The 2018 mid-term election is barely settled but longtime political watchers are already reading the tea-leaves for 2020. Noted Republican and Democratic political strategists say the legal battles of this year are only a prelude for upcoming elections, with no sign of political divides healing anytime soon.
In battleground Florida, Democrats are poised to win their first statewide cabinet seat in a decade. They also fielded the strongest slate of candidates they’ve had in years, and came close to winning the governor’s mansion. And that could be a prelude to the growing competitiveness of the party.
“The Democratic party’s bench has improved drastically in the past 4-6 years. It was not strong before. It’s better now. And I think that will help in future endeavors.”
And forget a Blue wave, says Johnson. This year saw a green wave: with Democrats in general winning the money race. A rare feat, he says. Nationwide, Democrats managed to pick up a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. But Republicans still hold the Senate and the Presidency. And the political divides that have shaped the U.S. for more than a generation appear to be set.
“A lot of people, including me, seem to think America’s current divide started after Watergate," says Democratic strategist Steve Schale.
Florida is considered a swing state—often toggling between the two parties, but Schale notes Florida’s reputation is rooted in what it is: a mirror of the county as a whole. People move to Florida from elsewhere, and they bring their politics with them.
“We are just a deeply, deeply divided state and that’s not going to change anytime soon," he says. " Elections in this state…are divided at the margins. The good news is, for those of you who enjoy turning on cable news…is that you’re going to see more of this over the next few cycles, so just buckle up.”
Demographic trends are pointing to a younger and more diverse electorate. And Republican Johnson notes there’s only so long his party can go before the numbers are no longer on its side.
“For that to be viable, there’s still 67 operations that have to realize The Republican base is aging. Younger voters are having a harder time identifying with. And eventually it will catch up. The march of time is going on in Florida.”
So what does that mean?
“Is it going to be 2020, 2024, or 2028? We will have to see, but certainly I think the party is going to have to do better in making it more appealing to a more diverse demographic.”
In the meantime, the state has work to do. While pundits begin looking toward the next race, Florida has become, in the words of Federal Judge Mark Walker, a “laughing stock” as the two sides war over recounts and state election rules. The state has 67 independently elected Supervisors of Elections—all with the power to decide everything from what machines to use, to what ballots look like. And that’s caused conflict in tight races such as the battle over a U.S. Senate Seat where Governor Rick Scott is trying to defeat incumbent Bill Nelson. There’s no standard for deciding whether signatures match. Or why some mail-in ballots are due on election day but others have a 10-day grace period under state law. That requires legislative changes.
“Right now we’re finding out if we can wrestle with the laws we have," notes Johnson. "The good news, is it will end. The bad news is, we’re going to have to redo some things, because we’re humans, and humans make mistakes and do some things we shouldn’t. I think we’ll have a great opportunity this session to address some of these flaws, and I hope we do that in a way that the next time—because we’re Florida and there will be a next time—that we’re a little more prepared.”
Still, 2020 is looming, with Florida Republicans hoping to extend their winning streak, and Democrats continuing their attempts to claw their way back into power in the state while wrangling an increasingly diverse constituency.
“If you look around the country, progressive Democrats won some places, conservative democrats won some places," says Schale. "Our party—it’s a huge big diverse mess of people. There’s no common experience. But because of that, we’re always going to have candidates all over the ideological spectrum.”
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