“There are few people on the planet better at talking about this than me, because that year [Hurricane Michael] It had an impact,” he said. “There are some things that I think happened in Broward County that we weren’t able to prove, but without Michael, none of that would have mattered.”
Florida is experiencing a similar situation now with Hurricane Ian, which caused widespread damage in Southwest Florida, one of the most politically conservative regions in the state.
Republicans in Lee County are assessing how the catastrophic storm will affect turnout and are hoping Ian isn’t an October surprise that could give underdog Democrats a boost. The county provided 62,000 voters for Gov. Ron DeSantis four years ago, and neighboring Collier County turned in another 50,000, the governor’s third-largest margin of any county in the state.
Just as Caldwell lost the 2018 election, other Republicans saw slim margins across the state. DeSantis won the gubernatorial race against Democrat Andrew Gillum by just 40,000 votes after a recount, and the governor. rick scott he defeated Democratic Senator Bill Nelson by just 10,000 votes to secure his Senate seat.
It could all give the GOP cause for concern ahead of Election Day.
The dynamic is different this election cycle, however, with some Republicans insisting they will do well in 2022, in part using the lessons of 2018 as a guide.
DeSantis is a heavy favorite to win re-election, with a recent Mason Dixon poll putting him ahead of Democratic challenger Charlie Crist by 11 points. This year, Republicans are expected to win against under-resourced Democrats in all three Florida cabinet races, and for senator. blond frame he consistently polls better than the Democratic representative. Val Demingsby 7 points in some polls.
And because Lee County is so Republican-leaning, there aren’t many competitive local election contests.
There are three school board races in the runoff election, races that have been much higher profile this election cycle after DeSantis endorsed more than two dozen candidates and poured money into the races.
But some political consultants are downplaying the overall effects the storm will have on turnout and election operations.
“There are many, many ways that people can vote,” said David Johnson, a longtime Republican consultant from Florida. “I don’t think it will have an impact on the election results. There are, very sadly, people who won’t be able to vote, but as we learned in Michael, voters four-four find a way to vote. They always do it. Four-four voters refers to Republicans who voted in the previous four elections.
Election officials are now likely to try to replicate the efforts made in the Panhandle after Hurricane Michael. In Fort Myers, near where Ian made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane, entire buildings were reduced to rubble and catastrophic flooding caused extensive damage. Officials are weighing a variety of options that they used in 2018 after Michael, including forming “vote centers” where poll workers can collect voters’ ballots.
“Obviously the human toll is more important, but I think we have to look at Hurricane Michael and how high turnout remained in that race,” said Skylar Zander, Florida state director of the conservative group Americans for Prosperity, which has field teams. in southwest Florida. “For people on the center right, I think looking at the Hurricane Michael playbook is the best we can get, because they did a great job.”
The author of much of that playbook is Bay County Supervisor of Elections Mark Andersen, whose county was one of the hardest hit by Hurricane Michael. Compared to 2014, approximately 30,000 fewer people voted in Bay County, but turnout among those who remained in the region and were eligible did not decline.
“You have to make sure everyone is mentally prepared to act,” Anderson said. “You have to know how hard and when you can push. A lot of the people who do this, including poll workers, will have lost their homes, and you start to find out those things as you go along.”
He said he has spoken with Lee County Supervisor of Elections Tommy Doyle since the storm hit, and that he is “on his game,” Andersen said.
The landscape of 2022 is different from 2018, when every state race was competitive and Democrats put real money behind their draft candidates. DeSantis won his race 71-16 at Bay County and had a 73-27 win at Okaloosa County.
“After Michael in 2018, there was a decline in voters in the areas affected by the hurricane, but we were able to increase the Republican vote margin in Bay and Okaloosa counties, which mitigated the impact,” said Evan Power of the Republican Party. from The Florida Chair of Chairs.
Florida State Sen. Ray Rodrigues, a Republican who represents some of the hardest-hit areas in Lee County, says he’s optimistic the county will be up and running to run a strong election. He said they hope by the end of the week that 95 percent of the county’s customers with Florida Power & Light will have power and the Lee County Electric Cooperative will have Cape Coral, one of the county’s largest cities, fully restored to Saturday.
“If that happens, we should be in better shape,” Rodrigues said.
But despite the optimism, Hurricane Ian has Caldwell thinking about his loss in 2018 and worried about what will happen in November. He warns that the catastrophic nature of the hurricane could play a significant role in Florida’s midterm elections.
“It could affect things. Absolutely,” Caldwell said. I think it will be just as difficult [as Hurricane Michael] here.”