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Harris Abortion Florida
Vice President Kamala Harris was in Jacksonville, Florida the day the six-week abortion ban went into effect. John Raoux/AP

Florida Democrats Want to Win on Abortion. They’re Facing Many Hurdles.

The party is unified in its opposition to the state’s six-week abortion ban, but they don’t all agree on how to harness the backlash politically.

Florida Democrats have a unifying enemy in the state’s six-week abortion ban that took effect Wednesday. But after years of disinvestment, statewide losses and continued tensions within the party, some Democrats question whether they can harness the political fallout from Republicans’ anti-abortion agenda.

The Florida Democratic Party saw a swift increase in contributions after courts ruled in April that the ban could go into effect, and a continued uptick since then, according to the party. “Within the first 48 hours after the Supreme Court ruled on the ban, we saw tens of thousands of dollars come into the party and that’s only grown in the last few weeks,” a state party spokesperson texted NOTUS.

A host of other entrenched problems beyond finances persist, though, including lagging voter registration, candidate recruitment and intraparty division. Ardent opposition to the ban will not necessarily drive people to the state Democratic Party, some say.

“I think people are just finding political homes somewhere else,” Orlando Democratic Rep. Anna Eskamani told NOTUS. “I do think folks are going to get involved, but there’s so many ways to get involved. It doesn’t require a party institution, honestly.”

National Democrats are still trying. Donors and the Biden campaign see Florida “in play” in the presidential race in light of this week’s abortion ban and a November abortion ballot amendment. President Joe Biden visited Tampa last week to speak to the ban, and Vice President Kamala Harris was in Jacksonville the day the ban went into effect. The newly enacted ban replaces the state’s 15-week ban, blocking abortions before most people know they are pregnant and effectively decimating abortion access across the South. Neighboring Alabama has a total abortion ban, and Georgia has a similar six-week ban. Florida saw a 12% uptick in abortions last year, largely from out-of-state patients, data shows.

“Our message has been very consistent that we have to reorganize and hold the Republicans accountable. The decision from the Supreme Court just reclarified what we already knew: that Florida is in play, that Florida is winnable and that we are going to continue to be a battleground,” Florida Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried told NOTUS.

Fried said the party is improving candidate recruitment, pointing to the recent filing deadline for congressional races last week, by which every race had a Democratic candidate in the contest. Democrats have until June to file for state races — a harder sell for potential candidates, who have to raise millions to campaign for a seat in the minority in the Florida Legislature.

Eskamani said grassroots movements, not necessarily the official party, are helping overcome recruitment problems.

“From a grassroots perspective, we have some phenomenal candidates,” Eskamani said. “There are people who absolutely have been motivated to run because of the abortion ban. I think that’s definitely true and that momentum is going to continue into November, but I don’t know what recruitment the state party has done.”

Florida Democrats are battling internal divisions over Fried’s recent move to oust three local county party chairs and new frustration this week over the party’s decision to invite Sen. John Fetterman — a fervent supporter of Israel’s war in Gaza — to be the keynote speaker at the party’s leadership convention this weekend.

Not everyone in the party agrees on how to campaign around abortion. Eskamani encourages donors to give directly to abortion providers and the Yes on 4 campaign — the ballot measure to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution. She said she thinks it’s “inappropriate” for candidates or the party to directly fundraise off of the abortion ban unless the money is going toward patient services.

Recently ousted former Miami Democratic Party Chair Robert Dempster said there’s a risk in linking the abortion ballot amendment too heavily to Democrats in the state.

“There’s a bigger priority, and it’s making sure that women in Florida don’t have to die because of something we could have defeated,” Dempster said, adding that the party should follow the lead of the amendment organizers, not the other way around. “You’re not going to get to 60% with just Democrats, so I really question the wisdom of overly ‘partisanizing’ that particular issue.”

But party leaders and prominent elected officials in the state say Democrats have a real shot at pulling in independent voters. Democrats trail active, registered Republicans by almost a million votes, and more than a quarter of Florida voters are registered as No Party Affiliation.

“Large numbers of NPAs, bigger than we’ve seen in the state of Florida in recent history, have voted for Democrats, and I think [abortion] is one of the top issues that are responsible for that,” Rep. Maxwell Frost told reporters Wednesday. “You know, it turns out people want their human rights, and they’re gonna vote for politicians who are going to protect them.”

Fried said she sees broad bipartisan support for abortion access, telling NOTUS, “This is not a Democratic issue. This is a value that is shared by Democrats, Republicans, independents. Nobody wants government and politicians to be in the doctor’s offices,” but also insists that momentum will translate to the rest of the ballot. “People are ready to stand up and fight back and understand that it is not just enough to enshrine it into the Florida constitution.”

Claire Heddles is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow. Oriana González, a reporter at NOTUS, contributed to this report.