How Blue is Broward
The Republican Party of Broward County doesn’t even pretend it can win Broward County for Mitt Romney this fall.
Their goal is a number: 35 percent.
No Republican in modern history has taken the state of Florida without attaining 35 percent of voters, said Richard DeNapoli, chairman of the Republican Party of Broward County. And, since Florida is one of the key states needed to win victory for a presidential candidate – if not ground zero — achieving that goal is more important than ever, he said.
“George Bush got 34.79 percent of Broward in 2004 and he won the state,” said DeNapoli. “In 2008, McCain got 33 percent. In 2000, Bush got 31 percent and we know had that ended up. We are just looking to push the needle and help the state party.”
Broward County, the second most populous county in Florida with 1.8 million residents, is the blueest county in the state, with Miami-Dade County coming in second. How blue is it? With 257,000 registered Republicans in Broward and 570,000 registered Democrats, “we’re outnumbered two to one,” noted DeNapoli.
Or, as prominent South Florida pollster and political strategist Jim Kane puts it, “it’s so blue here you can’t breathe.”
The reasons for Broward’s Democratic slant are well-documented. Once solidly Republican, the county changed dramatically when hundreds of thousands of retirees from New York and the northeast relocated to the county, starting back in the 1960s, filling high-rise condos in Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood and Hallandale. Largely Democratic, pro-union and liberal, they brought their ingrained voting habits with them.
No Republican has won a presidential race here since 1988, when George Bush beat Michael Dukakis.
And while many pollsters and voting experts had predicted the seniors would be dying out by now and replaced with younger, more conservative voters fleeing Miami-Dade County, the county’s partisan profile has remained unchanged.
“When you look at Democratic voting patterns in this county, they haven’t changed,” said DeNapoli. “The younger Cubans are not as Republican or conservative as their parents. We are now seeing immigrants from all over the world coming to Broward. When they come, they are usually Democrats.”
Additionally, according to Kane, droves of non-citizens have flocked to Broward County, including Canadians and Central and South Americans.
That doesn’t mean that the Republican Party doesn’t have strongholds in Broward, too, like the northeast part of the county, including Lighthouse Point, where all but one city commissioner is Republican. And despite the wide partisan gap, Broward is still the second largest Republican county in the state.
But the numbers are still overwhelmingly Democratic in Broward and Romney’s chances of winning the county, everyone agrees, are nil.
“I don’t think Mitt Romney has a chance of taking Broward,” said former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, one of the state’s most prominent Republicans. “It’s a tough place to be a Republican. The strategy is to cut down on your losses in Democratic strongholds and overperform in other areas.”
Republican voter registration drives, which have been effective in other parts of the state, are not particularly useful in Broward, noted DeNapoli.
“Voting habits are hard to break here,” he said. “You can’t just got a county fair and register hundreds of Republicans.”
Still, the Party has made tiny inroads in Broward, signing up 13,000 new Republican voters since the last general election, he said.
Cleaning up voter rolls has been one strategy of the Republican Party of Florida, albeit a controversial one. Florida Gov. Rick Scott has pushed elections supervisors to purge as many as 53,000 dead voters. But some of these local officials have balked at what they view as Scott’s interference with their roles and others have criticized the timing of the effort, launched just months before a presidential election.
One thing both sides agree is that voter turnout will also be crucial for both sides, but particularly for the Democrats.
“For the Democrats, it’s everything,” said Kane. “Republicans are better educated and tend to turn out no matter what. But Democrats need something to be excited about to vote.”
Mitch Ceasar, the longtime Democratic Chairman of Broward County, agrees. Voter turnout, coupled with the fate of the 275,000 independents in the county, keep him up at night.
“We have a change in Broward of seniors being replaced with swing voters or those who don’t vote at all,” said Ceasar. “High voter turnout is not guaranteed. I have to gaze with one eye on the turnout and the other eye at the undecideds. We are very concerned. Florida will be ground zero again.”
Ceasar said he is particularly concerned about an upcoming blitz of ads he expects the Republican Party to unleash in Florida. “The amount of money that will be dumped into Florida will be ghastly,” he said.
But Kane said Ceasar probably shouldn’t lose sleep. In 2008, President Obama’s team was skillful at turning out his base.
“He had one of the best ground games I’ve seen in Florida,” Kane said. “I expect we will see that again.”
Kane said it’s too early to predict what kind of percentages either party will take in Broward, but he expects to have a better sense in late September after both conventions, providing their artificial “bounce” in polls, are over.