Party-Backed Candidates Win Fla. Senate Primaries

Aug 19, 2020

Party-backed Senate candidates in a Republican primary in Southwest Florida and two Democratic primaries in Southeast Florida scored sweeping victories on Tuesday night, a relief for party leaders heading into the November election.

In Southwest Florida, state Rep. Ray Rodrigues tanked the bid of state Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Myers, rolling up about 74 percent of the vote. Rodrigues, a former House majority leader, will compete with Democrat Rachel Brown in November to decide who will represent Lee County’s deeply conservative Senate District 27.

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The Estero Republican said his landslide victory is an “affirmation” that voters want to be represented by someone with conservative values like his.

Senate Republicans backed Rodrigues early in the race, and the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, which is led by incoming Senate President Wilton Simpson, spent nearly $90,000 on consultants and polling services to help his campaign.

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“The hard-working people of Southwest Florida took a stand for conservative values in choosing Ray Rodrigues,” Simpson, R-Trilby, said in a statement Tuesday night. 

Rodrigues’ victory puts an end to a bitter GOP contest that was beset by attacks. Simpson accused Fitzenhagen of conspiring with Democrats to jeopardize the Senate’s GOP majority, while Fitzenhagen branded Rodrigues as the choice of the “political establishment” and an ally of the powerful sugar industry. 

Meanwhile, the preferred candidates of Senate Democratic leaders also scooped up two wins in heavily Democratic Senate District 35 and Senate District 29.

State Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, was successful in the hard-fought race to represent Senate District 35, which includes parts of Miami-Dade and Broward counties. 

Jones, an openly gay lawmaker, elbowed out five opponents, including former Sen. Daphne Campbell, former state Rep. Cynthia Stafford, state Rep. Barbara Watson and Miami Gardens City Councilman Erhabor Ighadoaro. 

As of 9:45 p.m. Tuesday, Jones had about 43 percent of the vote. Campbell, who was voted out of the state Senate in 2018 in a different district, was the closest competitor with about 16 percent of the vote, according to the state Division of Elections website. 

Jones will face write-in opponent Darien Hill in November, virtually guaranteeing that he will succeed term-limited Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, in the district.

In Senate District 29, which includes parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties, state Rep. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, defeated former state Rep. Irv Slosberg. Polskly had captured about 69 percent of the vote as of 9:45 p.m.

Slosberg spent more than $1.5 million on the race over a course of two months, according to campaign finance records. Slosberg, a Boca Raton multi-millionaire, largely self-funded his failed campaign.

Polsky, who was backed by Senate Democratic leaders, will face Republican candidate Brian Norton in the general election.

Incoming Senate Minority Leader Gary Farmer, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat who is spearheading his party’s Senate races this election cycle, said he was excited to see voters pick “incredible fighters” like Jones and Polsky to compete in the general election. 

“Tonight’s results make clear Florida Democrats are fired up and ready to vote blue for strong candidates up and down the ballot,” Farmer said in a statement Tuesday night. 

Farmer also highlighted the primary win of state Rep. Javier Fernandez, who is competing for the hotly contested Senate District 39 seat to replace term-limited Republican Anitere Flores, in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties. He also highlighted the win of Democrat Patricia Sigman, who is vying to replace term-limited Republican David Simmons in Senate District 9 in Seminole and Volusia counties.

Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, was the only incumbent senator who nailed down a return trip to Tallahassee on Tuesday night. Thurston, a likely future Senate Democratic leader, trounced three other Democrats in Broward County’s Senate District 33, winning about 57 percent of the vote. He does not have a November opponent.

Thurston weathered direct-mail attacks that cast him as a closeted Republican and not a progressive, claims that were designed to damage him in the heavily Democratic primary. The attacks were linked to a web of political organizations with ties to prominent Republican consultant William Stafford Jones, the former Alachua County Republican Party chairman. 

Democrats are trying to flip three seats in the November election to gain a 20-20 split in the Senate. Fernandez will face state Rep. Ana Maria Rodriguez, R-Doral, while, Sigman will face former Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, in the two most closely watched races.