Republican Rout Meets Democratic Dereliction

Under The Hood

As national Republicans embark on introspections, Florida Republicans reveling in a red wave all the more astonishing for the fact it existed in Florida alone. Days after the Nov. 8 midterms, a picture continues to come into focus on Republican overperformance — and critically Democratic underperformance a — that brought consequences even at a local level.

The biggest story in the Sarasota-Bradenton area, clearly, is the fact both Manatee and Sarasota will have all-GOP county commissions. It’s not Republican Amanda Ballard unseating Democratic incumbent Reggie Bellamy in Bradenton or Mark Smith defeating Fredd Atkins was entirely a surprise. But there are real questions that need to be asked about how Democratic-majority seats could see such poor turnout.

Certainly, many will point to the redistricting of Manatee County as part of the problem. The district has long encompassed two major towns to be an urban seat. Critics of a Manatee County Commission map instated ahead of this election saw this as meddling, and while those involved with the new map not District 2 remains a majority minority seat where the share of Black voters went down by just 1.4%, Bellamy’s defeat will be viewed as a vindication of concerns. When a new commission is worn in, it will be the first time in 20 years there’s not a Democrat on the board.

But in Sarasota, redistricting ahead of the election created an opportunity for Democrats. To the disgruntlement of retiring County Commissioner Christian Ziegler and drawing criticism from Republican Party of Florida Chair Joe Gruters, the Sarasota County Commission as a whole approved a new map that had a Democrat-leaning seat that actually went up for a vote this year. Indeed, the creation of the seat representing a culmination of some 40 years of effort by Atkins, Sarasota’s first Black Mayor and one of the region’s most vocal supporters of single-member district voting.

Honestly, and it will take some time to fully digest the figures, it seems likely Republicans would have swept the county commission under any circumstances with boundaries for maps this year. This election, if anything, may show the follow of a belief parties ever need to pick their battles.

In both counties, Republicans outnumber Democrats, but the turnout figures show the performance gap was much worse. In Manatee, 89,687 Republicans voted, or 72.31% of those who were eligible. Only 46,820 Democrats, 58.83% of voters, came out on Tuesday. While Democrats provided a higher turnout in mail-in voting, Republicans had more than double the turnout for all in-person voting. More independents voted on Election Day than Democrats.

In Sarasota, the gap was almost as bad. Some 107,975 Republicans, 70.14% of those eligible, cast ballots countywide. About 64,739 Democrats, 63.78%, did the same. More independents voted in-person both on Election Day and in early voting. This helped guarantee not only Smith’s win over Atkins but also Rep. Fiona McFarland’s nearly 13-percentage-point win over Democrat Derek Reich in a nearly evenly split House district.

Republicans deserve a lot of credit for pushing the vote out at levels rivaling presidential years. Many give credit to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who won by a massive 19 points. At least as much praise should go to Gruters for focusing intensely on voter registration the past four years.

But the differences and gaps we see in the level of voter engagement with Democrats shows a dereliction of duty with Democrats at all levels, from national Democrats who sent almost no resources to Florida, a feckless state party that exercised less influence than in Oklahoma, and a failure to even challenge the elsewhere wrong prediction of a Republican tsunami.

Jacob Ogles is contributing senior editor for SRQ MEDIA.

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