The Sunshine State is home to 22 million residents, creating diverse and ever-changing demographics. Because of the unique composition of Florida, navigating statewide campaigns can be challenging. Northwest Florida, or the Panhandle, is home to world class beaches, red dirt roads, and a solid republican base. The North Central portion of the state includes one of America’s largest and most legendary retirement communities, The Villages. Residents of The Villages share a love for golf carts, Red Hats, and red voters. Orlando is home to the world’s most infamous mouse – Mickey, as well as many other wildly popular tourist attractions. With tourism being Central Florida’s leading industry, the I-4 corridor represents many service industry workers in addition to a large Latino population. Last, but not least, is the state’s most favorite place to people-watch – and voter-watch – South Florida. Whether it’s the hot and spicy allure of Miami, the easy-going vibes of the Keys, the luxurious lifestyles of the rich and famous, or the diversity of the population, South Florida is a key area in the great swing state.
When entering the battlefield of Florida, candidates vie for the biggest prize of them all – 29 electoral votes to clinch a presidential victory. While the battles are fiercely fought, many result in narrow defeat. In 2012, President Barack Obama won Florida by less than one percent. In 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump proved victorious against Hillary Clinton by only 1.2%, receiving 48.6% of the vote. Florida voters total nearly 13.8 million with 37% registering Democrat, 36% registering Republican, and 27% registering as other. Florida voters have voted Republican in 8 of the last 12 presidential elections. With concerns surrounding voting and COVID-19, for the first time in Florida’s history, democrats are outperforming republicans in vote-by-mail or absentee ballots by 200,000. By contrast, republicans are currently leading the state by early voting at the polls.
Understanding the difficulties that lie ahead, President Trump has set his sights on Florida. In September 2019, the President declared his permanent residence to be his Mar-A-Lago Club in Palm Beach. In response to the COVID-19 crisis, President Trump declared that a major disaster exists in the state of Florida and ordered federal assistance to help state, tribal, and local recovery efforts in the areas affected by COVID-19. This action made federal funding available for crisis counseling for affected people throughout the state. Florida was the first state in the country to receive this federal declaration. In July, President Trump praised Florida leaders for spearheading the country’s efforts to lower the cost of prescription drugs. Governor Ron DeSantis prioritized this issue after taking office and accomplished it with the support of President Trump, Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) Secretary Mary Mayhew, Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives Jose Oliva, and others.
With fewer than 100 days until the general election, these small victories in Florida may move the needle, but may not move voters. COVID-19 is at the forefront of this uphill battle between Trump and Biden. Florida’s uptick in cases and highly vulnerable population creates concerns regarding the nation’s healthcare system, education system, and economy.
Florida is represented in the U.S. House of Representatives by 27 members. All congressional districts are up for election this fall. Twenty-six districts will have general elections. Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart secured his CD 25 victory without opposition. Open congressional races of interest include CD 3, previously held by Congressman Ted Yoho, and CD 19, formerly held by Congressman Francis Rooney.
CD 3 has 13 candidates competing to replace Congressman Ted Yoho. Ten republicans have qualified to enter the ring, while 3 democrats battle it out to move on to the general election. Currently, Kat Cammack, Judson Sapp, and James St. George are leading the primary pack and have started putting their money to use by launching their first TV ads. The winner of the general election is projected to be republican as this seat has a + 9 republican voter turnout, with republicans leading the district by 5%. CD 3 includes all of Alachua, Clay, Putnam, Bradford, and Union counties, along with the majority of Marion County.
CD 19 encompasses portions of Southwest Florida which include Lee and Collier counties. This district has 12 candidates in a sunshine showdown for former Congressman Rooney’s seat. Like CD 3, 10 Republican candidates made the cut for the primary while 2 democrats contend to go to the general election. Two of the 10 Republican candidates include former Florida House of Representatives Majority Leader, Dane Eagle, and former state House Insurance and Banking Chair, Byron Donalds. Donalds has gained the support of the large free-enterprise advocacy group, Club for Growth, boosting his visibility through campaign ads and mail-pieces. CD 19 is a strong Republican seat with 18% more registered republican voters.
Due to state constitutional requirements, the Florida State Senate has 20 of 40 members up for election. Eighteen districts will have general elections and 2 districts will be elected via the primary. Open races of interest include Senate Districts 9, 27, 29 and 39. These were previously held by Senators David Simmons, Lizbeth Benacquisto, Kevin Rader, and Anitere Flores.
With Florida’s population growing, SD 9, located in Seminole County and part of Volusia County, is trending purple from its once secure red tint. In 2016, former Republican state senator, David Simmons won the primary and general elections unopposed. Since 2016, Southern Seminole County has become a bedroom community for Orlando’s left-leaning population as they continue to move east in search of a more affordable lifestyle. The district’s shift creates challenges for republican candidate and former state House member, Jason Brodeur. SD 9 has proven to be competitive and has gained significant spending on behalf of Brodeur, but his likely general election opponent, Patricia Sigman, has made it clear that she is well-positioned to flip District 9. Republicans are leading this district by 1.4%.
While mo’ money often means mo’ problems, it’s clearly all about the Benjamins in SD 27, especially for candidate, Ray Rodrigues. Recent campaign finance reports show the former state representative has outspent his primary opponent and fellow Republican House colleague, Heather Fitzenhagen, by almost six-fold. This primary has become one of the most expensive and competitive races in Florida’s 2020 primary season. In addition to candidate campaign accounts, over half a million dollars have been spent through political committees. Immediately after entering the race, The Everglades Water Trust formed the “In Florida We Trust” political committee which to date has poured $900,000 into Fitzenhagen’s campaign. SD 27 includes portions of Lee County, including Estero and Fort Myers.
With the unexpected and early departure of Democratic state Senator Kevin Rader, SD 29 is a highly contested primary race in South Florida. The left-leaning seat is located within portions of Broward and Palm Beach counties. Candidates include former state representative Irv Slosberg and current House member Tina Polsky. Self-funder Slosberg has poured nearly $1 million of his personal money into the race. Polsky is the Democrat establishment-backed candidate, receiving party money and individual contributions. While a general election will be held in November, the true winner of SD 29 will be determined in August.
The biggest battleground seat in Florida is SD 39. Formerly held by Republican Anitere Flores, SD 39 proves to be anyone’s game. Departing the House early, Republican Representative Ana Maria Rodriguez and Democrat Representative Javier Fernandez will tee off for a victory in November. The district encompasses parts of Miami-Dade County and Monroe County in its entirety. Following the court’s 2016 redistricting battle, Flores walked into the district with ease. Hillary Clinton won Miami-Dade County by 10 points, while Donald Trump won Monroe County by 7 points. In 2018, Republican statewide candidates Ashley Moody and Jimmy Patronis performed well within the district, securing a win. Currently, democrats within the district hold a 2-point registration lead. SD 39 is willing to vote for republicans and democrats alike, making this a notable race to watch.
The Florida House of Representatives has all 120 house districts up for election. Ninety-seven districts will have general elections. Eleven districts will be, in effect, elected by the primary. Twelve districts have secured victory without opposition. These member-elects will be sworn in mid-November. HD 26 and HD 89, held by Republicans Elizabeth Fetterhoff and Mike Caruso are true re-matches from 2018. Fetterhoff and Caruso both squeaked out victories with Fetterhoff narrowly winning by 61 votes and Caruso by 32.
With the national attention focused on Florida, you can count on Foley’s Government Affairs Team to provide you with the latest insider information.