Florida strikes out again, as one more presidential hopeful takes swing and miss | Opinon

Why can’t Florida, with all we’ve got going for us, produce a president? Or even a serious contender for either party’s nomination?

We’re the third-largest state, with 30 electoral votes. We send large delegations to both national conventions, decisive in nominating the Democratic and Republican tickets. We have probably the most diverse population in the country — rural and urban, young and old, southerners and Yankee transplants, every racial and education demographic niche — and we elect capable leaders.

All right, we elect some of the other kind, too.

When Gov. Ron DeSantis quit the Republican race, he continued a string of Florida flops dating back to then-U.S. Sen. Claude Pepper’s one-day attempt to stop Harry Truman at the 1948 Democratic National Convention.

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Ohio calls itself the “Cradle of Presidents,” sending eight sons to the White House. California and Texas, ahead of us in population, have each given us two in less than six decades. Yet Florida has never even provided a running mate.

Winning statewide races here can’t be so different from becoming governor or a senator anywhere else, it just doesn’t give leaders political street cred. They need to carry Florida — Bill Clinton in ’92 was the last president elected without our electoral votes — but they can’t be from the Sunshine State.

His national ambitions smothered in the snows of Iowa and New Hampshire, DeSantis technically “suspended” — rather than ended — his race. That’s like saying the Titanic suspended her inaugural voyage. Perhaps hoping to launch again in 2028, DeSantis quickly endorsed Donald Trump, who, while now a Florida resident, is a New York transplant.

The late Gov. Reubin Askew was avidly pursued by Democratic Party leaders in 1972, when the party needed a conservative southerner who was not George Wallace of Alabama. Unwilling to subject his family to the fishbowl of a national campaign, and knowing Richard Nixon would win anyway, Askew wisely stayed away from the 49-state avalanche U.S. Sen. George McGovern, D-S.D., led Democrats into.

A dozen years later, Askew ran but dropped out after New Hampshire. It was clear Walter Mondale had the nomination wrapped up from the start.

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U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, who’d succeeded Askew as governor, ran in 2004 but dropped out even before Iowa. He had voted against the Iraq war, and paid for it.

We’ll never know how former Gov. Jeb Bush or U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio might have fared in a normal presidential year. No campaign with Trump is normal, so 2016 can’t be assessed like any contest before or since.

Maybe DeSantis could have led the pack if Trump had stayed out this year. But nobody will pay to see a Rolling Stones “tribute” band when the real Stones are still touring, and the governor could never find much market share for his Trump-lite act.

Our elected officials didn’t become historical footnotes because they came from Florida, although that didn’t help much. Timing and events produce not just the candidates, but the kind of campaigns they run. Even a high-visibility pulpit like being governor of California worked well for Ronald Reagan in 1976 and 1980, but not for Jerry Brown in those same years.

Maybe the closest Florida came to a national nominee was in 1960, when the Kennedys considered Gov. LeRoy Collins for vice president. But Florida had only 10 electoral votes, and Collins couldn’t deliver them, while Texas had 24 votes that Lyndon Johnson could, and did, put in the Democratic column.

How different history might have been, if Collins had been vice president when JFK was killed.

Wistful wishing about what might have been is fun for political junkies, as we await the Trump-Biden rematch nobody wants. But it’s too bad some of Florida’s finest — or maybe less-than-finest — never got a chance to show what they could do on a national stage.

Bill Cotterell
Bill Cotterell

Bill Cotterell is a retired capitol reporter for United Press International and the Tallahassee Democrat. He can be reached at bcotterell@govexec.com. Distributed by The News Service of Florida.

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Cotterell: Why can't Florida produce a serious contender for President