In 1994, Democratic Governor Lawton Chiles won reelection by just over 70,000 votes statewide. This year, President Obama carried Florida in his reelection by almost the same exact raw vote margin. However, the consistencies between the vote numbers stop there. Chiles won by combining the traditional Democratic counties of Leon, Alachua and Volusia, with close victories in a large number of rural north Florida counties and runaway wins in Broward and Palm Beach counties. This was the traditional Democratic road map to victory from 1970 until 1996. Chiles was beaten along the I-4 corridor even in his home county of Polk, carrying just Pinellas (by an extremely narrow margin) and Volusia. The Governor was beaten throughout the traditional Republican “horseshoe” which at the time was anchored by the Orlando area. Chiles also in 1994 became the first person to win the Governorship without winning Hillsborough County in modern Florida history (Rick Scott would become the second in 2010).
Last month, President Obama won the state by carrying urban areas despite being routed throughout the rural areas of north Florida, and in the traditionally Republican areas of southwest Florida. Shockingly, Obama lost Voluisa County, long one of the most reliable Democratic counties in the state, yet still prevailed. As the below chart indicates, the President’s gains in the Orlando Metropolitan Area were most significant when compared to the Chiles result in 1994, and reinforces the shifting demographics and growing urban/rural split in the state. It is also worth noting that even though the President did not carry Duval County, he ran substantially better there than Chiles did. Duval County/Jacksonville throughout the 1980s and 1990s was electorally polarized by race with very few white voters continuing to support Democrats at the top of the ticket, and virtually no black voters supporting the GOP . Jacksonville today has become a more cosmopolitan city and that has been reflected by the recent upsurge in support for top of the ticket Democrats and the election of Mayor Alvin Brown. Additionally, Broward County which accounted for three times Chiles margin of victory in 1994 has grown even more Democratic which is contrary to the conventional wisdom in the 1990s which held that when Jewish condo leaders died off, Broward would gradually shift towards the Republicans. Miami-Dade is also rapidly moving towards Broward like levels in Democratic performance, as indicated by Obama’s 2012 performance.
The entire comparison chart is below.
|County||Chiles||Bush||Obama||Romney||D % swing||County Size|