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Florida special election results hint at potential Democratic wave in the midterms

A progressive movement is building in Florida.

Floridians cast ballots in the presidential election at a polling center in Miami, Florida on November 8, 2016. Credit: RHONA WISE/AFP/Getty Images)
Floridians cast ballots in the presidential election at a polling center in Miami, Florida on November 8, 2016. Credit: RHONA WISE/AFP/Getty Images)

On Tuesday, Floridians in two separate districts cast their votes in the state’s final special election before the November midterms — and the results may point to a rising progressive movement in the state.

Democrats have fared well in previous special elections in the notoriously purple state that voted for President Donald Trump in 2016 — 49 percent to Hillary Clinton’s 47.8 percent.

That streak appears to have continued into Tuesday’s election, at least in south Florida.

Democrat Javier Fernandez won Florida’s 114th House District by four percentage points despite being outspent by his opponent three to one. The 114th district, located along the southeastern coast of Miami-Dade county, has flip-flopped between Republican and Democratic representation over the years. Fernandez will replace Daisy Baez, a Democrat who held the seat for just a year before resigning in October 2017 after it was revealed that she did not reside in the district she represented — a requirement under Florida law. Before Baez was elected, Republican Erik Fresen represented the 114th district for nearly eight years.

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The partisan shift in the district has happened only in the last year or so, aided by a rapidly changing demographic that leans to left, in addition to a progressive push for tighter gun restrictions in the wake of the shooting in Parkland, Florida. Coral Gables, an affluent city in the 114th district, was one of the first municipalities to push for an assault weapons ban after the shooting. Because municipal governments in the state are not allowed to regulate their own gun laws according to the Florida constitution, the mayor of Coral Gables, along with a number of south Florida mayors, have sued the state, claiming the provision violates their First Amendment rights.

While Fernandez will only hold office for six months, Democrats have considered the 114th district a significant win, coming on the heels of a series of wins in small local elections.

“Tonight’s special election victory is the latest in a string of special election victories for Florida Democrats, which shows us that after nearly 20 years of failed Republican leadership, people are ready for a change,” state party chairwoman Terrie Rizzo said in a statement to The Miami Herald.

The other special election Tuesday occurred in Florida’s House District 39, which encompasses Polk and Osceola counties in central Florida — a  solidly Republican part of the state. The Republican candidate, 22-year-old Josie Tomkow, was expected to win, and she did easily, with 60 percent of the vote. The seat went plus-19 points for Trump in 2018, and Tomkow campaigned on a pro-Trump agenda, demonstrating that in Florida’s deep red districts, the president’s policies are still popular.

But elsewhere in the state, Democrats continue to rack up the wins. In September, Annette Taddeo won Florida’s Senate District 40, a Latinx-majority district with a long and confusing history of voting for Democratic presidents but Republican lawmakers. Margaret Good, a Democrat in Sarasota along the state’s west coast, flipped a Republican-held seat in a district Trump won last February. Trump won the district by five points, while Good was able to win by a margin of 7.4 points.

Good’s win was the 36th pick-up for Democrats since Trump was elected.

There is a progressive movement growing in Florida, with the recent influx of some 300,000 mostly liberal Puerto Ricans displaced by Hurricane Maria and the possibility of former felons having their rights restored.

Some demographic experts, however, are skeptical as to whether it could actually help turn the state blue for good.

The number of Democratic candidates is double the number of Republican candidates for the highly contested race for governor, many of them advocating for a $15 minimum wage, free community college tuition, and affordable housing.

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Florida’s “blue wave” is consistent with what many other purple states like Pennsylvania and Arizona are experiencing.

According to the Cook Report, 13 congressional districts have shifted to the Democrats’ favor ahead of November’s midterm elections, and there are at least 38 districts where Republicans have announced they are retiring, running for another office, or resigning outright — 12 of those are at serious risk of falling to a Democrat.