Democrats see abortion and marijuana juicing youth vote in Florida

Abortion and marijuana will be on the ballot in Florida in November — two issues that are expected to mobilize young voters toward President Biden and Democrats in the Sunshine State.

The issues have proven to drive young voter turnout in other states, like Ohio last year, and Democrats are betting Florida will see a similar boost.

After the state’s Supreme Court ruled earlier this week that both issues could go before voters in November, Democrats quickly declared Florida was back in play despite its recent shift toward Republicans.

“Both abortion and marijuana legalization are highly resonate with young people, which is a key demographic that the president has got to turn out,” said Joseph Geevarghese, executive director of Our Revolution, a grassroots progressive group.

The Biden campaign on Monday released a memo announcing it would invest more in former President Trump’s home state, arguing Trump and the Republican agenda in the Sunshine State are “making Floridians’ lives worse.” Trump won the state with more than 51 percent of the vote to Biden’s 48 percent in 2020.

Biden campaign manager Julie Chávez Rodríguez said the campaign has released targeted ads focused on young voters in Florida, as well as Hispanic and Black voters.

“Make no mistake: Florida is not an easy state to win, but it is a winnable one for President Biden, especially given Trump’s weak, cash-strapped campaign, and serious vulnerabilities within his coalition,” she said in the memo.

Florida’s Supreme Court issued two rulings Monday on access to abortion, one that will allow a six-week abortion ban to take effect next month, and another that allowed for a ballot measure that would protect access to abortion up to 24 weeks if it passes in November.

The high court also opted on Monday not to block a ballot initiative that would legalize recreational marijuana use, after the Republican lawmakers in the state previously rejected the measure.

“Abortion and marijuana on the ballot could be an electoral earthquake for the youth vote in Florida. The GOP’s anti-choice, anti-cannabis stance isn’t just out of touch, it’s straight out of the stone age,” said Democratic strategist Michael Starr Hopkins, who was a senior adviser on Democratic Charlie Crist’s unsuccessful 2022 gubernatorial run in Florida.

“Having these two hot-button issues front and center is going to turbocharge youth turnout, which is never a good thing for Republicans.”

The setup in Florida in November is reminiscent of the 2023 ballot initiatives in Ohio.

Ohio voters legalized recreational marijuana, allowing adults 21 and older to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and grow up to six marijuana plants at home. That measure passed alongside a ballot measure that approved a state constitutional amendment that would establish a “fundamental right to reproductive freedom” with “reasonable limits” in Ohio, effectively protecting abortion rights at least up to the point of viability.

Democrats have seen a series of wins across the country when abortion has been on the ballot, following the Supreme Court overturning Roe v Wade in June 2022.

Democrats had a victory in ruby red Alabama last month when Democrat Marilyn Lands won a special election for a state House seat after she leaned into the issues of abortion and protecting access to in vitro fertilization (IVF). That election followed a state Supreme Court ruling that fertilized embryos are legally people, which forced some IVF clinics to close and put Republicans across the country on the defensive.

“Ballot initiatives can be game changing for campaigns. Just last week we saw a Democrat win a state house seat in Alabama focused on IVF, showing the power of the issue in a deep red state,” said Democratic strategist Andrea Riccio, co-founder of Velocity Partners.

“With recreational marijuana use and abortion access on the ballot, the Biden campaign has a real opportunity to activate young voters and turn Florida blue.”

Nikki Fried, chair of the Florida Democratic Party, noted the enthusiasm she already has seen among young voters since the rulings earlier this week.

“Just based purely on watching social media in the last 24 hours, the youth vote is excited about the opportunity to be voting on cannabis and abortion in November,” she said.

She added that young people are also energetic about Biden’s economic agenda, student debt forgiveness program, the focus on climate change, and efforts to curb gun violence.

But a major hot button issue for young Americans is ongoing U.S. support for Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, which has killed some 32,000 Palestinians. The push for voters to cast a boycott ballot, rather than voting for Biden in the Democratic primary, resonated the most with young voters in states like Michigan, Washington, Minnesota and Massachusetts, which had the highest concentration of protest votes in areas where young people live.

“The countervailing force here though is the war in Gaza and I think it remains to be seen how that plays out,” Geevarghese said. “I think the same voters who are disgusted by the Supreme Court’s roll back on reproductive rights are also the same voters who are disgusted by the U.S. providing weapons to Israel to kill innocent civilians.”

In the memo announcing the plan to try to flip Florida, the Biden campaign said that protecting abortion access, lowering health care costs, lowering housing costs, curbing gun violence, and combatting book bans are top issues it will focus on in the Sunshine State.

Biden could use a boost with young Americans nationwide after polls have suggested voters younger than 35 are gravitating more toward Trump. An Axios-Generation Lab survey of voters younger than 35 in February found Biden leading Trump by just 4 points, with 52 percent of respondents saying they would vote for Biden and 48 saying they would vote for Trump.

Overall, Trump has a 0.8 percentage point lead over Biden, according to The Hill and Decision Desk HQ’s aggregation of polls.

But Democrats hope abortion and marijuana will change those dynamics in Florida.

“If the GOP keeps underestimating the power of pissed off young people, they’re in for a rude awakening at the ballot box. Florida could slip from their grasp as cash-strapped Republicans struggle to counter the surge of energized young voters,” Starr Hopkins said.

“It’s a perfect storm that could spell disaster for the GOP’s chances in the Sunshine State.”

Julia Manchester contributed.

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