Can Democrats flip the Florida Legislature in 2022? Realistically, no.

Democrats, long the minority in Tallahassee, are just looking to hold onto what they have.
Members of the Florida House of Representatives work during a legislative session at the Florida State Capitol, March 8, 2022, in Tallahassee.
Members of the Florida House of Representatives work during a legislative session at the Florida State Capitol, March 8, 2022, in Tallahassee. [ WILFREDO LEE | AP ]
Published June 17, 2022|Updated June 17, 2022

Florida voters won’t have a say in more than a quarter of state legislative races after Friday’s qualifying deadline expired with no apparent opposition filed in 45 House and Senate seats where a Democrat or Republican failed to draw a challenger.

Currently, Republicans hold a 76-42 edge in the Florida House, with two vacancies, and a 23-16 advantage in the Senate, with one vacancy.

Some takeaways from qualifying:

  • Democrats fielded a candidate in each statewide race: Governor, Chief Financial Officer, Agriculture Commissioner and Attorney General. All of those positions are currently held by Republicans except for Agriculture Commissioner.
  • The House and Senate almost certainly will remain under the control of Republicans. Democratic leaders in both chambers say their priority is holding onto the seats the party already has.
  • The state House and Senate picture looks slightly better overall for Democrats after the once-per-decade redistricting process. However, what many perceive to be a faltering economy combined with President Joe Biden’s poor approval ratings could mean Democrats are in for tough sledding this fall.
  • In the Senate, Democrats did not appear to field a candidate in 15 out of 40 races as of Friday afternoon. In the House, Democrats apparently failed to contest 41 out of 120 races. Those numbers were somewhat subject to change with qualifications still trickling in late Friday. House Republicans celebrated the election of at least 20 of their members.
  • Republicans, rolling into an election cycle with the relatively popular Gov. Ron DeSantis at the top of the ticket, are not commenting on their legislative strategy.

The Legislature is responsible for introducing and voting on state legislation and confirming some appointments by the governor. To qualify, prospective candidates must pay a $1,781.82 fee or collect a certain number of signatures.

In 2020, Democrats had a theory: Recruit someone to run in each of Florida’s 141 legislative races, and the party’s statewide efforts would benefit from the down ballot exposure.

That didn’t exactly work out. Democrats not only failed to gain seats in the Legislature, their minority status deepened in both the House and the Senate. The down ballot efforts didn’t help the top of the ticket, either. Joe Biden lost to Donald Trump in Florida by more than three percentage points.

When asked whether Democrats had a chance to flip the Senate, minority leader Lauren Book, D-Plantation, was blunt.

“No. That’s going to be a multi-cycle plan,” she said Friday. “I’m not going to lie to candidates. I’m not going to lie to donors and I’m not going to lie to the public.”

Book noted the Democrats are targeting five seats: three opportunities to win open seats or seats held by Republicans, and two races in which incumbents want to hold onto office.

They are looking to flip an Orlando-area seat and a Miami-area seat, which are currently held by Sen. Jason Brodeur and Sen. Ileana Garcia, respectively. The Republicans who won those seats in 2020 had their victories clouded by allegations that they benefitted from “ghost candidates” — schemes that involve sham candidates siphoning votes away from a specific candidate.

And Democrats want to hold onto Sen. Janet Cruz’ Tampa seat and Sen. Loranne Ausley’s Tallahassee-area seat.

Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, who will assume the Senate presidency if Republicans hold onto power, was mum on her party’s plans for state Senate races.

“Needless to say we don’t talk strategy, polling, numbers or anything relative to operations of Senate campaigns,” Passidomo texted in a statement.

Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, who will lead the Democrats’ efforts to win legislative races, noted the tough environment for her party.

“The headwinds are against us, so I think by hanging a very focused strategy with strong candidates, we can maintain the power that we have and prevent us from slipping into a supermajority-superminority situation,” she said in a Friday interview, referring to a situation where the number of Democrats is diminished that they can do little to oppose Republicans with legislative procedures.