THE VILLAGES, Fla. (AP) — Democrats are increasingly concerned that Florida, once the nation’s premier swing state, may slip away this fall and beyond as emboldened Republicans capitalize on divisive cultural issues and demographic shifts in crucial contests for governor and the U.S. Senate.
The anxiety was apparent last week during a golf cart parade of Democrats featuring Senate candidate Val Demings at The Villages, a retirement community just north of the Interstate 4 corridor. Once a politically mixed part of the state where elections were often decided, some Democrats now say they feel increasingly isolated.
“I am terrified,” said 77-year-old Sue Sullivan, lamenting the state’s rightward shift. “There are very few Democrats around here.”
In an interview, Demings, a congresswoman and former Orlando police chief challenging Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, conceded that her party’s midterm message isn’t resonating as she had hoped.
“We have to do a better job of telling our stories and clearly demonstrating who’s truly on the side of people who have to go to work every day,” she said.
The frustration is the culmination of nearly a decade of Republican inroads in Florida, where candidates have honed deeply conservative social and economic messages to build something of a coalition that includes rural voters and Latinos, particularly Cuban Americans. Donald Trump’s win here in 2016 signaled the evolution after the state twice backed Barack Obama. And while he lost the Whit