Despite recent progress, Democrats suffered some serious backsliding in growing southwest Florida and the Treasure Coast (minus St Lucie County which has acted more as an appendage of southeast Florida, than like northern Palm Beach, Martin or Indian River counties in recent elections) on Tuesday. My explanation is simple: when Democrats have done well in this area, the party has been strongly identified with environmental protection, promotion of green technology, restoration of the Everglades and clean water. Both regions are very conservative economically but understand maintenance of a sustainable Florida is critical to positive economic growth.
We’ve already written about the regression Obama suffered in Flagler/Volusia/ St Johns counties which were among the worst drop offs in the state from 2008. Even worse was southwest Florida where Lee, Collier, Charlotte, and Sarasota were all among the worst 10 counties for Obama as far vote drop from 08′. Indian River and Martin on the Treasure Coast also fit that bill, as do the aforementioned counties in northeast central Florida. In fact the only county that declined at similar rates to the areas we’ve chronicled for Obama was Sumter where conservative senior growth in the Villages means the population is substantially different today than it was in 2008 and far different than 2004 or 2000.
The de-emphasis of environmental issues by Florida Democrats hurt the Obama campaign in these areas. Martin, Indian River, Charlotte and Collier counties have been traditionally anti-growth and in favor of punishing polluters in order to fund Everglades restoration. In fact, the only area where Congressmen and legislators from these two regions have broken with GOP orthodoxy over the past two decades is on issues related to environmental protection and preservation. Collier has shifted towards a more pro-growth posture recently, but it is not without serious local opposition that this has taken place.
President Obama and VP Biden both visited SW Florida during the campaign but it did little to move votes or increase Democratic turnout. The hope is that going forward that if Democrats stress environmental issues they can stem a negative tide in these two regions.