Florida Looks Ahead to a Busy Political Season in 2020

With a new year here, Florida can expect a host of political battles in 2020.

The presidential election will get most of the attention, especially as there are no statewide races this year. Republican Donald Trump carried Florida in 2016 and starts with a slight edge here in Florida based on how the GOP has done in close statewide contests in recent years. But the Democrats can never be counted out in Florida as Barack Obama showed when he carried the state in 2012 and Nikki Fried pulled off an upset to win the agriculture commissioner post in 2018.

Still, Florida doesn’t loom as large on the national stage as other swing states including Pennsylvania, Michigan, Arizona, Wisconsin and North Carolina. It’s almost impossible to imagine a second term for Trump if he stumbles in Florida. However, there are paths to the White House for whoever the Democratic nominee is even without winning the Sunshine State. Regardless, between Democrats positioning for the March primary and the general election in November, Florida will get a great deal of attention from the presidential candidates and their supporters.

Outside the presidential contest, Florida will be pondering over a series of proposed amendments to the state constitution. Proposals allowing only U.S. citizens to vote, raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2025 and creating a top-two primary system for state offices have already made the ballot. Other proposals including changing laws on energy markets, banning semiautomatics and shotguns, reforming how state constitutional amendments are adopted and legalizing marijuana for recreational use are currently being reviewed and there are plenty of others in the pipeline. Florida voters can expect high-profile fights over some of these proposals.

There are also some interesting congressional contests across the Sunshine State. With Republicans Francis Rooney and Ted Yoho bowing out, large primary fields are already forming to replace them. Both of these seats are strongly Republican so whoever wins the primary in August should be headed to Washington.

Looking ahead to November, Republicans hope to cut into the Democratic majority in the U.S. House by taking down Charlie Crist, Stephanie Murphy, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna Shalala. The Democrats are targeting Vern Buchanan, Brian Mast and Ross Spano. One race which is increasingly gaining attention is Donna Deegan’s challenge to GOP incumbent John Rutherford on the First Coast even though the seat has generally been safe for Republicans. However, most members of the Florida delegation look pretty safe ten months out.

Moving over to Tallahassee, the Legislature meets later this month for its regular session with many of its members looking down the road to November. Ron DeSantis starts his second year riding high in the polls but he could face challenges in the weeks to come. The House leadership hasn’t exactly warmed up to his proposal to raise the minimum salary for new teachers to $47,500 a year. The Senate has offered some pushback on the governor’s proposal mandating businesses use E-Verify to check the immigration status of potential new hires. With 2020 being an election year and redistricting on the horizon, political calculations will certainly come into play in the weeks to come. In the meantime, Democrats will look to cut into the GOP majorities of both chambers and they have an outside shot to take control of the Senate in November though the Republicans should safely keep the House.

In the meantime, the nation will mark the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims coming to Cape Cod this year. Of course, they landed on Plymouth Rock 10 years after Santa Fe was founded, 13 years after Jamestown was established and more than a half-century after the Spanish settled at St. Augustine, a powerful reminder of the length of Florida’s history. As the year begins, looking over the 455 years of recorded history and the 175 years of statehood, 2020 is shaping up to be one of the busiest years in Florida political history.


Kevin Derby wrote this analysis. He can be reached at kevin.derby@floridadaily.com.


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