Abortion, marijuana measures raise hope for Democrats in Trump's home state

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Ballot measures on abortion access and recreational marijuana may jolt election season in Florida, driving turnout among women and younger voters while giving Democrats renewed hope in former President Trump’s home state.

Until state Supreme Court justices Monday cleared the proposed constitutional amendments for the November ballot, increasingly red Florida was seen as a virtual lock for Trump. And it still may be.

But giving voters a chance to expand abortion access and make pot available to all adults could change the profile of who’s going to the polls. Trump and Republicans struggle with a significant gender gap while younger voters also favor Biden, polls show.

“It’ll bring out younger voters of all kinds and more white, female voters, both groups which lean heavy Democratic,” said Brad Coker, CEO and managing director of Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy.

“It’ll definitely help turn out voters in what for many was looking like a lackluster choice in the presidential race between Biden and Trump,” he added.

Seven states have voted in support of ballot measures endorsing abortion access since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022 and gave states authority to impose fresh restrictions.

If approved by Florida voters, abortion access would be assured in the state until fetal viability, usually considered 24 weeks.

Coming up: Nation's biggest test of abortion access

Florida will be the biggest state to take up the issue. But justices also heightened the focus on the measure Monday by separately ruling that a new Florida law banning most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy will take effect May 1.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed that limit into law last year. Trump, who overwhelmed DeSantis in the Republican presidential primaries and ridiculed the six-week law as a “terrible mistake,” now is being attacked for it in Florida.

Trump has twice carried Florida in runs for the White House. And with Florida Democrats diminished by DeSantis and Republican supermajorities in the state Legislature, the Biden campaign looked likely to bypass a state once considered the largest presidential battleground.

Not anymore.

Julie Chávez Rodriguez, Biden’s campaign manager, said Tuesday that Florida was a “key state” for his reelection in 2024.

“We will again continue to compete in Florida and we definitely see it in play and are looking forward to running a strong effort there,” she added.

Ballot measure may test Trump's dominance in Florida

“All we have to do is look at Ohio, Kansas and Kentucky, where earlier abortion ballot measures were approved, and we can see that this is a health care issue,” said Tara Newsom, a professor of government at Florida’s St. Petersburg College.

“Not just women, but men are coming out in support of reproductive health care. We have our largest growth of voters in Florida among independents, and this is going to be a litmus test of how those independents really align on social issues.”

While registered Republicans now outnumber Democrats by almost 900,000 in Florida, those affiliated with neither party represent more than one in four voters. They could prove decisive in campaigns up and down the ballot this fall, both parties agree.

U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, a Republican elected six years ago by just over 10,000 votes, is up for reelection this year. And his leading Democratic opponent, former U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, wasted little time lashing out at him for endorsing the six-week limit.

“Come November, Floridians will prove that we are committed to protecting our fundamental rights and standing up to the radical leaders who threaten them,” she said.

DeSantis and Attorney General Ashley Moody, a Republican, opposed both the marijuana and abortion measures. But unclear is how aggressive a campaign Republicans will launch against proposals which draw a significant level support among many GOP voters.

The measures need to win at least 60% support from voters to become law.

Attorney General Ashley Moody listens to arguments from the plaintiffs' attorney during a Supreme Court hearing on the 15-week abortion ban in Florida on Friday, Sept. 8, 2023.
Attorney General Ashley Moody listens to arguments from the plaintiffs' attorney during a Supreme Court hearing on the 15-week abortion ban in Florida on Friday, Sept. 8, 2023.

Mixed ruling for conservatives

Kristan Hawkins, president of national anti-abortion group Students for Life Action, said she was happy to see at least one of the Florida Supreme Court rulings yesterday, calling the six-week ban a “great victory.”

“We were obviously very excited to see the court affirm what we knew, that the state did have the right to act in protection of their most vulnerable,” said Hawkins, who was in Tallahassee last year as part of her group’s statewide effort to push for the six-week ban.

But she called the ballot measure “an unfortunate mistake.”

Conservative and evangelical organizations are certain to fight the abortion proposal in Florida. But big money campaigns are already gearing up behind both ballot campaigns.

State finance records show Floridians Protecting Freedom spent $15.6 million last year on the abortion access campaign, including the costly effort to collect and certify 891,523 signatures from Florida registered voters to qualify for the ballot.

Smart & Safe Florida, the marijuana proposal, spent $40 million, with $38 million coming from Trulieve, the Quincy, Fla., based company that is one of the largest medical marijuana companies in the world.

The Fairness Project, a top funder of progressive ballot initiatives, which touts its record of having won 34 of 35 campaigns, has been financing abortion proposals in Arizona, Missouri and Montana. This week, it added Florida to its list of states where it plans to be active.

Rachel O’Leary Carmona, executive director of Women’s March, said a ballot initiative boost isn’t automatic for Democrats.

“It’s not like it’s just magic. You’re not going to pull a rabbit out of a hat,” she said, adding that candidates will need to take a “clear policy stance” when it comes to reproductive rights.

Women’s March has been mobilizing in the state for months, long before the abortion proposal was ready for the ballot. “Now it’s a registration GOTV (get out the vote) game,” O’Leary Carmona said.

And Abhi Rahman, spokesman for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, also said a rare coalition of voters could be coming together this fall.

“Fundamental freedoms are on the line in Florida, and you’ll see everybody talking about it, be it from the Biden campaign all the way to the organizers of this ballot measure,” Rahman said.

This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Ballot measures on abortion, marijuana could boost Florida turnout