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Will Abortion Vote Help Democrats Flip Florida in November?

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Joe Biden Campaigns For President In Florida

Biden could wind up concentrating on Florida more than he did in 2020.
Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Not very long ago, Florida was considered the ultimate presidential battleground state. It determined the outcome of the 2000 election, and as recently as 2012 it was carried by a Democrat, Barack Obama. But after being won twice by Donald Trump, as Republicans swept every statewide elected office and increased their grip on the state legislature and congressional delegation, Florida is now perceived as decidedly red-tinged. Nevertheless, as Joe Biden’s 2024 campaign ponders a path to 270 electoral votes complicated by poor polling in key 2020 states like Arizona and Georgia, Florida’s 30 electoral votes remain tempting. That’s particularly true after the Florida Supreme Court simultaneously let a six-week abortion ban take effect while clearing the way for a November ballot initiative aimed at overturning it. The very next day, the same court cleared a November ballot initiative to legalize recreational cannabis use as well.

Florida could theoretically become ground zero for a national Democratic strategy of making popular anger over abortion restrictions the big game-changer for 2024, offsetting economic unhappiness, border-security worries, and concerns about Biden’s age. As my colleague Gabriel Debenedetti has pointed out, ballot measures have become a turnout-booster for Florida Democrats: “In three of the last four election cycles, the party’s turnout appeared to be helped by ballot initiatives — on broadening medical marijuana laws in 2016, on restoring voting rights for felons in 2018, and on raising the minimum wage in 2020.”

But is Florida likely to be close enough in 2024 to make this issue-driven reach for a win feasible? That’s not entirely clear. Perceptions of Florida’s trajectory are being heavily affected by the 2022 midterm blowout that gave Ron DeSantis a landslide 19-point reelection win. But at the presidential level, the red tide in the Sunshine State has been less dramatic, if still highly significant. Obama carried the state by a mere 0.9 percent in 2012 and then Hillary Clinton lost it by 1.2 percent four years later. Trump’s margin then increased to 3.3 percent in 2020, though the Biden campaign did not really target Florida. Demographically Florida has been a haven for tax-leery white retirees, including the blue-collar folk who have been trending Republican, and it’s also Exhibit A in the much-discussed Latino voter surge toward the GOP (much of it driven by conservative Cuban American and South American immigrants, with some drift among Puerto Ricans as well).

Public polling of the 2024 general election in Florida has been sparse, but two polls taken in March both show Trump with a solid if not overwhelming lead (six points per St. Pete Polls and seven points according to Redfield & Wilton Strategies).

There’s no question the twin abortion and cannabis ballot initiatives should be appealing to Democratic constituencies in Florida (especially the crucial youth vote). And the state’s 60 percent requirement for approval of state constitutional amendments means those votes will be tantalizingly close and heavily publicized. It’s also likely that the abortion policy fight will attract serious national money, with some perhaps coming from ultrawealthy Democratic Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker, who is already donating heavily to abortion ballot initiatives in Arizona and Nevada.

On the other hand, past ballot-measure fights in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade in 2022 have had a debatable effect on partisan-turnout patterns. Pro-choice forces have won them all, but often by attracting pro-choice Republican voters who still support their party’s candidates despite its anti-abortion positioning. The relatively late timing of Florida’s imposition of a near-total abortion ban (it was enacted last year but held up in the courts until this week’s judicial decision) could make the ballot fight in the state especially intense and accordingly dangerous for the Republicans responsible for this denial of basic rights.

Perhaps the best way to characterize Florida’s status in the presidential race right now is that it’s on the Biden campaign’s watch list and could move near the top if (a) subsequent polling looks promising and (b) other states counted on to win the president an Electoral College majority appear problematic. No Democrat is simply writing off Florida right now, and even if it’s a reach, Team Biden would enjoy making a relatively cash-strapped Trump campaign devote precious resources to defending the 45th president’s home turf.


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