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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

‘Red wave’ washes Florida, Alachua County stays true to blue in general election

Midterms saw incumbent success, new electoral procedures

<p>Kat Cammack, House of Representatives District 3 candidate, celebrates a win against Danielle Hawk Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. </p>

Kat Cammack, House of Representatives District 3 candidate, celebrates a win against Danielle Hawk Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022.

With a host of familiar faces, a prophesied “red wave” and a pair of electoral changes in Alachua County, this year’s midterm election left its mark.

Election Day is in the rearview, but race results and referendums will impact the local, state and national political landscapes for years to come. The Alligator analyzed general trends and takeaways from the midterm election and compiled the biggest storylines in the aftermath of Nov. 8.

Here’s what the results mean looking forward in Alachua County.

Florida Republicans delivered in big races

Though the promise of a national red wave fizzled out as Democrats secured control of the U.S. Senate Nov. 12, conservative candidates in Florida largely swept their races.

Republicans like Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Marco Rubio comfortably regained their seats. DeSantis won his bid for reelection against Democratic nominee former Rep. Charlie Crist with almost 60% of the vote, and longtime U.S. Senate incumbent Rubio defeated Democratic nominee former Rep. Val Demings with almost 58% of the vote for his third term in Washington.

DeSantis claims the largest margin of victory in a Florida gubernatorial race since 1982, when former Democratic Gov. Bob Graham defeated Republican candidate Skip Bafalis with almost 65% of the vote. His win includes a flipped Miami-Dade County, where a 55% vote for DeSantis signaled the county’s first Republican vote since 2002.

The U.S. House also had significant conservative shakeups, with four Florida Congressional districts — including Crist’s 13th — flipped red. That number skews the U.S. House split from 16 Republicans and 11 Democrats to 20 Republicans and 8 Democrats, as 2020 redistricting added another district.

In Florida’s 3rd Congressional District, Rep. Kat Cammack won her second term in a decisive fashion, defeating Democratic candidate Danielle Hawk with 62.5% of the vote. The newly drawn district includes all of Alachua, Bradford, Putnam and Union counties as well as parts of Marion County.

The difference was DeSantis, said Ben Torpey, a 26-year-old political consultant with Ozean Media. With 2020 redistricting approved by the governor, once-Democratic strongholds like Florida’s 5th and 13th Congressional Districts now swing right.

The new districts were drawn to favor Republicans, Torpey said. Blue majorities in historically Democratic districts are now overpowered by collections of red voters.

“He absolutely gerrymandered the entire state of Florida for the Republican Party,” Torpey said. “He really just gave the party four seats in Congress.”

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National expectations of a Republican surge never materialized, with a majority in the U.S. House still up for grabs as some races in states like Arizona and Georgia head to a runoff. As of Nov. 13, 211 Republicans and 203 Democrats have been elected to the House, with 21 seats still undecided. The U.S. Senate is similarly gridlocked, with 48 Republicans and 48 Democrats confirmed while two seats are up in the air.

But in Florida, the red wave crested and crashed onto the ballot box.

Alachua County maintains blue stronghold

Despite the red sea of statewide Republican representation, Alachua County voted Democrat in every race.

Mary Alford, Marihelen Wheeler and Ken Cornell — all Democrats — were elected to the Alachua County Commission over Republican candidates. Democrats like Yvonne Hayes Hinson, Rodney Long and Brandon Peters also won over Alachua County voters in races for the Florida Legislature, despite only Hinson winning her seat as the District 21 representative in the Florida House.

Alachua’s influence didn’t matter much for races that transcend county borders, with Republicans like Cammack and state Sen. Keith Perry earning reelection.

Of about 183,000 active registered voters in Alachua County, 87,000 are Democrats, 49,000 are Republicans and 46,000 are non-party affiliates. 

A Republican hasn’t won Alachua County in a race where all precincts reported since 2010, when Marco Rubio defeated Democratic nominee Kendrick Meek and Charlie Crist, who ran with no party affiliation, with 40% of the county vote.

In partisan races where all 64 of Alachua County’s precincts voted, Democrats won with an average of 58% of the vote. The county favored both local candidates, who won their races, as well as state and national candidates like Crist, Demings and Hawk, who lost their races.

Turnout took a hit

Despite a record-setting number of voters in the 2018 midterms, this year’s election saw Alachua County turnout deflate back to its typical numbers.

