antics backfire on him.

Florida has an impending implosion of the property insurance market after Hurricane Ian, which would have dramatic effects more broadly across the state’s housing market and entire economic model. Republicans will need to own whatever transpires after more than two decades of unified governance. For renters, there is no stopping double digit annual increases in the cost of rent, and no real plan to build more housing in a state where people are already being pushed further and further away from where they work just to be able to afford to live.

That’s why MVP is still standing with our local partners in Florida – we’ll never give up on them. We’re still committed to making sure our grassroots partners in Florida have access to the tools and funding they need to keep winning over hearts and minds. They’ve already done so much great work in a state that’s difficult to swing.

Our grassroots partner, Equality Florida, mobilized voters to the polls and to the Florida Capitol to fight back against anti-trans legislation with an expanded field program with the support of MVP and our Capacity Building Team. Equality Florida turned out more volunteers and members to the state capitol than they had during previous legislative pushes. This year was extremely hostile to the LGBTQ+ community in Florida, particularly trans folks in the state – and this is largely in part to the hateful rhetoric we’ve seen from GOP leaders, including Governor DeSantis.

Equality Florida also did great electoral work on school board races across the state, winning some prominent victories up and down the ballot as the MAGA movement sought to make Florida its experiment for infusing a radical Christian nationalist ideology into the education system.

Our local partners are not giving up or giving in – and neither is MVP.

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