The Florida Primary Winners and Losers

Gillum and DeSantis lead the list of winners in Florida

Bt KEVIN DERBY AND NANCY SMITH

Many had predicted 2018 would be “the Year of the Woman” in Florida.  Instead, it turned into the “Year of Party Extremes” — a year when moderates fell, when both party bases flexed their muscles, when pollsters demonstrated a surprising fallibility in a political climate dominated by technology and social media.

But Tuesday set the stage for a classic battle of clearly defined opposites, particularly in the fight for the governor’s mansion — but also to determine which side will control the direction of the state as the century’s second decade comes to a close. Let the show begin.

There were dozens of significant winners and losers in the 2018 primaries. But this is our shortlist of some of the more noteworthy ones:

Winners

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum was the night’s biggest winner, however you cut it — mostly because he was the surprise who wasn’t supposed to happen. TV network anchors, progessives, Democratic Party officials from Washington to Tallahassee all celebrated Gillum’s victory over his more moderate opponent expected a day earlier to run away with the race — Gwen Graham.  A word of caution for the  39-year-old mayor: The day-after lull might be the last chance he gets for a while to bask in 100 percent positive energy. Media coverage Tuesday night skipped over Gillum’s record as mayor, his city’s crime rate and his involvement in FBI fraud investigations.

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., another Mr. Obvious on the winners’ list. DeSantis didn’t get into the GOP governor’s race until December, after opponent Adam Putnam had amassed a vast war chest.  Since then, while Putnam stumped across Florida, DeSantis spent much of his free time advocating for the president’s agenda on FOX News, and subsequently won Donald Trump’s endorsement. A simple forumula, but it proved to be a winner in the primary. A word of caution here, too: DeSantis may need to develop a Plan B for the General Election, he’ll need more than allegiance to Trump to succeed Gov. Rick Scott.

President Donald Trump. The president remains hugely popular with Florida Republicans, as candidates he backed across the Sunshine State won big in the GOP primaries. Trump’s support was the foundation of DeSantis’ big win, but the president also helped Gaetz and U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., to decisive primary victories on Tuesday night.

Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings and U.S. Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla. These Central Florida Democrats won big on Tuesday night. Jerry Demings crushed the field and is now Orange County’s next mayor. His wife Val easily dispatched a Democratic primary challenger and is now headed back to Capitol Hill for a second term in Congress. A great night for the premier Democratic power couple in Central Florida.

U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla. Not only did the freshman congressman score a big win in his own primary, he backed some winners across the Sunshine State. Gaetz was an early and vocal supporter of U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., helping him to his big win on Tuesday night. Down the ballot, Gaetz backed state Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres, who scored a win in the Republican agriculture commissioner race. Not a bad night for Gaetz who is increasingly drawing a large profile across the state.

Jason Pizzo. Running in a rematch against state Sen. Daphne Campbell, this South Florida Democrat gained some revenge Tuesday night. Campbell, a Haitian American in a largely Haitian district,  defeated Pizzo in a crowded field two years ago. But he turned the tables on her in a big way and is now headed to Tallahassee representing one of the bluest state Senate districts in the state.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. While he was not on center stage Tuesday, Rubio’s backing helped two Republicans to big wins in the primaries. Rubio went to bat for Caldwell in the agriculture commissioner primary, even stumping with him over the past weekend. In Central Florida, the state’s junior senator backed state Rep. Mike Miller, R-Orlando, who routed businessman Scott Strugill in the primary and will challenge U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., in November. While Rubio continues to draw fire from the right and some Trump supporters, he remains popular with most Florida Republicans — to which Caldwell and Miller can attest.

