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Florida’s Primary Elections Prove the State Is Redder Than Ever

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a press conference held at the Broward County Courthouse on August 18, 2022 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Newsweek – Along with New York and Oklahoma, Florida held its 2022 primary elections on Tuesday. At stake was each major party’s nomination for Florida’s 28 U.S. House seats, the U.S. Senate seat now held by Republican Marco Rubio, the Governor’s Mansion in Tallahassee, and other statewide offices.

Rubio, Governor Ron DeSantis, and most statewide officeholders ran unopposed, but in the contested national-level races, the Florida primary was a Trumpian field day. The former president, whose Mar-a-Lago residence in Palm Beach was raided by the FBI earlier this month, endorsed 14 Republican congressional candidates running in Florida: 13 incumbents and newcomer Anna Paulina Luna, who is running for an open seat vacated by Democratic gubernatorial nominee (and former Florida Republican governor) Charlie Crist.

All of the Trump-endorsed candidates won, with most taking at least 70% of the vote. Their ranks included Matt Gaetz, who represents Florida’s 1st congressional district, even though he is currently under investigation for obstruction of justice and allegedly sex trafficking a minor. (Gaetz, who won with 69.7% of the vote, denies the allegations; the day before the primary, a federal judge sentenced a would-be extortionist, who offered to make them go away in exchange for a large payment, to over five years in prison).

A number of contests in which Trump made no endorsement witnessed fierce battles among candidates who courted his support—and his supporters’ votes—by asserting the ferocity of their “America First” credentials. In Florida’s 7th congressional district, State Representative Anthony Sabatini, who called for the arrest of U.S. federal agents involved in the Mar-a-Lago raid, lost to Cory Mills, a combat veteran whose security equipment company reportedly sold tear gas that was used on Black Lives Matter protesters. In the 11th congressional district, pro-Trump conservative activist Laura Loomer came within seven points of ousting incumbent Dan Webster—a remarkable feat, since Loomer is banned from virtually all mainstream social media platforms and says she received no party funds for her campaign (as of this writing, Loomer is claiming voter fraud and has refused to concede).

Farther down the ballot, Florida conservatism found a revealing new outlet in county-level school board elections, which are decided on the state’s primary election day provided that a candidate wins over 50% of the vote. Historically, Florida school board elections have been non-partisan affairs that the establishment Right was content to ignore, thus foolishly conceding cultural and educational hegemony to the radical Left.

No longer. Committed to making Florida “the state where woke goes to die,” Governor DeSantis boldly decided to politicize this year’s school board contests, devoting a significant amount of money, time, and his supporters’ energy to candidates who back his pro-parent, anti-critical race theory, and anti-gender ideology education policies.

This unprecedented move scored a stunning success. Of the 30 DeSantis-endorsed school board candidates, at least 20 won their races outright, while five others qualified for runoff elections that will take place during November’s general election. In most cases, anti-woke challengers succeeded with less money than their progressive opponents, who were quickly endorsed by Democrats, teachers’ unions, and other well-funded leftist adjuncts.

In majority-Democrat Miami-Dade, Florida’s most populous county, two DeSantis-endorsed candidates won election. One of those winners, retired elementary school teacher Monica Colucci, denounced “dangerous, radical ideologies that have been creeping into our classrooms,” and pledged to fight them in her new role. In Republican-leaning Sarasota County, all three DeSantis-endorsed candidates won on the first ballot, flipping the school board’s 3-2 progressive majority to a 4-1 anti-woke majority. Both county school boards had been among the 13 that defied DeSantis’ 2021 executive order banning school mask mandates.

DeSantis’ school board campaign has tapped an energized state electorate. Like Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin last year, he is rapidly ascending on an issue that has significant appeal to independents and even to some Democrats, who, when mugged by the reality of disastrous education policies, will make common cause with Republicans pledging better ideas.

But even without them, Florida has gone irretrievably red. In 2020, Trump, whose midterm endorsements ran Florida’s national-level field on Tuesday, added over one million votes to his statewide column over his 2016 tally; he also won its popular vote by an absolute majority. In 2021, Republican voter registration in Florida surpassed Democratic registration for the first time in state history. Recent gubernatorial election polls show DeSantis with a comfortable lead over Crist, his Democrat-nominated opponent in November, while Rubio seems well-positioned to defeat his Democratic challenger, Val Demings. Perhaps most significant, with no Florida congressional district considered a toss-up, it is widely expected that 20 of the state’s 28 House seats will be Republican-held come January, as opposed to 16 of 27 now (Florida gained one seat as a result of the 2020 Census). Those four new Republican-held congressional seats alone are enough to guarantee Republicans a U.S. House majority, assuming no net loss of seats elsewhere.

As the late House Speaker Tip O’Neill (D-MA) said, all politics is local. And it can start on your county school board.

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