Florida: Running Globally and Winning Locally
Kenneth D. Wald
In the November elections, the Florida GOP took control of the state senate for the first time since Reconstruction, pushed up its minority share of the state house to the highest level in the twentieth century, gained a net of one cabinet seat to forge a tie with the Democrats in that crucial executive body, and augmented its majority on the Florida congressional delegation. Republicans were also heartened by the landslide reelection of U.S. Senator Connie Mack, who had eked out the barest of victory margins in his 1986 race.
There was considerable disappointment at the GOP's failure to recapture the governorship, to dislodge a number of supposedly vulnerable first-term Democratic congressional representatives, to win control of the lower house of the legislature, or to obtain a larger majority of the state senate. Nonetheless, the GOP gains marked 1994 as a banner year, signaling the emergence of the Republican Party as an equal partner in Florida government and the transformation of the state from a modified one-party to a full-fledged two-party competitive system. If the rise of Florida Republicanism seemed less impressive than the GOP electoral surges in some other southern states, that was simply because there was a pattern of gradual electoral growth to build upon (Craig 1991; Parker 1992). With only incremental gains in votes and seats in 1994, the Florida GOP could nonetheless cross the threshold from opposition to political power.
The successes and failures of the state GOP call attention to the role of the Christian Right in Florida politics. Across the nation, commentators were quick to attribute a significant share of the massive Republican gains of 1994 to the mobilizing role of Christian conservatives (Berke 1994). Although it was perhaps predictable that a liberal organization like People for the American Way would emphasize the contribution of