“There are few people on earth who can talk about this better than me, because that year [Hurricane Michael] had an impact,” he says. “There are some things that I think happened in Broward County that we couldn’t prove, but without Michael none of it would have mattered.”
Florida is now experiencing a similar situation to Hurricane Ian, which wreaked havoc in southwest Florida, one of the state’s most politically conservative regions.
Republicans in Lee County are assessing how the catastrophic storm will affect turnout and hope Ian isn’t a surprise in October that could give underdog Democrats a boost. The county provided 62,000 voters for Governor Ron DeSantis four years ago, and neighboring Collier County provided another 50,000, the third-largest governor’s margin of any counties in the state.
Much like Caldwell lost that 2018 election, other Republicans statewide saw narrow margins. DeSantis won the governor’s race against Democrat Andrew Gillum by just 40,000 votes after a recount, and Gov. Rick Scott defeated Democratic Senator Bill Nelson by just 10,000 votes to secure his seat in the Senate.
It could all give the GOP cause for concern in the run up to Election Day.
Yet the dynamics are different this election cycle, with some Republicans insisting they will do just fine in 2022 — in part using the lessons of 2018 as a guide.
DeSantis is well-liked to win reelection, with a recent Mason Dixon poll placing him 11 points ahead of Democratic challenger Charlie Crist. This year, Republicans are expected to beat the resource-shortage Democrats in the three cabinet races in Florida, and Sen. blonde frame consistently outperforms the Democratic Rep. Val Demingswith 7 points in some polls.
And because Lee County leans so Republican, there aren’t many competitive local general elections.
There are three school board races in second-tier elections — contests that have been much more prominent this election cycle after DeSantis approved more than two dozen candidates and put money into the races.
But some political advisers are downplaying the general effects the storm will have on voter turnout and electoral operations.
“There are many, many ways people can vote,” said David Johnson, a longtime Republican consultant in Florida. “I don’t think it will affect the election results. Unfortunately, there are people who cannot vote, but as we learned in Michael, four to four voters find a way to vote. They always do.” Four-four voters refers to Republicans who voted in the previous four elections.
Election officials are now likely to try to replicate the efforts made in the Panhandle after Hurricane Michael. In Fort Myers, near where Ian made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane, entire buildings were reduced to rubble and catastrophic flooding caused extensive damage. Officials are weighing several options they have used in the 2018 post Michael, including forming “voting centers” where election workers can collect voter ballots.
“Of course the human toll is more important, but I think we need to look at Hurricane Michael and how much turnout stayed high for that race,” said Skylar Zander, Florida state director of the conservative group Americans for Prosperity, which has field teams. in southwestern Florida. “For centre-right folks, I think watching the Hurricane Michael playbook is as good as we can get because they’ve done a great job.”
The author of much of that script is Mark Andersen, Supervisor of Elections for Bay County, whose county was one of the hardest hit by Hurricane Michael. Compared to 2014, about 30,000 fewer people voted in Bay County, but turnout among those who remained in the region and qualified did not decline.
“You have to make sure that everyone is mentally prepared to perform,” Anderson said. “You have to know how hard and when you can push. Many of the people who do this, including pollsters, will have lost their homes and you start discovering those things as you go.
He said he’s been talking to Lee County Election Supervisor Tommy Doyle since the storm hit, and he’s “on his game,” Andersen said.
The landscape of 2022 is different from 2018, when every race statewide was competitive and Democrats put real money behind their recruited candidates. DeSantis won his race 71-16 in Bay County and scored a 73-27 win in Okaloosa County.
“After Michael in 2018, there was a decline in voter numbers in the hurricane-affected areas, but we were able to actually increase the margin of Republican votes in Bay and Okaloosa County, which mitigated the impact,” said Evan. Power, the Republican Party of Florida’s chair of seats.
Florida State Sen. Ray Rodrigues, a Republican who represents some of Lee County’s hardest hit areas, says he’s optimistic the county will be ready to hold good elections. He said they expect 95 percent of Florida Power & Light county customers to have power by the end of the week and that the Lee County Electric Cooperative will fully restore Cape Coral, one of the county’s largest cities, by Saturday. will have.
“If that happens, we should be in better shape,” Rodrigues said.
But despite the optimism, Hurricane Ian Caldwell is reflecting on his loss in 2018 and worrying about what will happen in November. He warns that the catastrophic nature of the hurricane could play a major role in Florida’s midterm elections.
“It can affect things. Absolutely,” Caldwell said. “I think it will be just as hard [as Hurricane Michael] here.”