FLORIDA POLITICS

Changing political demographics bode well for Florida Democrats

 

joyannreid@gmail.com

Marco Rubio raised some eyebrows last week when he said immigration really isn’t all that important an issue, at least as compared to the GOP’s impossible dream of repealing or defunding Obamacare.

Rubio said it on Fox News, where to his point, immigration is of interest mainly when framed as scary hoards of Mexicans kicking down sections of the border fence and charging in screaming and waving pitchforks and blank welfare sign-up forms.

The Florida senator may seem to be abandoning his prime directive, which was supposed to be broadening the appeal of the GOP among Latino voters by showing off the party’s new solution and compassion-driven approach. But what Rubio is actually doing is getting real. His party’s base doesn’t want immigration reform. A recent National Journal poll found that 54 percent of Republicans want their party to be more, not less, right wing. And as unrealistic as it is, they really, really want to undo Obamacare.

If Rubio wants a shot at being part of a presidential ticket in 2016, he’s going to have to do something to regain momentum against the showboating Canadian (who’s also totally fine with the birthers . . . ) Ted Cruz And if he doesn’t go for the top job, Rubio’s still looking at a re-election campaign with Florida having gone blue two presidential cycles in a row.

According to a blog post by Steve Schale, who crunches numbers on the Florida electorate better than anyone, of the more than 1.5 million new voters added to the rolls since November 2006, 61 percent “are either black (African-American or Caribbean) and/or Hispanic.” And two-thirds of those new black and brown voters, 600,000, registered as Democrats, while only 56,000, or just 6 percent, signed up for the GOP. Black voter registration actually accounted for the biggest chunk of new Democratic registrants from 2006 through 2012.

At the same time, Florida is becoming more politically and regionally segregated, with Democrats increasingly confined to the ethnically diverse south and central parts of the state, and Republicans locking down the whiter north and Panhandle. Schale writes that at the same time black and brown voters surged post-2006, the number of white registered Democrats dropped by 100,000, indicating many Northern Florida “Dixie Dems” are aligning their party affiliation with their Republican voting habits. It’s a trend that’s taking place across the South.

In Florida, Republicans may be making zero inroads with minority voters, but their red counties are still eating up the most vote share. So a Republican candidate who wants to win, not just look good in the op-ed pages, needs big turnout in the northern, rural and red counties. That doesn’t require votes from Hispanic or black voters, who don’t live there in large enough numbers.

So Rubio likely has made the calculation that he can’t afford to anger his base just to make some history with John McCain and President Obama, while storing up long-term chits for the national party on immigration. Call it a lack of political courage if you want. Or call it constituent service.

Meanwhile, if Rubio is this jittery three years out, imagine how Rick Scott feels.

Nationally, Democrats are itching for payback for the 2010 midterm, when thanks to a base that stayed home in a census year, they lost seven governor’s mansions and the U.S. House.

Given the redistricting bonanza Republicans reaped in 2010, disgruntled voters probably can’t take out their anger over right-wing policies on healthcare, voting rights, women’s reproductive freedom and immigration on House members.

And more Democratic senators face tough re-elections in 2014 than Republicans.

So if Democrats succeed in nationalizing the 2014 election, it will be unpopular purple and blue state Republican governors like Rick Scott (and Tom Corbett in Pennsylvania, Rick Snyder in Michigan, and Paul LePage in Maine) — not ambitious young senators — who pay the immediate price. And the Florida governor is the most vulnerable of the group.

So it’s not surprising that Scott, who’s dealing with a Capitol sit-in and losing heads of government departments faster than Solantic can charge state workers for a drug test, is falling back on what he knows — rolling the dice on another minority voter purge, because the last one went so well.

Failing that, he could always call for the repeal of Obamacare.

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