With the ballot question on abortion a ‘path to relevance’ for Democrats in Florida?

By | April 2, 2024

KEY WEST, Fla. – November suddenly got a lot more interesting in Florida.

The nation’s third-largest state, once the biggest battleground in presidential politics, has become less important as election results repeatedly tilt toward the political right. Few still consider it a true swing state.

But three Florida Supreme Court rulings on abortion and marijuana, released Monday, could breathe new life into Democratic campaigns before the Nov. 6 general election.

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The court, which leans conservative, upheld a ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, meaning an even more restrictive six-week ban could soon go into effect. However, the court also allowed a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot that would guarantee access to abortion “before viability,” or after approximately 24 weeks.

In a third decision, the court greenlighted a separate ballot measure that would legalize recreational marijuana.

All told, Democrats see the statements as an opening to drive their voters — and perhaps new voters who are likely to support their candidates — to the polls.

“It has the potential to bring back more voters, and those voters are more likely to be with us than with the other guys,” said Christina Reynolds, senior vice president of communications for Emily’s List, which supports and funds Democratic women running for office for an office. . “It brings some attention to Florida that might not otherwise be there because our hearts have been broken before.”

No one is suggesting that two constitutional amendments are enough to tilt Florida’s presidential race against former President Donald Trump, a Palm Beach resident who won the state in 2016 and 2020. Although President Joe Biden has traveled to Florida for fundraising, he is not. is expected to spend a lot of time campaigning – or paying for expensive television advertising – in the state.

Biden’s campaign manager, Julie Chávez Rodríguez, said in a memo after the rulings were announced that the president had an “opening” in Florida, although it is “not an easy state to win.”

In the past, Florida residents have elected Republicans while also approving ballot proposals promoted by liberal-leaning groups, including groups that instituted a $15-an-hour minimum wage, restored felons’ voting rights and legalized medical marijuana.

And elections in Florida tend to be closer in presidential years than in midterm years. Moving a few thousand votes here and there could impact further voting. On Monday, Democrats rushed to point out that Sen. Rick Scott, a Republican running for re-election, said he would have signed the six-week ban.

Government Ron DeSantis, a Republican, introduced the 15-week ban in 2022. Last year, as he prepared to run for president in more religious states like Iowa, he signed the six-week ban, even though polls have repeatedly shown that a majority of Floridians believe most abortions are legal. Trump criticized DeSantis for supporting the six-week ban, calling it “a terrible thing.”

Several political observers noted that DeSantis’ party would have had an easier time rallying voters against the abortion ballot measure if Republicans had stuck with the 15-week ban.

“Abortion is to Republicans what immigration is to Democrats: When you talk about it, it’s a complication, it’s a problem, it’s an obstacle,” said Carlos Curbelo, a former Republican representative from Miami. “It just gives Democrats another path to relevance in the state, where they have been more or less completely bankrupt for a number of years.”

Florida Democrats have lost significant ground in voter registration to Republicans, have struggled to raise money and have failed to organize a political machine that can compete with the always well-funded Republican machine. In 2022, DeSantis flipped Miami-Dade County, the state’s most populous county, which was previously part of Democrats’ liberal stronghold in southeast Florida.

Anna Hochkammer, executive director of the Florida Women’s Freedom Coalition, said she expected the effect of the abortion ballot measure to be “significant” for other races. Polls conducted last month for her group and Floridians Protecting Freedom, which includes Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union, showed 73% support for the constitutional amendment, she said. More than 60% is needed to pass.

“Proponents are generally quite steadfast in their support, while opponents are quite weak,” Hochkammer said. “This scores well across all demographic categories. It also motivates young people and women. No one can deny that this will define the electoral universe.”

State Rep. Paul Renner, a Republican who is speaker of the Florida House, told reporters Monday that legislative leaders would help defeat the abortion ballot measure. Anti-abortion groups have vowed to wage a vigorous campaign.

“There will be an organized effort, I can say that for sure,” Renner said. “The efforts will really be focused on those in central Florida.”

He and other Republican lawmakers have portrayed the six-week abortion ban as a common-sense compromise that allows exceptions when the mother’s health is at stake. The fifteen-week ban has no exceptions for rape or incest, but the six-week ban does.

Renner rejected a suggestion that the ballot questions on abortion and marijuana would make the general election more competitive. “No,” he said. “I think every election is important and consequential.”

“With full knowledge and full understanding of what these amendments do,” he added, “they will both be voted down.”

But board members of the RBG Fund, a Tallahassee-based organization that provides financial assistance to people who travel to Florida to have an abortion because rules are more restrictive in their home states, said they felt the political shift.

“Everyone who was biting their nails about this decision is jubilant right now,” said Karen Woodall, 66. “This is going to inspire people.”

c.2024 The New York Times Company

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