Florida is typically the crown jewel of presidential elections. With its shifting make up and divided politics, there’s endless speculation every four years over where its 29 electoral college votes will fall.
Perhaps not as much in 2020, though.
Rather, Pennsylvania is more likely to determine the county’s fate, according to a majority of Florida’s sharpest political minds polled in the Tampa Bay Times monthly Florida Insider survey.
More than 70 percent of the 175 campaign operatives, fundraisers, political scientists and other veteran politicos polled said Pennsylvania will be more important than Florida in 2020.
Why Pennsylvania? President Donald Trump was victorious there in 2016. It marked the first time a Republican put the Keystone State in the win column since 1988. Democrats, though, won the governorship there two years later.
And though its population is shrinking, it still has 20 electoral college votes, a hefty haul for either party.
Mostly, Democrats will fight hard for it because it’s hard to imagine the party can win back the presidency without it. And that goes for many of the Midwest states that made up Hillary Clinton’s failed firewall.
More than half of the Florida Insiders said Wisconsin and Michigan as well as perennial swing state Ohio will be more important in 2020 than the Sunshine State. Trump won all of them in 2016.
Democrats can win the White House without Florida, but it would be nearly impossible to if Trump wins those Midwest battlegrounds again, many insiders said. Meanwhile, Trump’s path to victory without Florida is more difficult.
“Because Dems know Trump can’t win without Florida, they will do everything possible to pin him down there," one Democratic strategist said. "But they can win the White House with without it.”
A Republican insider agreed: “If Dems can’t win back those blue midwestern states, Florida won’t do any good for them.”
Others pushed back against that narrative. Florida’s electoral college windfall is too important for Democrats to ignore. Since 1984, only one presidential candidate — Bill Clinton in 1992 — lost Florida but won the presidency.
Forty of the respondents didn’t rank any state above Florida.
“There is no realistic way (some attempt to spin otherwise) to put together a winning electoral college map for either party to win without Florida,” a Republican said. “The same cannot be said about other states. Closely behind Florida would be Pennsylvania and Ohio.”
Here’s a potential wild card: What if Trump decides to allow offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico? It’s apparently under consideration, despite unanimous opposition among Florida’s Congressional delegation and Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Doing so would be disastrous for Trump’s chances in 2020, more than eight in 10 Insiders said. Just one respondent, a Republican, said that move would help him here.
One Republican said Trump will win Florida easily unless he “screws it up with drilling” in Florida, where memories persist of tarballs washing ashore Gulf beaches. Meanwhile, a Democrat opined swing counties that Trump surprisingly won, like Pinellas County, would shift if Trump allowed oil rigs off the state’s western shore.
“It could kill him in the state,” the Democrat said. “Even among his base in western Panhandle, it’s never been a popular idea.”
Speaking of the Panhandle, Trump gets a big chunk of the blame from Insiders for leaving Hurricane Michael victims without aid. But there’s plenty of finger pointing at Congressional Democrats and Republicans too.
This month’s Insiders were: Erin Aebel, Tom Alte, Jason Altmire, Gayle Andrews, Scott Arceneaux, Donna Arduin, Dave Aronberg, Brad Ashwell, Jon M. Ausman, Roger Austin, Ryan Banfill, Christina Barker, Scott Barnhart, Rodney Barreto, Ashley Bauman, Alan Becker, Geoffrey Becker, Samuel Bell, Wayne Bertsch, Ron Bilbao, Barney Bishop III, Greg Blair, Katie Bohnett, Matt Bryan, Bob Buckhorn, Alex Burgos, Kristy Campbell, Dean Cannon, Tim Canova, Al Cardenas, Reggie Cardozo, Chip Case, Kevin Cate, Mitch Ceasar, Jim Cherry, Alan Clendenin, Brad Coker, Mike Colodny, Hunter Conrad, Gus Corbella, Brian Crowley, Ana Cruz, Husein Cumber, Colburn David, Richard DeNapoli, Pablo Diaz, Victor DiMaio, Tony DiMatteo, Michael Dobson, Doc Dockery, Paula Dockery, Bob Doyle, Charles Dudley, Ryan Duffy, Barry Edwards, Eric Eikenberg, Alia Faraj-Johnson, Mike Fasano, Peter Feaman, Mark Ferrulo, Damien Filer, Mark Foley, Brian Franklin, Towson Fraser, Keith Frederick, Ellen Freidin, John French, Stephen Gaskill, Steve Geller, Richard Gentry, Susan Glickman, Susan Goldstein, Alma Gonzalez, Ron Greenstein, Joe Gruters, Marion Hammer, Abel Harding, James Harris, Rich Heffley, Cynthia Henderson, Ann Herberger, Mike Hightowers, Don Hinkle, Jim Horne, Aubrey Jewett, Jeff Johnson, Christina Johnson, Ken Jones, Eric Jotkoff, Fred Karlinsky, Joshua Karp, Henry Kelley, Jim Kitchens, John Konkus, Kartik Krishnaiyer, Stephanie Kunkel, Jackie Lee, Bill Lee, Matt Lettelleir, Jack Levine, Alan Levine, Tom Lewis, Stephanie Lewis-McClung, Bethany Leytham, Al Maloof, Javier Manjarres, Roly Marante, William March, Beth Matuga, Brian May, Kim McDougal, Clarence McKee, Seth McKee, Kathy Mears, David Mica, Paul Mitchell, Travis Moore, Lucy Morgan, Samuel Neimeiser, Meredith O’Rourke, Stephanie Owens, Maurizio Passariello, Alex Patton, Darryl Paulson, Anthony Pedicini, Jorge Pedraza, Juan Penalosa, Evey Perez-Verdia, Joe Perry, Ron Pierce, JC Planas, Bob Poe, Van Poole, David Rancourt, Marc Reichelderfer, George Riley, Jim Rimes, Terrie Rizzo, Pat Roberts, Jason Roth, Sarah Rumpf, Ron Sachs, Tom Scarritt, Steve Schale, Tom Scherberger, April Schiff, Mel Sembler, Kathleen Shanahan, Bud Shorstein, Kyle Simon, Patrick Slevin, Adam Smith, Eleanor Sobel, Alan Stonecipher, Nancy Ann Texeira, Cory Tilley, Frank Tsamoutales, Greg Turbeville, Christian Ulvert, Jason Unger, Greg Ungru, Matthew Van Name, Steven Vancore, Ashley Walker, Robert Watkins, Nancy Watkins, Screven Watson, Jonathan Webber, John Wehrung, Andrew Weinstein, Gerald Wester, Leslie Wimes, Jon Woodard, Zachariah Zachariah, Christian Ziegler, Mark Zubaly