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Nick Howland defeats Tracye Polson for at-large seat on Jacksonville City Council

Claire Heddles
Republican Nick Howland will join Jacksonville's City Council in the at-large group 3 seat.

Republican Nick Howland will take over the Jacksonville City Council seat of the late Democrat Tommy Hazouri, after a campaign battle that drew national interest.

Howland is a Navy veteran and head of a veterans suicide prevention nonprofit, The Fire Watch.

Howland garnered 51.69% of the vote and Democrat Tracye Polson 48.31% — 68,599 votes to 64,113, according to unofficial results. Republicans swamped Democrats in Election Day voting — by about 9,000 votes.

"Thank you, Jacksonville!" Howland posted on Twitter Tuesday evening.

Polson had received about 53% of the vote after early votes were counted, but lost the lead once ballots from Election Day were counted.

One in five eligible voters turned out in the election, more than expected.

Polson had previously beat Howland by about 600 votes in the special election in December narrowing down the field.

"We ran a love filled, truth filled, justice filled campaign and I am so proud of Team Polson! " Polson wrote on social media Tuesday.

In the days leading up to the election, Florida's Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis chimed in on the race, sending robocalls to voters encouraging them to cast a ballot for Howland.

The governor also called Polson a "radical leftist" who supports "defunding the police."

Polson rebutted that allegation throughout the race, stating that she planned to seek outside grant funding to expand the mental health responder program in the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office — without diverting money from police enforcement.

She received the endorsement of all three major Democratic gubernatorial candidates and a slew of state legislators.

The Duval Democratic Party issued a statement Tuesday night praising Polson's campaign and taking issue with Howland's tactics.

"Nick Howland ran a campaign riddled with deception and mistruths," the statement said. "While he occupies this council seat temporarily, we are committed to holding him accountable for every decision he will make on City Council."

The race drew national attention from both Republican and Democratic party leaders, after the formerly Republican stronghold flipped blue in recent state and national races. The race was seen as an indicator of where voters might land in the upcoming midterm elections.

“Good to see Florida Democrats aren’t waiting until November to start losing,” Republican National Convention spokeswoman Julia Friedland said in an emailed statement about the race.

Of the council's 19 seats, 14 are now held by Republicans. All of the city's at-large seats, tasked with representing the city's interests as a whole, are held by Republicans.

Howland's win gives Jacksonville's City Council a more disproporate partisan ratio compared to the city as a whole — 74% of council are Republicans.

In a sharp contrast, 40% of Duval voters are registered Democrats, and just 35% of voters are registered as Republicans (24% are registered with neither party).

Howland centered his campaign on increasing the number of police officers in the Sheriff's Office and making a strategic plan for growing the city.

Polson's campaign largely focused on building public trust, increasing mental health resources (including expanding the sheriff's co-responder program) and fixing Jacksonville's trash and recycling woes.

The race also drew big money, cashing in at almost a million dollars, including the money dumped into the Florida Freedom PAC, which funded some of Howland's ads. The PAC raised $196,300 since it opened in August.

Howland also raised $243,600 in formal campaign donations. The largest share of that money was from businesses and additionals PACs, some of which have untraceable donor lists.

Tracye Polson raised more than half a million dollars in her most recent campaign finance reports. More than $300,000 was from her own pocket.

The last general election for City Council, which was for five seats in 2019, had just 14.4% voter turnout.

WJCT News reporter Raymon Troncoso contributed to this report.