Will abortion turn Florida from red to blue? 

May 5, 2024

Democrats are hoping the fight for reproductive rights can turn Florida from red to blue in the fall. 

Once a quintessential swing state, Florida has shifted right in the Trump era, with the politics of the former president and Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis defining it. 

Democrats think that may change as those policies go too far for voters, and they point, in particular, to the new law banning abortion access six weeks after a pregnancy as a potential turning point.

“They’re going to be held accountable in November, and if that means we are flipping a lot of seats, it’s because people of our state realize that the Republicans, the MAGA extremists, took us in such a dangerous direction and want to bring new leaders into the fold,” said Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Nikki Fried. 

Last week, Florida Democrats seized on the state’s six-week abortion ban going into effect, with Vice President Harris traveling to Jacksonville on Wednesday to mark the event. 

The Biden campaign has already rolled out its state leadership team and, in a memo, noted that the Sunshine State is “not an easy state to win” but is winnable for Biden. 

“This is real,” said Christian Ulvert, a Florida-based Democratic strategist, who served as a senior adviser to the Biden campaign in 2020 in the state. “When they make those moves, it means they’re getting ready to make Florida a priority.”

Meanwhile, abortion rights advocates are gearing up to promote a November ballot measure known as Amendment 4 that would enshrine abortion rights in the state’s constitution up to 24 weeks of pregnancy, something that has been done in other red-leaning states. 

“It’s a part of an electoral strategy. When you’re looking at a big map, there’s offense and defense, and there’s no doubt that because of Amendment 4, Republicans are going to be on defense in Florida in a way that they didn’t think they were,” Ulvert said.

Democrats also say they hope the issue plays a role in Florida’s Senate race between incumbent Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and former Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-Fla.).

“We have a lot of issues and challenges that are facing our state right now, but I can honestly tell you that everywhere I have gone and all of the traveling that I have been doing for quite some time, we’ve been preparing for this moment and it is a top of mind issue,” Mucarsel-Powell told The Hill. “If it’s not the top concern, it’s definitely the top two, three main concerns for people across political affiliations.”

Mucarsel-Powell went on to accuse Scott of supporting a national abortion ban and said that abortion bans could lead to restrictions on in vitro fertilization (IVF) and contraception. 

“It’s extremely dangerous, and we’re seeing it happen across the country,” she said. 

Scott’s campaign denies that he supports a national ban and has hit back against Mucarsel-Powell by painting her stance on abortion as extreme, something other conservatives and Republicans have done in response to Democratic attacks on the issue. 

“Everyone knows that Senator Rick Scott supports the right to life. Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell does not. Floridians agree that there should be some reasonable limits placed on abortion,” said Will Hampson, a spokesman for Scott’s campaign. “Senator Scott has been very clear where he stands: No national bans, with the consensus at 15 weeks with limitations for rape, incest and life of the mother. Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell takes an extreme view opposing any common-sense limits on abortion.”

Republicans and other political observers are skeptical the issue will be impactful enough to change the political makeup of the state. 

At press conference this week, DeSantis called the idea that the Biden-Harris ticket would be competitive in Florida “a farce.” 

“”First of all — we’re gonna have a million more registered Republicans than Democrats by Election Day,” DeSantis said, going on to hit Democrats over inflation, the southern border, and overseas conflicts. 

Republicans also point to Florida voters’ history of electing conservative candidates and supporting left-leaning ballot measures, like measures on minimum wage and medicinal marijuana. 

“I could see it very possibly that this ballot amendment reaches 60 percent, the threshold, and Donald Trump and Rick Scott still win the state of Florida,” said one Florida-based Republican strategist. 

Regardless, Democrats have an uphill climb. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates the Senate race as “likely Republican.” Former President Obama was the last Democratic presidential candidate to win the state in 2012, and Fried was the last statewide Democrat to win in Florida, in 2018 as agriculture commissioner. Since then, Florida Republicans have racked up wins up and down the ballot, becoming an example to Republicans in other states. 

Partisan and nonpartisan political observers say reproductive rights will likely play a role in improving Democratic turnout in the state, but Republicans and neutral observers say they are doubtful the issue will do enough to flip GOP voters or convince independents to vote for Democrats.

“I do expect to see Democratic turnout increase from the depths it went to in 2022 when Ron DeSantis won by almost 20 points,” said Aubrey Jewett, an associate professor at the University of Central Florida’s School of Politics, Security and International Affairs. 

However, Jewett left the door open to the possibility that higher Democratic turnout could help the party’s candidates in state legislature races

“It may be a stretch to think that Joe Biden could win Florida but it’s not a stretch to think that Democratic turnout will be improved with this on the ballot, particularly compared to 2022,” he said. “And that might help with some other races.”