As the dust settles on the midterm elections, attention turns to the next two years of President Joe Biden’s agenda, the 2024 Presidential race (#TooSoon), and the dynamic in Congress. But among the results, a single county in Florida delivers a glimmer of what could become a national shift in electoral politics, so long as conservatives across the country can find the courage, conviction, and competence to leverage it.
Nationally, the prevailing narrative is that the Republican Party underperformed on election night, dashing the expectations of many who anticipated a better showing. Even as late as the afternoon of Election Day, pundits were predicting the GOP would land on a House majority of 25 to 35 seats and a Senate majority of two to three. That wave failed to crest.
Elections typically fall into two categories thematically. For the music buffs, consider them the “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” type and the “Rage Against the Machine” type. This election appears to be something else entirely — call it “A Tale of Two Nations.” Nationally, many candidates for statewide office around the country struggled to bring home a win, or lost their races in a year when the vast majority of the voting public see the nation as “on the wrong track.”
Contrast that with Florida, which not only cemented its status as a deep-red fortress, but did so by overperforming across the board.
Republicans in Florida bucked the trend of the midterm elections, turning four more congressional districts red. They expanded their majorities in both chambers of the state legislature into supermajorities, and they reelected both Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Marco Rubio so resoundingly that the races were called before western states had begun counting votes.
Nowhere was that performance more apparent, and more consequential for the rest of the country, than in Miami-Dade County.
It may be reflexive to think that Florida performed as expected, with a popular governor reelected and helping both Republican Congressional and state legislative candidates. But this understands something truly remarkable which occurred. Miami-Dade County, traditionally one of the deepest-blue counties in the state, and home to nearly three million of Florida’s 21.5 million residents, went Republican. The same county that voted for Hillary Clinton by 29 points over Donald Trump in 2016, and which DeSantis lost by 21 points in 2018, voted to reelect DeSantis by an almost 11-point margin on Tuesday.
In terms of raw numbers, DeSantis won Miami-Dade by more votes than he won the entire State of Florida in 2018. Miami-Dade hasn’t voted Republican for a governor since the days of Jeb Bush. And not only did Gov. DeSantis clean up, but Republicans running for Congress fared much better than they did just two years ago, increasing their margins of victory.
The pivotal question for the long-term political landscape, of course, is “how?” The answer to that lies in three specific political inflection points.
The first is the education issue. The 2018 governor’s race in Florida was decided by less than 35,000 votes out of more than eight million. Many analysts (including us here at the James Madison Institute) asserted that Ron DeSantis’s embrace of school choice, juxtaposed against his opponent’s promise to scale back education choice options, caused enough traditionally reliable Democratic voters, specifically African American women, to take a chance on DeSantis. DeSantis followed through and expanded school choice options during his term. This solidified and expanded that support. It also helped DeSantis’s reelection that Charlie Crist selected the head of the Miami-Dade teachers’ union as his choice for lieutenant governor, allowing Republicans to (correctly) paint the Democrats as the school-lockdown, anti-parent, anti-choice party. And so, this time around, DeSantis won the support of 46% of non-white voters, according to exit polling.
The second key was Hispanic engagement. Miami-Dade is home to the largest cohort of Hispanic voters in the state, and one of the largest in the U.S. With Hispanic Americans accounting for 17% of the voting population in Florida (and close to 60% of Miami-Dade’s), candidates for statewide office win or lose based on how this group votes. Within Miami-Dade, that means large contingencies of Cuban and Venezuelan Americans (according to Pew Research, Venezuelan Americans were the fastest-growing group of eligible voters in Florida between 2008 and 2018). DeSantis fared well with these groups by focusing on his record during the pandemic, and by subtly drawing to his commitment to freedom and the dictatorships they escaped. This helped him defeat Charlie Crist by 18 points with Hispanic voters statewide. Not only was his margin among Cuban Americans 39 points, but he also won among traditionally Democratic Puerto Rican voters by 13 points.
Finally, DeSantis benefitted from a surge of domestic political refugees. In 2010, registered Democrats in Florida held a 568,000 advantage over registered Republicans. Over the next 12 years, waves of political refugees fled high-tax and high-regulation states such as New York, Illinois, and California. Many of them came to Florida, as many as 1,000 a day. They saw Florida as a state committed to economic growth and the American dream — a state committed to limits upon government control over small businesses, individuals, and communities. These refugees flipped the state, such that by 2021, Republicans had overtaken Democrats in voter registration and secured an advantage of 300,000. In Miami, the best example of this is in its Mayor, Francis Suarez, a gifted but moderate Republican with roots in the Cuban American community, who was elected and reelected mayor of Miami. Over his tenure, he has led a renaissance within the city, turning it into a regulatory-friendly metropolis embracing all things tech and innovation. In-migration is turning the city into a new Silicon Valley, only without the woke agenda.
Although the results may, on the national level, appear to present few encouraging nuggets for conservatives, there is hope. It just requires a commitment to replicating the keys to victory in the now deeply red, now supermajority Republican “Free State of Florida” and its newest red county, Miami-Dade.
Sal Nuzzo is vice president of policy at the James Madison Institute in Tallahassee, FL.