Sunshine State dims for Dems amid election losses, cash woes

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FILE - In this Oct. 22, 2020 file photo, Democrats take part in a rally outside a union hall in Jacksonville, Fla., on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020, as Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried speaks. Democrats hope to make deeper strides in changing their fortunes in a state that has become friendlier place for Republicans. Fried is contemplating a challenge to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis. (AP Photo/Bobby Caina Calvan, File)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Democrats may delight in their brightening prospects in Arizona and Georgia, and may even harbor glimmers of hope in Texas, but their angst is growing in Florida, which has a reputation as a swing state but now favors Republicans and could be shifting further out of reach for Democrats.

As the jockeying begins to take on Gov. Ron DeSantis and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio in 2022, Democrats' disadvantage against Republicans is deeper than ever, as they try to develop a cohesive strategy and rebuild a statewide party deep in debt and disarray.

Former President Donald Trump’s brand of populism has helped power a GOP surge in Florida, where Trump defeated now-President Joe Biden by more than 3 percentage points last fall — more than doubling the lead he had against Hillary Clinton. Republicans also snatched away two congressional seats and widened their majorities in the statehouse.

And that was despite $100 million spent by Michael Bloomberg to help Democrats in the state. When the spending tally is complete, the last election cycle in Florida is expected to rank as among the most expensive in state history. The lack of return in Florida could point the national party and donors to invest their efforts and largesse elsewhere.

“I don’t know anybody who’s happy with investing $100 million and not winning,” said Manny Diaz, the new chair of the Florida Democratic Party.

“I’ve heard people ask: Do we give up on Florida? They say we won the White House with Georgia and Arizona, and we didn’t need Florida,” Diaz said. “I admit that shouldn’t be where we are today.”

Steve Schale, a Democratic strategist, said the state party needs to show that “things are moving in a positive trajectory.”

“One of my concerns is that it’s going to be a big lift to get people spending money here again,” Schale said.