Former television journalist Maria Elvira Salazar cruised into a victory for the Republican Party primary for the 27th Congressional District of Florida, winning 45.51 percent of the votes in a crowded race that had nine candidates.
Salazar stepped into the victory party to blaring salsa in the heavily Cuban-American Westchester neighborhood, holding the hand of soon-to-be-retiring Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who has held the seat for decades.
"Tomorrow we begin anew the next phase of this campaign," Salazar said in a victory speech. "I am very aware of the responsibility that it entails to be the Republican nominee for District 27, held with such distinction by this lady standing here next to me, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen."
She was also joined by former Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart. Even the parents of current Rep. Carlos Curbelo (FL-26) came on stage in celebration. (Curbelo also easily won his primary.) A gigantic pot of arroz con pollo smelled up the entire neighborhood.
Ros-Lehtinen is a popular figure even among Democrats in the district, and her endorsement was coveted to try to keep the seat in Republican hands. The district voted for Hillary Clinton over President Donald Trump by a wide margin in the 2016 election.
"Let's come together and let's make sure that we do not flip this district," Ros-Lehtinen said in a speech. "It's got to stay in the hands of someone who understands about limited government, about less bureaucratic regulations, about more freedom, help for the oppressed people throughout the world, whether it's Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, wherever it is. And that voice of freedom is going to be the voice of Maria Elvira Salazar."
Ros-Lehtinen, a moderate Republican with a hardline stance on human rights issues in the Americas and beyond, has remained popular. In an interview, Salazar said she would follow in her footsteps.
"It will be a seamless transition between Ileana and myself, because we believe in the same causes," said Salazar. "I'm a common sense Republican and I have common sense policies."
"We may not agree on everything, but it’s the same plan," she continued. "We’re both daughters of political refugees. We know the community. We know what people feel, how people speak, how people act, because we are one of them. And that’s why people love her, and I think that’s why they love me, too."
Mandy Silva, a student at Florida International University, was at the party to show support.
"We know that she ran on behalf of the Republican Party, but she's a person who's for the people no matter what her political affiliation is," she said.
Some Salazar supporters voiced concern over the shifting demographics of the District. The New York Times has dubbed the District the "best Democratic pick up opportunity" in the country.
"Like the other [candidates], she did a lot of her campaigning in this area," said Liliana Ros (no relation), a member of the Miami-Dade Republican Executive Committee, speaking of the Westchester neighborhood. "But the 27th is not only this area -- Miami Beach and all that, the people are not very Republican anymore, and they did vote for Hillary."
Salazar will face Democratic nominee Donna Shalala in the general election on November 6.