Democrats field candidates in every Florida legislative race. Does it matter?

Are there signs of hope for Democrats seeking to retake control of the Florida Legislature this fall?

No. But they did field a candidate in all 140 legislative seats up for election this year, according to the end of candidate qualifying on Friday. That’s the first time since Democrats lost power nearly 30 years ago, a significant feat for a party that has struggled to recruit candidates.

“Democrats made history in Florida today,” party chairperson Nikki Fried said in a statement.

Out of power in the state’s House and Senate since the 1990s, Democratic leaders are seeking a more modest target this year: hanging on to the seats they have.

And, maybe, breaking out of their superminority status in both chambers, which locks them out of procedural maneuvers.

Democrats are going up against an increasingly popular Republican Party this fall. Active GOP voters began outnumbering Democrats in 2021, and the party’s edge is nearly 1 million today.

That enthusiasm in the GOP is reflected in the number of candidates who qualified on Friday. There will be more Republican legislative primaries on Aug. 20 than Democratic ones. Several of those races, including two in Tampa, are candidates challenging GOP incumbents.

Republican Party of Florida chairperson Evan Power said it’s a sign of how “feisty” the party is.

“I think we’re getting pulled more conservative than we have before, and we’re trying to find where the pendulum falls,” Power said.

The candidates on the ballot include some familiar faces from elections past. Republican Don Gaetz, the former Senate president from 2012 to 2014 and father of Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, is seeking his Panhandle seat again. Former Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson, who ran for U.S. Senate in 2016, is running for an Orlando state Senate seat.

The fact that Democrats fielded a candidate in every race means no Republican will coast to reelection without facing voters. In comparison, Democrats automatically won nine seats in the House and two in the Senate this week after facing no opposition.

Although Democratic leaders say they don’t expect to retake either chamber, they do expect a boost this year from two ballot initiatives in front of voters in November. One would allow recreational marijuana and the other would remove the state’s six-week abortion ban.

“This upcoming ballot is going to be far more about issues than individuals,” said Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Miami.