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Georgia Runoffs Sending Florida Pols Flocking North

Georgia election results by county
NPR.org

Florida politicos are crossing over into Georgia as that state faces a critical runoff in two U.S. Senate races. Those seats could decide the fate of the Senate—and Republicans and Democrats are battling to get their candidates across the finish line. The fight over Georgia, coupled with Florida’s relatively low profile at the moment, is raising a question: is Georgia, the new Florida?

Florida has traditionally been a hold-out state. Tight elections followed by nail-biting recounts, slow processes, have given the state the nickname: “Flori-DUH” It’s a remnant of the 2000 Presidential Election Recount and the fight over hanging chads and bad ballot designs. But this year, Florida did something that would be considered unremarkable anywhere else: It managed to carry out a smooth election with few problems, something Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee noted on Election Night.

“The isolated challenges that I described earlier today occurred in a handful of precincts out of nearly 6,000. What that tells us is that Florida Supervisors of Election and their staff were prepared, ready, and equipped to meet whatever challenges came their way today," she said.

Not so across the Georgia-Florida line, where that state’s U.S. Senate races have been derailed by recounts and slow processes. Now Florida political activists like Bay County’s Beverly Wall, are eying Florida’s neighbor to the north:

“I...want to roll up my sleeves and get to work.”

Also getting to work in Georgia: Florida’s two U.S. Senators

“This is Georgia’s decision to make. But it’s America that will live with the consequences of the decision that they make here," said Florida's Marco Rubio during a recent campaign event for his Georgia colleagues, Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.

The two are in a runoff with Democratic challengers Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff.

Florida U.S. Senator Rick Scott has also jumped into the fray, with an ad characterizing a vote for Democrats in the Georgia runoffs as, “reduced funding for police, eliminate employer-based health insurance…chip away at our gun rights," Scott said in a digital ad trying to link Warnock and Ossoff to U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

“Florida’s obviously trending red [and] Georgia is obviously trending blue," said Sean Shaw, a former Democratic Florida lawmaker who founded the group People Over Profits.

Both Florida and Georgia’s political shifts have happened amid demographic changes. Both states have become more diverse, but with different political outcomes. Take Atlanta:

“If your Black, everyone wants to go to Atlanta. So you're starting to see not only Atlanta but the suburbs around Atlanta…it’s the reason you have Georgia doing what it's doing and I think we need to understand that while Florida is doing some of that, it’s being offset by retirees coming here to escape taxes," said Shaw, explaining how demographic shifts are changing the political calculus in both states.

While that's benefited Democrats in Georgia, Florida is another matter. Democrats were crushed up and down the ballot, losing even more seats in the Florida legislature. As Shaw notes, a browner state doesn't necessarily mean Florida is in the bag for Democrats. That's because the older retirees are still flocking to Florida—and bringing their politics with them.

Democrats, Shaw says, can no longer bank on demographic shifts in Florida to help out their ranks.

“I think we’re going to have to get our way out of this by learn how to talk to Floridians rather than hoping Demographics saves us.”

Shaw and others in the state’s political class find themselves in a strange place right now. Normally, they would be battling over recounts, but with a few exceptions, that’s not happening. All eyes are on Georgia, he says, because that’s where the action is.

Valerie Crowder and WABE News contributed to this report.