Turnout this year reached 53%, a stark decrease from 2018’s 64% turnout. But that total falls in line with the Alachua County’s 53% midterm average since 1996.

This year’s turnout wasn’t an outlier, Alachua County Supervisor of Elections spokesperson Aaron Klein said — 2018’s was. The Reitz Union opened as an early voting spot that year, which Klein said could have contributed to a spike in voter enthusiasm that had worn off by the time this year’s midterms rolled around.

High-profile races on 2018’s ballot also factored into the high turnout, Torpey said. Democrats were specifically motivated to vote in the wake of Republican former President Donald Trump’s term, he said, which drew more voters than usual for a midterm to the polls.

“It was folks coming out of the woodwork to vote directly against Trump,” Torpey said. “That’s what folks were excited about.” 

With the absence of a marquee race, midterms usually fare worse than presidential election years. Alachua County’s midterm average of 53% is more than 20% lower than the average in presidential elections at 74%.

National turnout is estimated at almost 47%, according to a preliminary study from UF’s U.S. Elections Project. In Florida, almost 50% of active registered voters turned out, per the study.

Incumbents won the day

Several candidates from this year’s ballot are gearing up for a repeat performance in their respective offices, as almost every incumbent up for reelection on Alachua County tickets won their race.  

At the state and national level, DeSantis, Rubio, Cammack and Republican Attorney General Ashley Moody were all confirmed for a second term. Despite district changes, Hinson, state Rep. Chuck Clemons and Perry won their bids for reelection.

Locally, county commissioners Alford, Wheeler and Cornell all won like they had in 2020. Despite a 2020 win with 63% of the vote, Alford was replaced by Republican Commissioner Raemi-Eagle Glenn when she was found in violation of her residency requirements, but she won back her seat with almost 59% of the vote this year.

Alachua County voting will look different

With the passage of two major voting amendments, local elections will look different from now on.

Alachua County passed the single-member district referendum, which allows only residents of county and city districts to vote for the candidates running to represent them, with 51% of the vote. Prior to the amendment, every Alachua County resident voted for the representative in every district, despite only living in one.

The referendum will change the shape of the county commission in future elections, Torpey said. With Democrats concentrated in Gainesville and Republicans in cities like High Springs and Newberry, Torpey said single-member voting will likely put more Republicans on the commission from red districts. 

“It looks like there’s going to be one, two seats guaranteed,” he said. 

Alachua County also voted to call special elections in the case of a vacant seat on the county commission. The vote changes the current process of filling vacancies, which allows the governor to appoint a commissioner to fill the seat. 

Under the previous system, DeSantis appointed Eagle-Glenn to Alford’s empty seat. The amendment passed with 64% of the vote. 

Campaign finance data didn’t tell the whole story

Past trends have shown the candidate who spends the most in their campaign usually wins their race, but that statistic didn’t stick in a few key races this year.

Demings, who out-earned and out-spent Rubio, lost the U.S. Senate race with only 41% of the vote. Ed Braddy, the Republican candidate for the District 2 seat on the county commission, also totaled more in finances than Wheeler, his opponent, but lost his race. 

For Demings, Torpey said the data didn’t match the makeup of the Florida electorate. The state’s recent shift toward the right is more meaningful at the polls than higher campaign receipts, he said.

Florida Democrats face an uphill battle for the foreseeable future, Torpey said, with conservative momentum building from a DeSantis win and other successful Republican campaigns. Liberal candidates will have to do more than amass considerable funds to pull out a win, he said.

“The Florida Democratic Party’s all but collapsed,” Torpey said. “It’s really tough to go up against the superstar power of DeSantis.”  

Similarly, Braddy’s loss comes at the hands of a predominantly blue electorate. Alachua County hasn’t voted for a Republican commissioner since 2010, when it elected Susan Baird to the District 4 seat with 54% of the vote.

Despite a last-minute push toward advertising and consulting, Braddy fell short, earning only 42% of the vote.

Contact Heather at Follow her on Twitter @hmb_1013.

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Heather Bushman

Heather Bushman is a fourth-year journalism and political science student and the enterprise elections reporter. She previously wrote and edited for the Avenue desk and reported for WUFT News. You can usually find her writing, listening to music or writing about listening to music. Ask her about synesthesia or her album tier list sometime.

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