The 2016 Florida State Senate Elections Could Be the Most Important in a Generation

The 2016 Florida State Senate Elections Could Be the Most Important in a Generation

Registered Democrats in Florida far outnumber registered Republicans. The state has voted twice for President Barack Obama on the presidential level. Yet, up in Tallahassee, Florida's state government is currently controlled completely by Republicans. Gov. Rick Scott and the entire cabinet belong to the party, and Republicans hold large majorities in both the House and Senate. 

You can chalk this up to two main reasons: 1) Democrats don't turn out to vote as much in midterm elections as Republicans; 2) the boundaries of Florida's state legislative districts were drawn by Republicans to favor Republicans. 

Yet, last week, a judge threw out Florida's old state senate boundaries as unconstitutional and instituted a new map drawn by a coalition of voters groups. State Senate seats are usually up for election in staggered terms with half the seats being up for election during a presidential election year and the other half being up for election during a midterm election in which Florida chooses a governor. 

However, any time the districts are redrawn, every seat must be decided by a new election.

That means every single state Senate seat will be up for election in 2016. 

So there remains the possibility that Democrats actually have the possibility of having full control of the Senate since 1992, or, at least, splitting the body down the middle like it was in the mid-'90s. 

The Florida Senate has 40 seats. Twenty-six are currently held by Republicans, and 14 are held by Democrats. The effects of Republican gerrymandering should seem self-evident by that number. Even though Republican turnout during midterms is higher, it's not that high. Rick Scott's margin of victory in both his elections hasn't been more than 1.25 percent. 

So one would assume a Florida Senate that fairly represented Florida's voters might see one party holding onto the majority by one or two seats, or, at the very least, a straight down the middle 20-20 split. 

According to an analysis by Democratic strategist Matthew Isbell, 21 of the newly drawn districts were won by Barack Obama in 2012. That's more or less exactly what you'd expect in a state where Barack Obama won by about 0.9 percent. 

The question, of course, is whether Democrats can take advantage of that slight advantage and take control of the Senate, providing a powerful check on the policies of Rick Scott during his final two years in office. 

However, this is the Democratic Party of Florida we're talking about. It's an organization that has a long history of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. 

Plus, several incumbent Republicans state senators may now find themselves running in less-then-favorable districts could still count on name recognition, an established donor base, and that good ol' Democratic voter apathy to sail to reelection. 

Take the Republican state senators of Miami-Dade, for example. Under the old maps, Republicans had a natural advantage in three of Miami-Dade's six districts. Under the new ones, every single district was carried by Obama in 2012. (Again, not a surprise as he won the county by 61.6 percent in 2012.)

Take Republican state Senator Anitere Flores for example. Her home has been drawn into a new district which she also shares with Democrat Dwight Bullard. Obama carried that district by 54.5 percent. She could slog it out with Bullard at a disadvantage, or she could move to a neighboring district where Democrats have a slightly lower advantage and squeak out a win. 

To put it another way, to win back the Senate, the Democrats would likely have to win every district in Miami-Dade. They don't have a clear plan to do that (longtime democratic Senator Gwen Margolis, currently a Coconut Grove resident whose old district represented much of the coast, is making the somewhat head-scratching decision of moving and running for reelection in an inner-city, African-American-majority district), but both parties will spend the next few months scrambling to rejigger their 2016 plans (all while also juggling the presidential elections and the important and open U.S. Senate election). 

However, Democrats clearly do have the best chance they have in a generation to take control of the Senate. 

Or Florida voters could send a strong message that says, "Hey, you know what, we actually do like Republican politics as usual in Tallahassee." 

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