Leslie Wimes. The outspoken Sunshine State News columnist might have been the only Democrat in Florida or anywhere else to predict during the first week of June that Andrew Gillum would win the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.  Read her June 6 column, “Wakanda the Vote.”  Besides being an articulate, tell-it-like-it-is advocate for Florida’s African-American community and issues, Leslie is something of an election oracle. She said in early 2016 Hillary Clinton would do badly in South Florida neighborhoods where four years earlier Barack Obama had wiped the floor, and she correctly predicted a Clinton defeat in the Sunshine State. “I keep advising Democratic candidates to engage the black community,” she says. “They don’t, at their own peril. ”

 

Losers

Gov. Rick Scott. Disillusionment in Walton County over a customary-use bill (HB 631) the governor signed, and in Martin County over polluted waterways, and the Brightline/All Aboard Florida high speed rail project cost the U.S. Senate candidate protest votes against a GOP primary candidate Scott should have blown away in all 67 counties. Not so. Roque (Rocky) de la Fuente, a wealthy California businessman and election interloper, got 20.5 percent of the vote in Walton and 20 percent of the vote in Martin, almost twice his statewide average. Until this year, Scott owned both Walton and Martin.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.  Last year at this time Florida’s ascension to governor was expected for the Bartow Republican, a big favorite among rural Floridians. Putnam had more than $30 million to spend, a political pedigree, and the recommendation of Attorney General Pam Bondi and 45 Florida sheriffs. None of that helped. It didn’t even help that he backed Donald Trump’s policies, or that he had a well-defined “Florida First” platform. When Trump announced he was endorsing Ron DeSantis’ candidacy and urged Florida Republicans to vote for DeSantis, Putnam’s campaign began to collapse.  In the campaign’s final days polls told him he was making up ground, but it didn’t translate on Election Day. Putnam lost by double digits.

Former state Rep. Fred Costello. What a strange run for this Ormond Beach Republican. After a big win to win a state House seat in 2010, he placed second to DeSantis in the GOP primary for an open congressional seat in 2012. Two years later, Costello reclaimed his state House seat only to start running for Congress when DeSantis jumped in the Senate race. But when Rubio decided to run for another term in the Senate, DeSantis chose to run for a third term in the House. Costello should have stepped aside for DeSantis. Instead, he continued his campaign and got his clock cleaned. Frankly, Costello never recovered, even as he made his third bid for Congress. He placed last in a three-candidate field on Tuesday night.

Former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla. The third time wasn’t the charm for this bombastic liberal. After two stints in Congress, Grayson was utterly destroyed in the primary by U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fla., losing by a 2-to-1 margin in a district he represented only two years ago. After getting crushed in the U.S. Senate primary in 2016 and now this defeat, Grayson looks finished. Of course, that was the conventional wisdom after he lost to Republican Dan Webster in 2010. But, for the moment at least, there is nowhere for Grayson to go.

Jeff Greene and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine. These South Florida Democrats threw tens of millions into their gubernatorial bids but came up short. It wasn’t money that did them in, it was mud. By throwing so much of it at each other, they let Gillum consolidate the left and surge to the Democratic nomination. This marks Greene’s second bid for statewide office and, based on how he collapsed in the final weeks of the primary, it’s safe to say there won’t be a third try unless he really wants to waste more of his considerable fortune.

“Republican” Belinda Keiser, the Keiser University administrator and recent Democrat who had donated substantially to Democrats in the past. Keiser moved to the Treasure Coast district from Broward County as soon as she filed to run. She spent some $1 million on a lavish campaign — twice as much as any other candidate for state Senate — to fight Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, for the last two years in retiring Sen. Joe Negron’s seat. Despite the money spent, she could cobble together only 44 percent of the vote. Harrell, who spent $232,000 and has lived and served in the district for decades, won by 12 percentage points.

Martin County. In a too-divided, four-candidate field, voters in this algae-plagued Treasure Coast county returned to office the county commissioner preparing for a Dec. 10 trial. Commissioner Sarah Heard won 37 percent of the vote, enough to sit on top in a crowd. Heard was arrested in January “on two misdemeanor charges of failing to provide public records related to the county’s long-running lawsuit with the Lake Point rock quarry. ” As TCPalmpoints out, “her re-election means the county has not yet emerged from the five-year Lake Point saga.” And if convicted in December, she could be removed from office.

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