Days before the midterm elections, voter polls from Miami, Florida were already telling a cautionary tale—what was once a Democratic stronghold for decades was quickly turning red. By the end of election night, the state’s Democratic party suffered serious losses: they failed to unseat conservative presidential hopeful Gov. Ron DeSantis, flipped at least five Democrat counties red, lost four congressional seats, and left Republicans with a supermajority of 85 seats in the House and 28 in the Senate. While the rest of the country celebrated progressive victories and a thwarted red wave, Floridians mourned a red tsunami.
Organizers say they were unsurprised by the results because of a lack of presence and support from the state Democratic party. Without institutional backing, organizers say they were left to turn out voters on their own and could not compete with the GOP’s impact.
“This is what divestment looks like,” said Ana Sofía Peláez, founder of the Miami Freedom Project, a grassroots organization striving to shift Miami’s political culture. “This is what it looks like when you don’t invest in engaging with a community that is a persuasion vote, which is how they should be treated.”
The GOP spent over $133 million in Florida during the 2021-2022 election cycle, while the Florida Democratic Party only spent about $20 million. The difference in spending can be seen directly in the voter turnout: even counties with more registered Democrats saw upwards of 12 percent more Republican voter turnout, as was the case for Miami-Dade county’s gubernatorial race.
“I think the lack of engagement and the lack of willingness to completely invest in the space and stay in the space means we haven’t been able to resolve some of these deep conflicts and divisions,” Peláez said. “We haven’t had that support yet. But, I do think it’s something that we need to build towards, and we have to remain committed to.”
While on a national level, the Latinx vote remained predominantly Democratic during the 2022 midterm elections, with 64 percent voting for a Democratic House candidate, Florida was the only state where the majority of Latinx voters (54 percent) supported Republican House candidates. Peláez points to the overwhelming amount of money GOP candidates spent on the Spanish-language media market as a cause. Gov. DeSantis spent over $5 million, while his opponent, Charlie Crist, spent $2 million. In recent years, the GOP has dominated the Spanish-language media market. During the 2020 election, Donald Trump outspent President Joe Biden by $4 million in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale Spanish market alone. According to Paláez and Amore Rodriguez, director of community partnerships for Cubanos Palante, a progressive Cuban-American grassroots organization, the ads purchased by GOP candidates are wrought with misinformation and scare tactics profiting off of the Latinx community’s trauma.
“After 2020, we saw how effective the messaging of Democrats being socialists and communists worked, so to see that being used even locally so intensely, I was not surprised to see how many Latinos are switching to the Republican Party,” said Rodriguez. “We were bracing ourselves for that type of loss, but I don’t think I expected for some of the really blue districts to go red. We fought like hell to get as many Democrat voters and non-party voters out to vote Democrat, but I really didn’t expect for it to be as red as it went.”
Many Republicans in Florida ran on a strictly anti-Communist platform that painted their opponent as a Communist, even though Florida’s gubernatorial and senate Democratic candidates are centrist at best. According to Rodriguez, this lazy yet successful tactic exploits Latinx voters’ trauma and creates an easy measure of success for the candidate. If by the end of their term, the country has still “avoided” communism, then the candidate is seen as successful and likely to win the electorate’s vote again.
“I’ve never seen so many Latinos voters so proudly support the Republican Party and stand on a party of ideals that, to me, are very manipulated,” said Rodriguez. “It’s not affordable housing. It’s not reducing inflation. It’s not bettering our public schools. It’s not women’s rights. It’s just whether the U.S. became a communist dictatorship or not. And to me, it is so brilliant because it’s so easy to run on. And they have been running with it. And it’s been so hard to be a person on the other side, trying to bring people back to reality and refocus our community on the issues that are impacting us right now and not this illusion of fear that Republicans are gaining.”
Rodriguez, who worked on multiple grassroots campaigns in support of local candidates, said organizers were not supported by the national and state Democratic party.
“This is where my frustration sits,” said Rodriguez. “I hope that this loss is the type of wake-up call that we need as a community to realize that we are being completely dismissed. It’s been amazing to watch the rest of the nation stand up and push for Democratic leaders to be elected. But it’s been so disheartening to see how much Florida has been ignored.”
Even candidates who faced targeted hate ads and death threats, like Janelle Perez, a Democrat candidate for State Senate District 38, received minimal institutional support.
“She was still out there every single day knocking on doors, and it was a close enough race where we could have made a dent,” said Rodriguez. “But I think the results show what we saw, which was absolutely zero support from Manny Diaz as the head of the Florida Democratic Party.”
Rodriguez said she never saw Diaz supporting their debates, phone banking efforts, or even other candidates. Organizers are now calling on the Florida Democratic Party Chair, Manny Diaz, to resign.
“We needed all hands on deck for that and I think we tried our best against a very challenging and very well-financed other side,” explained Dwight Bullard, the senior political advisor for Florida Rising.
Bullard said the Democratic party prioritized “protecting” other gubernatorial races in states like Pennsylvania and Michigan, where a red governor’s mansion would have directly flipped an entire state’s policies. From a national standpoint, Florida ended up being left out of that equation. Buoyed by Gov. DeSantis’ racially motivated redistricting and his decision to arrest formerly incarcerated people for voter fraud, Florida was all but guaranteed to go red.
“Anytime you’re spending millions of dollars on attack ads and disinformation into communities that is, in our opinion, voter suppression,” said Bullard. “In the state of Florida, to allow for these kinds of continuous disinformation is a reflection on the failure of the DeSantis administration to uphold voting rights.”
However, Democrats in Florida had one historic victory: Maxwell Frost, an Afro-Cuban, 25-year-old, was elected to serve Florida’s 10th Congressional District. Frost won the Orlando-based seat by running on a workers’ rights and pro-abortion platform. Organizers say a campaign focused on concrete policies drives voters to the polls.
“Maxwell Frost is probably an anomaly; it wasn’t the Democratic party’s doing—he’s an organizer.” said Rodriguez. “His heart has always been in this. Thankfully, we have people like him that said, I’m going to make it happen. We need a strategy that finds the Maxwell Frosts of our communities and elevates them, puts them on a platform, and really starts to get people excited about the Democratic ballot. I think we have a huge opportunity to make that happen.”
Rodriguez said she wants the Democratic Party to restrategize how they organize, and that she is excited about the renewed momentum she’s felt in the community since the loss. Peláez said she would like to see a renewed commitment to issue-driven and policy-driven campaigns, which have proven successful.
“We need to be a community that actually makes our community feel supported, and as of right now, we’re not doing that because we are catching up,” Rodriguez said. “We need to stand on what we are: we are the party that’s for human rights, we are the party that’s for affordable access to health care and affordable housing. We are the party that’s pro-women’s rights and pro-LGBTQIA+ rights and for gun safety. We need to be very clear of who we are and not just keep reacting to what we’re not from the Republicans.”