Ron DeSantis has a problem. It’s Florida.
The curse of Florida Man — and to date, all of Florida’s presidential candidates have been men — persists despite the state being an ideal testing ground for a White House bid. Winning a statewide office requires campaigning in two time zones, 10 TV markets and 66,000 square miles. It is home to more than 22 million people, many of whom come from other states, allowing Florida politicians to learn about a wide range of customs and political styles.
It’s a curious predicament for the country’s third-largest state. Florida of course has ties to the White House. Presidents have retired there. They owned vacation homes there. Trump himself moved there midway through his first term as president, changing his official residence from Manhattan to Palm Beach.
But in the nearly 180 years since Florida was admitted to the Union, it has not produced a president or spawned one within its borders. (No, Andrew Jackson’s pre-statehood stint doesn’t count.) It’s the only state among the nation’s 10 most populous that has never sent anyone to the White House.
Texas, which became a state nine months after Florida, can nominate three presidents — four, if you count Denison-born Dwight Eisenhower. California, which gained statehood five years after Florida, produced two. Even Hawaii, the last state admitted to the Union in 1959, can boast of having a presidential pedigree, with the birthplace of Barack Obama.
Florida’s lack of presidential bragging rights shouldn’t come as a complete surprise. This stems, at least in part, from the low esteem in which Florida — and its politicians — were held for the first century of its existence and perhaps beyond.
When writer John Gunther takes stock of the nation and its politics in the 1940s for his panoramic book, Inside the United States., he noted that “Florida’s quirkiness in everything from architecture to social behavior [is] unmatched in any US state.
“Sometimes people compare California to Florida,” Gunther wrote of the nation’s sunny states, “but intellectually there is no comparison.”
Mid-century VO Key, Jr., in his political science classic, Southern Politicsobserved that Florida was a politically atomized and unorganized state, “an incredibly complex mixture of amorphous factions”, with few politicians who could exert influence beyond their own county.
Florida, he wrote, “is not only without a boss, it is also without direction”.
In the 1970s, however, that began to change. Decade after decade, runaway population growth had swelled the state’s population; in the 1950s alone, Florida’s population nearly doubled in size. State constitutional revisions in 1968 finally allowed governors to serve more than one term. Soon after, the state began producing the best local talent, from both parties, and sending them to the national dance.
In a sign that Florida had finally arrived politically — no longer seen as a dumber, more corrupt version of California — the two parties held their conventions in Miami Beach in 1972.
The keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention that year was Reubin Askew, the much-loved governor of New South Florida. In 1984, after eight years as governor and a stint as U.S. Trade Representative, he would become Florida’s first pol to seriously run for president. Presenting himself as “a different kind of Democrat” to a crowded field, Askew’s long-term presidential bid didn’t go very far. He finished dead last among the leading Democratic candidates, with 1% of the vote in the New Hampshire primary and dropped out the following day.
Askew wasn’t the only Floridian racing that year. Truly unique to Florida, the incumbent he defeated to win the gubernatorial post in 1970, former Republican Gov. Claude Kirk, filed his candidacy for the New Hampshire primary minutes before the gubernatorial filing deadline. 5 p.m. — as a Democrat.
It had been 14 years since the mercurial Kirk – who once described himself as a “tree-shaking son of a bitch” – lost his re-election bid to Askew. The political rust kicked in: Kirk won just 24 votes statewide.
Florida’s next heavyweight to bid for the White House was Democrat Bob Graham in 2004. Widely considered one of the best governors in the state’s history, Graham had also served three terms in the Senate, where he served as chairman of the intelligence committee and led the congress. investigation of the September 11 attacks.
As a popular office holder in a politically important state, Graham figured as a formidable contender. But a damaged heart valve required surgery in early 2003, unexpectedly delaying her entry into the contest. He never caught up to his rivals and left the race in October, three months before the Iowa caucuses.
Closest to any state politician ever won the presidency in 2016, when Florida nominated two top Republican candidates, former Governor Jeb Bush and the senator. Marco Rubio. Bush started out as the overwhelming favorite for the GOP nomination. Rubio, at the time, was seen as a rising star in the party with an unlimited future.
Neither was prepared for Trump’s sudden and unexpected rise. Weighed down by his ties to the establishment and his family name, Bush was torn to pieces by the billionaire tycoon’s election campaign. After a disappointing performance in South Carolina, he suspended his campaign the following day.
Rubio went further, becoming the first candidate from Florida to clear the state’s first gauntlet. But his campaign ended in mid-March, having been plastered by Trump – in his home country, of all places. Rubio lost all but one of Sunshine State’s 67 counties.
Now, with Trump and DeSantis leading and runners-up in the GOP presidential elections in early 2024, Florida once again has a prime opportunity to place a resident in the White House.
But DeSantis is still running against Florida’s reputation as a gun-shaped anti-paradise of crooks, rejects and assorted crackpots who — well-earned enough or not — simply won’t die. The Florida Man Meme didn’t happen in 2013 out of nowhere, after all. Look at all the popular media that helped bolster the sinister caricature of the state: “Cops,” the true-crime show “48 Hours,” a library shelf of Carl Hiaasen’s goofy novels (not to mention his many imitators ). Florida produces a lot besides the viral headlines — sugar, oranges, and exceptional winter strawberries, to name a few exports. But it is above all a place where you go to escape, play (and misbehave). And that deliberate lack of seriousness has settled, like it or not, on its politicians who don’t get the same respect as those in states whose identities are built around more traditional industries.
Trump’s connection to the state is, of course, more tenuous. And her view of her adopted state isn’t exactly rosy. During an attack on DeSantis in March, Trump raised the idea that Florida was the kind of backward place his critics scoff at and that regularly delights the internet.
Trump argued that Florida ranks among the worst states in terms of Covid cases and Covid deaths. And that was not all. “In education, Florida ranks among the worst in the nation and on crime statistics, Florida ranked third worst for murder, third worst for rape and third worst for aggravated assault. “, the Mar-a-Lago resident said in a statement.
“Jacksonville was ranked among the nation’s top 25 crime cities, with Tampa and Orlando not doing much better. On education, Florida ranks 39th in health and safety in the nation, 50th in affordability and ranked 30th for education and childcare, À PEU DE GRANDE LÀ!
The endorsement of a true Florida Man.