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Can a Floridian win the presidency? It hasn’t happened yet, as Trump and DeSantis are battling for the top spot

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A Florida governor wins reelection in record numbers and later finds himself as a conservative in a crowded presidential primary. In New Hampshire, he sidesteps the issue of skyrocketing abortion rights, discusses ongoing Israeli military operations, promises to secure the Mexican border and warns that the current administration’s budget frenzy will increase, not reduce, inflation.

Although it sounds like a Republican government. in 2023 this was the former Democratic Gov. of Florida. in 1984. Askew retired from the race after finishing eighth in New Hampshire. DeSantis wants to avoid a similar fate as he prepares for the third GOP debate this week in his home state.

Like DeSantis or former president is ultimately elected president next year, it would be the first time Americans have elected a Floridian to lead them. Trump was a New York snowbird with a second home in Palm Beach when he was first elected, but later lost out as a full-time Floridian.

So while Florida is home to Disney World’s Hall of Presidents, that’s not the place to look for representation from the nation’s third largest state. And even if home field advantage gives DeSantis an opening to talk about his performance in the Sunshine State, there is no historical evidence to suggest it will help him in the race itself.

“I really have no idea why this is the case,” said former Gov. Jeb Bush, who was considered the front-runner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination before the rise of Donald Trump reshaped the party.

Florida has long been influential in national politics — never more so than in 2000, when it was preceded by five weeks of recounts and court challenges. carried the state and won the presidency with 537 votes. And more and more Floridians have sought the presidency as the population has exploded and Republicans have driven Democrats from power in Tallahassee.

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At the start of the 2016 presidential cycle, many political observers thought the former Bush administration and Senator were the presidential nominee. would win the Republican nomination to challenge Democrat Hillary Clinton. Trump wasn’t initially taken seriously by either campaign — until he offended both Floridians as he rose to the top of the Republican pile.

It was not the time for either of them. Bush would have been the third member of his family to become president, and Trump’s nickname “Low Energy Jeb” seemed to stick at a time when voters were not in the mood for an establishment candidate with a hint of inevitability, perhaps even something he was entitled to.

Rubio brought youthful energy to the campaign, but he never found traction against a pugnacious candidate who specialized in branding and called him “Little Marco.” Rubio tried to match Trump with his own brand, at one point challenging Trump on the size of his hands, but the change in strategy only seemed to shrink him further – and by then Trump was well on his way to Republican nomination.

By 2020, Trump had become Florida himself, changing his residency and voter registration to Florida, a state he desperately needed to win to earn a second term in the White House. He carried the state but lost to President Joe Biden in the Rust Belt, adding his name to the list of Floridians who lost a presidential bid. That list continues to grow, but includes Askew, Bush, Rubio and former Senator Bob Graham.

There is one more notable asterisk. President Andrew Jackson was Florida’s first territorial governor in 1821, but it was a short stint to keep him busy as he tried to retire. It’s described as “a tough few months” before he returned to Tennessee and eventually ran for the White House from the Volunteer State.

“If you follow Jackson’s progress toward becoming a presidential candidate, Florida has very, very little to do with that,” said Daniel Feller, a Jackson historian and professor emeritus at the University of Tennessee. “Florida didn’t do much damage to his presidency. national fame, but that certainly did not contribute to it.”

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Politics were certainly different back then anyway. Jackson actually took the job as a favor to President James Monroe after the US took over the territory from Spain.

“It was clear between Jackson and Monroe from the very beginning that this would be a temporary appointment,” Feller said, noting that Jackson’s wife was not a fan of the idea. ‘Jackson didn’t think Rachel would like it that much and he was right. Rachel hated it.”

Florida had a sparse population when it became a state in 1845. The federal census five years earlier counted fewer than 55,000 people, nearly half of whom were African American slaves. It wasn’t until air conditioning became more affordable and effective in the mid-20th century that the state’s population began to grow.

However, that quickly changed. The number more than doubled from less than 2 million in 1940 to more than 5 million in 1960 and has not stopped growing. And the demographics shifted from a southern, agricultural state to a mix of populations that were more reflective of the nation as a whole.

While North Florida and the Panhandle remain largely south, the rest of the state is an eclectic mix.

Immigrants from Cuba, Haiti, and other Latin American countries have a large presence in South Florida, central Florida has a large Puerto Rican population, conservative Midwesterners have moved en masse to the southwestern Gulf Coast, and liberal New Englanders have migrated to the southeastern Atlantic Coast. . There is a lot of mixing between these groups, but a large majority of the state’s population was born outside of Florida.

As the population changed, so did the politics of the state. What had been the key swing state in 2000 has been reliably Republican in the past two presidential elections.

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Democrats dominated state legislatures for decades, but Republicans’ power has grown steadily this century. Until two years ago, Democrats always had an advantage in voter registration. Now Republicans have about 5.2 million registered voters, compared to about 4.6 million Democrats.

The Republican Party has easily held the legislature and governorship since 1999. While Republicans remain unstoppable in state politics, the state has been less predictable in presidential years. Since the 2000 recount, it has backed Bush for re-election, Barack Obama twice and Trump twice.

Trump is again at the top of the polls in Florida. Although he will not participate in Wednesday’s debate in Miami, he is holding a rally nearby in a city that is 95% Hispanic or Latino, a signal that he is trying to boost support among the state’s Hispanic voters.

The only certainty is that Floridians will continue to try to win the White House. If neither DeSantis nor Trump win in 2024, there’s always 2028 and the possibility of Rubio and DeSantis running again, perhaps joined by former governor and current Senator Rick Scott, who has long been speculated to have presidential ambitions.

Former Florida Republican strategist Rick Wilson, who worked on the presidential campaigns of both George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush, said the state is a political late bloomer on the national stage.

“Florida is a state that has not reached its political maturity as early as others,” said Wilson, founder of the Lincoln Project, which opposes both Trump and DeSantis. “We had a much longer adolescence in which we were in a remote corner. ”

That could all change soon enough.

“The money is here, the importance of the vote is here, the importance of the Electoral College is here,” he said. “Now we need someone who actually has the skills.”

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