Slowly but surely, the 2024 Senate cycle is shaping up, with eager candidates or battle-tested incumbents throwing their hats in the ring. Some campaigns are being launched. Others are brewing behind the scenes. And in some states, party operatives are already homing in on their preferred contenders for competitive contests.
But in Florida, it’s a slow start, to say the least.
Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) is running again. But leading state Democrats have been crickets about whether or not they’re interested in going against him.
Only seven of Florida’s eight Democrats in Congress are eligible for the Senate; Rep. Maxwell Frost is too young. Two of those eligible seven haven’t even served a full term in Congress—Rep. Jared Moskowitz is a freshman and Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick took office in January 2022 after winning a special election. (Neither Cherfilus-McCormick nor Moskowitz responded to requests for comment on whether they’d consider a Senate run.)
And that leaves five—Reps. Darren Soto, Kathy Castor, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Frederica Wilson, and Lois Frankel.
According to a spokesperson, Wilson has “no interest in running for the U.S. Senate.” Frankel is running for re-election, per a source. Wasserman-Schultz didn’t respond via email—and when The Daily Beast caught up with her in the Capitol, she quickly said, “I’m going to the floor and voting right now.” The rest didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Perhaps it’s too early for some to think about the possibility. Or perhaps Florida Democrats really aren’t as optimistic as they used to be about statewide runs. After all, in 2022, they were—to put it mildly—walloped.
Some have pointed to Scott’s lackluster wins in past cycles as evidence of him being vulnerable in 2024. Others, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have theorized that Scott might have some questions to answer back home after his plan to sunset Medicare and Social Security blew up in his face, repeatedly.
Democratic operatives in Washington think the same. Nora Keefe, spokesperson for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said in a statement that Scott's "disastrous agenda to gut Social Security and Medicare and his massive vulnerabilities will lead him to defeat in 2024.”
Scott has removed Medicare and Social Security from his broad sunsetting plan after widespread backlash.
But even with that in tow, the last time Scott ran for statewide office in Florida, the political landscape in the state was noticeably different. Florida used to be a definitive swing state—and Democrats, even if they didn’t always win, gave Republicans runs for their money.
Then, Florida went red in the 2018 Senate and gubernatorial races. And red again in 2020—voting for Trump by 2.2 points. Then it turned even more red in 2022, as Gov. Ron DeSantis won re-election by more than 19 points and Sen. Marco Rubio won re-election by more than 16 points—both margins that would have been unthinkable just years ago.
That’s not an appealing trend line for prospective Democratic contenders—especially those who would actually have something to lose, like a cozy blue seat in Congress, for one.
In D.C., Senate campaign operators didn’t seem any more eager to talk about recruitment for the Florida Senate race.
Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), chair of Senate Democrats’ campaign arm, told The Daily Beast in the Capitol Wednesday, “We’re talking to some folks and making some headway but still not there yet.”
Asked whether he was confident the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee could find a competitive candidate in the state, Peters said quickly while scuttling into an elevator, “We’ll find a good candidate.”
To be sure, there are still state-level Democrats who could hop in. But they too—for the most part—were non-committal, with virtually everyone from whom The Daily Beast sought comment saying they’re focused on something else.
Democratic Leader of the Florida House Fentrice Driskell said she is “just focused on being the best Democratic leader” she can be. A spokesperson for Florida Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book said “she is often urged to run for higher office” but that “her focus right now remains squarely on the job she has been elected to do.”
State Rep. Anna Eskamani, another rising voice among progressives, said she is “focused on the [Florida] House right now.” Pressed a bit further, Eskamani said she’s filed for re-election in the state House, but added, “You can’t rule anything out in politics but that’s where my head and heart is right now.”
And a wild card remains in Florida political circles—former Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D), a moderate who voluntarily left Congress last year and who’s expressed frustration in the past with the state of Democratic politics.
Meanwhile, Republicans’ Senate campaign arm homes in on its favored 2024 candidates in key open primaries several states, including Pennsylvania and Montana, emphasizing rich self-funders who could give Democrats' historic edge in fundraising a run for their money.
Democrats, arguably, have no outright pickup opportunities in 2024. They’re on the defensive in Ohio for incumbent Sen. Sherrod Brown (D)’s bid for re-election, as well as in red state seats like those held by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Jon Tester (D-MT). While Tester announced he will run in 2024, Manchin has not made a decision yet.
Virtually every other Senate seat up for grabs is safely red. A handful—like Scott’s Florida—aren’t so red that it’s unimaginable for a Democrat to win, particularly given Scott’s poor favorability numbers. Democrats have also argued if they got the right candidate to run in Missouri against Sen. Josh Hawley (R) or in Texas against Sen. Ted Cruz (R), maybe, just maybe, they’d have a chance.
But all in all, it’s a grab-bag of longshots. And Florida’s political brass seem to know as much.
As Democratic recruitment for the Florida race lags, national Republicans are taking notice, and feeling emboldened in their prospects for keeping the seat. “Florida Democrats are facing a disaster in 2024,” NRSC spokesman Philip Letsou said in a statement.
“They have no bench,” Letsou added, “and no chance of competing statewide.”