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After months of envisioning a “blue wave” because of voters tired of President Donald Trump, Florida Democrats say they still see a swell coming amid an increase in mail-in ballots compared to the 2014 midterm elections.
But Republicans point to a GOP lead in votes already cast for Tuesday’s primaries as a sign that Democratic voters have a “lack of enthusiasm” for candidates at the top of the ticket and that the lack of enthusiasm will translate down the ballot.
More than 1.38 million votes had been cast as of Thursday morning through mail-in ballots or early voting for the primaries. But political experts were cautious about drawing conclusions from the numbers, as both parties gear up for the November general election, which will include choosing a governor and a U.S. senator.
“Should be interesting to see if there is energy on either side that is not typical for a midterm election,” said Florida Atlantic University political-science professor Kevin Wagner.
Wagner said people trying to decipher the primary results to find trends for the general election need to look at party turnout and then mine the demographics of voters.
“Are younger voters participating at higher rates?” he said. “This might give us some clues about the November electorate.”
Susan MacManus, a distinguished professor of government and international affairs at the University of South Florida, said an indication of enthusiasm will initially be based on the turnout percentages of the parties. However, a deeper dive will occur after the primary, as more demographic data is released about turnout rates among Democrats by gender, age, race and media-market location.
“Democrats are banking on higher-than-usual turnout among female, minority and younger registrants,” MacManus said. “Democrats will also be carefully analyzing turnout rates in Southeast Florida counties, especially Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach. Over the last couple of election cycles, Democrats have lost statewide races because of lagging turnout in these counties.”
Further analyses will then go into evaluating open congressional and legislative seats, she said.
“Who wins here? Among Democrats, who wins these seats?” MacManus said in an email. “Any pattern by ideology (progressives), gender (females), younger first-time candidates or established candidates? Among Republicans, level of support for Trump, region of the state and type of location (rural, suburban, urban)?”
The parties are already watching voters who have been to the polls and who will cast ballots over the next few days, but they’re not waiting for the final numbers to project general-election trends.
Florida Democratic Party spokeswoman Caroline Rowland compared the votes already cast this year to the same point in 2014 as she expressed optimism about the fall races.
Rowland said that with special-election victories, “growing voter turnout and a record number of Democratic candidates helping to turn out Democratic voters in every corner of the state, Florida Democrats feel good about our chances in November."
As of Thursday morning, 646,706 Republicans and 579,672 Democrats had cast ballots. Republicans were up by more than 60,000 in vote-by-mail ballots —- 481,149 to 419,480 —- and by 5,000 in people who had gone to early-voting locations.
Four years ago, with about a week remaining before the 2014 midterm primaries, Republicans were ahead of Democrats in vote-by-mail ballots 438,893 to 360,387 and were edging Democrats 135,539 to 135,494 in early voting.
Marian Johnson, senior vice president of political strategy for the Florida Chamber of Commerce, is in the camp of people who say that based on the turnout so far, Democrats won’t see their envisioned midterm bump.
“No one knows exactly what the outcome of the primaries will be, so this could change, but right now, there is just not any massive blue wave coming in Florida,” Johnson said.
The Republican Party of Florida also points to the lack of a dominant candidate in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. A Florida Atlantic University poll this week, for example, had former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee atop the Democratic field with 29 percent of the vote. Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine had 17 percent, followed by Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Palm Beach investor Jeff Greene, who both had 11 percent. Chris King, a Winter Park businessman, had 10 percent.
“If the (gubernatorial) nominee gets approximately 30 to 33-percent, that means that Florida Dems will have a much harder time unifying for the general election because nearly two-thirds of their most loyal voters do not have their first choice,” state Republican Chairman Blaise Ingoglia said.
The same poll, however, showed Congressman Ron DeSantis up 32 percent to 31-percent over Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in the Republican gubernatorial primary. The poll indicated 22 percent of GOP voters were undecided.
Ingoglia also indicated that the early Republican lead in primary voting is a sign that a blue wave isn’t in Florida’s near future.
“From what we are seeing right now, the Florida Dems turnout is low, which points to lack of enthusiasm about their candidates,” Ingoglia said. “This will surely bleed over into the general election.”