As much as Democrats might want to exult over midterm-election results – one of the better recent outcomes for the party in power – they can’t ignore the drubbing they took in Florida, a longtime purple-colored battleground that has now turned solid red. Without a prompt assessment of what went wrong, the party risks losing the country’s third most populous state for the foreseeable future.

For the first time since the 19th century, no Democrat will hold statewide office in Florida come next year. Not only did Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Marco Rubio handily win reelection, both trounced their opponents in Miami-Dade, the state’s most populous county, with 2.7 million people, more than two-thirds of whom are Hispanic. In doing so, they underlined an awkward trend: Democrats’ brand with Latino voters is collapsing in Florida – and shows worrisome signs nationwide.

In narrowly losing Florida to Donald Trump in 2016, Hillary Clinton won Miami-Dade by nearly 30 percentage points. Four years later, Joe Biden’s margin there dropped to some 7 points. How did DeSantis and Rubio rack up double-digit wins in the county?

For one thing, Republicans undertook voter-registration drives focused on naturalized citizens from countries such as Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela – groups particularly receptive to the charge that Democratic policies amounted to “socialism.” A postmortem of the 2020 election by Equis Research zeroed in on why that accusation tends to stick: “While the socialism attack rings various bells, the through-line among those concerned is a worry over people becoming ‘lazy and dependent on government’ by those who highly value ‘hard work.’ ”

The analysis added that many Latinos defected to Trump in 2020 due to his “focus on reopening the economy” during the COVID-19 outbreak. In a similar way, DeSantis’s drive to keep schools and businesses open – despite criticism in the national media – became a key part of his Spanish-language advertising. Some 64% of the state’s Hispanics approved of his handling of the pandemic.

Even DeSantis’s most egregious stunt – sending a plane full of Venezuelan migrants to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts – drew solid Latino support. That should be a reminder for Democrats that Hispanics aren’t a monolith and immigration isn’t their defining issue. In fact, one recent survey found immigration ranked ninth among Latinos’ concerns, trailing behind the economy, education, violent crime and so on.

Democrats might be tempted to ascribe their setback to Florida’s unique demographics. But there’s growing evidence that the problem extends beyond the Sunshine State. Although the party successfully flipped one majority-Latino South Texas district, Republicans captured a neighboring one that had been represented by Democrats for more than a century. Even as Democrats carried majority-Latino districts in California, there were notable swings in the direction of the GOP. Redistricting has certainly affected various House races this year, but it doesn’t fully explain what appears to be a national rightward shift for Latinos of about 10 percentage points between 2018 and 2022.

In trying to reverse these trends, Democrats need to stop taking Latinos for granted and start focusing on what they actually care about. A good example is the au courant term “Latinx,” which is ubiquitous among party professionals but which only 3% of Hispanics adopt for themselves. Indeed, some 40% are bothered or offended by the term. Such pandering too often takes the place of actual policies. Democrats must learn to speak to Latinos’ real concerns – inflation, schools, crime, housing – and the solutions the party is offering.

Florida didn’t go from purple to stark red solely because Democrats went astray with Latinos. Among other things, Republicans benefited from an influx of GOP voters from other states, a huge registration drive, and a significant spending advantage. But such efforts only highlight the relative complacency of the Democrats. Unless they’re prepared to write off one of the biggest prizes on the Electoral College map, they’d better get to work.

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