Florida Republicans have overtaken Democrats in the voter registration race, Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisWhy not a Manchin-DeSantis ticket for 2024? DeSantis says he disagreed with Trump's decision to shut down economy at start of pandemic Trump says politicians who won't confirm boosters are 'gutless' MORE announced on Friday.
“Today for the first time in the history of Florida we’ve now overtaken Democrats,” DeSantis said at the National Conference of State Legislatures. The governor's comments were first reported by the Tampa Bay Times.
The latest Florida voter registration numbers available to the public date back to August and show Democrats outnumbering Republicans by fewer than 24,000 voters. Political parties, however, often have more up-to-date figures at the county level.
DeSantis’s announcement would mark a major turning point in the Sunshine State. For years, Democrats have touted a massive voter registration advantage over Republicans. In 2008, when former President ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaAfter the loss of three giants of conservation, Biden must pick up the mantle Kyrsten Sinema's courage, Washington hypocrisy, and the politics of rage Former Obama White House adviser pleads guilty to wire fraud MORE carried Florida by about 200,000 votes, there were nearly 700,000 more registered Democrats in the state than Republicans.
But that advantage has eroded over the years as the GOP invested heavily in bulking up its numbers in the state. Democrats, meanwhile, have long complained that the state party lacked a cohesive and long-term voter registration strategy.
The GOP’s alleged voter registration advantage is likely to throw the state Democratic Party’s challenges into even starker relief. Democrats have suffered a series of disappointing defeats in Florida in recent cycles, often losing key races by razor-thin margins.
The 2020 election proved particularly devastating for Florida Democrats. Former President TrumpDonald TrumpClyburn says he's worried about losing House, 'losing this democracy' Sinema reignites 2024 primary chatter amid filibuster fight Why not a Manchin-DeSantis ticket for 2024? MORE not only carried the state for a second time in a row, but won it by more than 3 percentage points — a veritable landslide by Sunshine State standards.
Democrats also lost two South Florida House seats that they had managed to flip in 2018, as many voters in Miami-Dade County swung to the right.
Manny Diaz, the chair of the Florida Democratic Party, has vowed to build out the party’s voter registration operation. Still, Republicans aren’t showing any signs that they plan to slow down their efforts. Politico reported in September that DeSantis had pumped $2 million into the state GOP’s voter registration push.
Diaz pushed back on DeSantis's claim on Friday, arguing that the actual voter numbers show that "a disproportionate number of Democrats" have been moved to "inactive" status. He blamed the GOP for exaggerating their claim that Republicans now outnumber Democrats in Florida, and asserted that the opposite remains true.
"Let’s be clear here, these voters are still eligible to vote and there are still more registered Democrats than Republicans in Florida," Diaz said in a statement.
Diaz acknowledged that his party has "neglected to register voters at a rate that would maintain our edge" in recent years. Still, he argued, the GOP's claim that its voters outnumber Democrats is "nothing more than a convenient reporting of the numbers designed more for public relations purposes than informing Florida’s public.”
"[T]he changes that we have been seeing recently are due more to a suspicious pattern where many more Democrats are being moved to inactive than Republican voters. Ron DeSantis seems to be proud of how many people they have kicked off the voter rolls," he said. "The rate of voter purges has skyrocketed under this Governor. Remember, they control the Department of Elections and most Supervisors of Elections offices."
--Updated on Nov. 8 at 11:22 a.m.