Florida has 1.25 million alligators, 74 million citrus trees, 392,048 swimming pools, 386 Walmarts, 500,000 Canadian snowbirds – and four potential presidential candidates.
It’s an embarrassment of riches, and enough to embarrass other states that are accustomed to sending their political figures to the White House.
Florida: Mother of Presidents?
“That title usually belongs to Ohio,” Republican Senator Rob Portman, whose state claims seven presidents, said in an interview. “I’m kind of ashamed.”
But given the notion that Florida’s two senators, its Governor and the still-ambitious 45th president – Sunshine State residents, all – are considering 2024 White House campaigns, that Mother of Presidents notion may not be so far-fetched for a state with 29 electoral votes, 11 more than Ohio.
It is true that Andrew Jackson fought the Seminole here, Chester A. Arthur and George H.W. Bush fished here, Warren G. Harding cruised here, Harry Truman loved to spend winter weeks here, John F. Kennedy retreated here after being elected, Richard Nixon established his winter White House here, and Donald J. Trump moved here after leaving the White House.
But no Florida resident ever has won the White House.
Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott are possible presidential candidates. So is Governor Ron DeSantis. None is likely to make a move until the fourth possible contender, Mr. Trump, makes his intentions known.
But the prominence of these four is itself a significant statement.
All of them won election as new-era Republicans, leaving the Jeb Bush model in the distant past. Mr. Bush, who occupied the governor’s mansion in Tallahassee from 1999 to 2007 and once was regarded as a formidable presidential possibility, was a moderate with ties to the Eastern Establishment that was an important force in GOP politics for generations.
The four ran against the old style of Republican politics even as they forged a new style both here and in Washington, prevailing in a closely divided state that gave George W. Bush the White House in 2000 and was an indispensable element in Mr. Trump’s triumph 16 years later. Mr. Trump’s 2020 margin here was 51 per cent, built in part by a coalition of voters with Cuban and Venezuelan heritage, groups for whom the now former president’s anti-socialist message resonated, along with white conservatives and business-oriented Floridians.
One possible future of the Republican Party can be found here.
The Florida Republican coalition is far more diverse than the GOP voting blocs in traditional Republican states such as Kansas and Wyoming. Indeed, the four Floridians contemplating White House campaigns command the loyalty of a more diverse coalition than that of Iowa, another important state in presidential politics with three statewide Republican office holders.
And if modern Republicanism can be defined by resistance to COVID-19 closures and mask mandates, then Florida may be GOP Ground Zero. Mr. DeSantis prohibited local governments from enforcing their own mask restrictions and then negated virus-related fines.
“Florida Republicans are trying to sell the state’s COVID policy as something that achieves good results without shutting down individual freedom and business,” said Hans J.G. Hassell, director of the Institute of Politics at Florida State University.
Florida ranks about in the middle of COVID-19 deaths per capita, with 26 states holding death rates above Florida’s 153 per 100,000 people – and in the past week, death rates in the state have grown more than 8 per cent. Neighbouring Georgia and Alabama have even higher rates of virus deaths.
Along with the two Senate seats and the governor’s chair, the Republicans control both houses of the state legislature; the GOP margin is nearly two-to-one in the state House of Representatives. Republicans also hold 16 of Florida’s 27 House seats in Washington.
As a result, the state GOP is portraying itself as a national model, with officials arguing that the “freedom” celebrated in resistance to masks might even attract a new population surge here that would replicate the waves that came in the 1920s, 1960s, 1980s and 1990s. And the presence of the Cape Canaveral space centre, the aviation-parts and jet-assembly industries and the efforts of the University of Central Florida, the University of South Florida and the University of Florida to produce the Florida High Tech Corridor have competed with, if not entirely wiped away, the state’s sleepy orange-grove-and-retirement-community image.
It was here that the Conservative Political Action Conference, known as CPAC, held its national convention that included a gold statue of Mr. Trump and where the former president, fanning notions he might seek another White House term, repeated his claims to have won the 2020 election, saying, “I may even decide to beat them for a third time.” The political world is awaiting the political word from Mr. Trump, but no one more anxiously than the Messrs. Rubio, Scott and DeSantis.
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