Internet Explorer 11 is not supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Florida Democrats’ Self-Inflicted Wound

Canceling the presidential primary cost Florida Democrats in local races. In Ohio, it looks like Jason Stephens will survive as state House speaker after contested primaries.

Florida Democratic Chair Nikki Fried
Florida Democratic Chair Nikki Fried drew criticism for canceling the party’s presidential primary.
(Anthony Man/South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS)
Editor's Note: this article is a part of Governing's Inside Politics newsletter. Sign up here.

Florida Democrats’ Self-Inflicted Wound: There was never any doubt that President Biden would pick up all of Florida’s delegates. Unlike in other states, however, it was not the lack of real competition that guaranteed victory. Instead, it was the decision last year by the Florida Democratic Party to declare him the winner and not bother holding a primary at all. The also-rans were mad about that, but courts failed to intervene.

The result was that roughly 850,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats turned out to vote on Tuesday. Donald Trump already had the GOP nomination sewn up, but plenty of people were willing to come out and vote for him (with far fewer casting votes against him). By contrast, presented with no option at all, a lot of Democratic voters stayed home.

“Biden would easily have won with huge margins and people would have felt good about voting and having a choice, which is democracy,” says Susan MacManus, a political scientist at the University of South Florida.

It cost the party in down-ballot contests. Democrats lost local races that should have been competitive for them, or even gimmes, in Orange and Broward counties and other jurisdictions as well. Nikki Fried, who chairs the Florida Democratic Party, had touted the decision to skip the presidential primary as, in part, a way to focus on local races. Last month, the party highlighted seven candidates as part of its “Take Back Local” campaign. On Tuesday, three out of those seven lost.

Republicans didn’t bother disguising their glee. “If I had made the same egregious strategic blunder @NikkiFried and the @FlaDems made when I was Chairman of the @FloridaGOP people would have called for my resignation,” tweeted state Sen. Blaise Ingoglia.

Election coverage in Florida media centered on the notion that Democrats had deprived their own voters of being able to express their will. “No one understood why the Democrats just didn’t let there be a choice,” MacManus says. “These primaries give parties a chance to see where turnout is good, where it’s not and hone their message.”

In the days leading up to this week’s primary, Fried suspended three county chairs, arguing that it would help get the party in better fighting shape in the fall. Other Democrats questioned not just her decision but her timing.

“Using FDP’s limited resources to undermine the sustained work and the all-important morale of two of the largest Democratic counties in the state will no doubt affect the work that needs to be done in this election year,” says Maria Elena Lopez, the new acting party chair in Miami-Dade County.

Trouble for Trump?: Trump continued his almost unbroken primary winning streak on Tuesday. All of his challengers have dropped out. But their names are still on some ballots. Collectively, they did pretty well on Tuesday, collecting anywhere from 19 to 25 percent of the vote in five different states.

That may not be meaningful, but it’s an interesting indicator. Trump continues to struggle among suburban voters, who cost him his re-election in 2020. Presumably, most of them will end up voting for him in the fall, or staying home, with few of them likely to support Biden. But in what is likely to end up a close race, any sign of weakness in his own party is bad for an anointed candidate like Trump.

National polls indicate not only that Trump is leading, but that higher percentages of Republicans are ready to vote for him than Democrats who are committed to Biden. Still, Biden continues to rack up a greater share of his party’s primary votes than Trump.

Ohio House Speaker Jason Stephens
Despite primary setbacks, Jason Stephens may win another term as Ohio House speaker.
Jeremy Pelzer/TNS
Republican Split in Ohio: Last year, Jason Stephens was elected speaker of the Ohio House. Another representative, Derek Merrin, was the choice of the GOP caucus, but Stephens won the gavel thanks to support from all House Democrats and 22 Republicans.

Their critics call them the “Blue 22.” Half faced primary challenges on Tuesday, with several other races featuring non-incumbent Stephens supporters pitted against candidates ready to oust him. “For some folks in this election, this is about a referendum on a minority of Republicans who joined a majority of Democrats to elect a speaker,” said Donovan O’Neil, Ohio state director for Americans for Prosperity, a conservative advocacy group that endorsed several challengers.

Stephens could afford to lose no more than four supporters. That’s exactly how many were defeated, including Jon Cross, the assistant majority floor leader.

Stephens should be able to stay on as speaker, but it’s going to be tight. He’s expected to face a challenge from Matt Huffman, who is currently the state Senate president but is running for a House seat so he can become speaker there.

Clayton Harris III and Eileen O’Neill Burke
Clayton Harris III and Eileen O’Neill Burke are in a tight race for Cook County state’s attorney.
(Vincent Alban/Chicago Tribune)
No More Kims: In the early days of the progressive prosecutor movement, people sometimes referred to the “three Kims,” referencing Kim Ogg of Harris County, Texas; Kim Foxx of Cook County, Ill.; and Kim Gardner of St. Louis County. After this year’s elections, all three Kims will be out of power.

Two weeks ago, Ogg lost her bid for a third term, while Gardner, facing pressure from Missouri’s attorney general, resigned last year. Foxx announced in 2023 that she would not run again.

Eileen O’Neill Burke ran straight against Foxx’s record, complaining that she’s been soft on crime and that retail thieves have essentially been offered a get out of jail free card. She also said the state’s attorney’s office under Foxx is “woefully understaffed and mismanaged.”

Burke has been holding a narrow lead in the Democratic primary vote counting over former prosecutor Clayton Harris III, who had Foxx’s backing. Enough mail ballots are still outstanding to change the outcome. But regardless of how the race turns out, O’Neill Burke’s strong showing is another sign that progressive candidates are facing increasing headwinds in prosecutor elections.

Also in Chicago: Mayor Brandon Johnson supported a ballot measure that would have led to increased taxes on the sale of commercial and high-end properties. Johnson said it could mean $100 million in additional revenue for the city, money he planned to devote to programs to combat homelessness.

Like other tax increases the mayor has backed, the referendum failed.

"Even in a low-turnout primary, Mayor Johnson failed to move enough voters to advance his chief proposal to hike Chicago's real estate taxes," Matt Paprocki, CEO of the conservative Illinois Policy Institute, said in a statement. "This is a political blow to Johnson and the Chicago Teachers Union, who aggressively supported this tax hike."

In 2022, Los Angeles voters approved a similarly structured tax increase, known there as the “mansion tax.” Its opponents have gathered enough signatures to put a repeal measure on the ballot this November.

Previous Editions
Alan Greenblatt is the editor of Governing. He can be found on Twitter at @AlanGreenblatt.
From Our Partners