Instead, all eyes are on 2014, and many of them are on Gov. Rick Scott. His first term is up in 2014; Scott said he plans to seek a second term in office.
After their best election year in more than two decades, Florida Democrats are hopeful their success in 2012 will translate into electing a Democratic governor in 2014.
With two years before the gubernatorial election, the Naples Republican already has competition. State elections records show nine people, including Democratic outgoing state Sen. Nan Rich of Weston, have filed paperwork declaring their intention to run for governor. And political experts said the next two years likely will bring a flood of contenders hoping to knock out Scott.
“Rick Scott has a huge target on his back,” said Kevin Cate, a Tallahassee-based political consultant and veteran of several Democratic campaigns. “There’s a good opportunity to take the governor’s office.”
This isn’t the first time Democrats are feeling a postelection glow. They felt the same after a good election in 2008, then suffered what may have been their worst election in 2010. Two years ago, Floridians gave Republicans the governor’s office, three cabinet seats, a U.S. Senate seat and a supermajority in the state Legislature.
This year the election shook out differently. The state will fall into President Barack Obama’s column, voters took away Republicans’ supermajority in the Legislature and are sending four new Democrats to Congress.
“The Democrats are emboldened by the results,” said Susan MacManus, a political-science professor at University of South Florida in Tampa. “It just builds on 2008.”
Building on successes year-over-year may be exactly what Democrats need, Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith said.
“Sometimes (to win) you have to prove to people you can win,” Smith said. “I think we have proved … what many people didn’t think we could do.”
To do it again, Cate said, officials in the state Democratic Party will need to learn from the Obama campaign. That means running up large margins in South Florida and the Interstate 4 corridor, as well as keeping minority voters, like Hispanics and blacks, in the Democratic column.
But Republican officials said they too plan to apply the lessons learned from the Obama campaign to Scott’s re-election bid.
“We’re obviously going to look long and hard at how they did it and apply some of those lessons to our own model,” said Brian Burgess, communications director for the state Republican Party.
Rick Hartley, a Republican state committeeman from Duval County, said the party will refocus its efforts on neighborhood politics. That means a lot more door-to-door efforts and voter outreach.
Hartley said the party also will take a “good hard look” at outreach programs in the Hispanic, Jewish and black communities.
“We’ve got a lot ahead of us,” Hartley said.
One of the issues ahead for Republicans is turning around Scott’s approval rating. A Daily News/Scripps poll conducted by Public Policy Polling in October showed Scott had an approval rating of 36 percent.
The poll — commissioned by E.W. Scripps television stations in West Palm Beach and Tampa, the Treasure Coast Newspapers and the Naples Daily News — showed 57 percent of Republicans approved of Scott’s performance, while 69 percent of Democrats disapproved of the governor.
Independent voters were split, with 38 percent giving him a favorable rating and 36 percent giving him an unfavorable rating.
“I’ve gotten to know our governor … and I believe our governor is almost totally devoid of charisma,” Hartley said. “But he is competent and I will take competent over charisma almost every day.”
Scott is keeping quiet about whether the outcome is a sign that his own re-election bid may be in trouble. When asked Tuesday in Naples about how the results would affect his 2014 run, Scott said the state has taken the right steps under his leadership and he’s worked to cut the size of government and taxes.
“What I know is I travel the state every day, I talk to families every day,” Scott said later in the week. “I know what they care about. It’s what I’m focused on.”
Cate said leaders in the state Democratic Party are doing the same, and are likely looking at precinct-by-precinct results to figure out a path to victory in 2014.
Experts said it’s too early to say who Scott will be up against in November 2014, but pundits are speculating that 2010 Democrat nominee Alex Sink could run again, as might Republican governor turned independent Charlie Christ. This much, both sides can agree on: 2014 won’t be an easy win for either party.
“Look at the results of every election. Florida is so evenly divided,” Hartley said. “It will be a close election.”
– Via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of the Naples Daily News.