A surprisingly robust voter turnout in Democrat-leaning Miami-Dade County brought two newcomer Democrats into previously Republican seats Tuesday, but one of the races —featuring former congressman David Rivera — appeared headed for a recount.
Democrat Robert Asencio, a retired Miami-Dade Schools police captain, was narrowly ahead of Rivera in District 118, by 45 votes, a margin small enough to trigger the automatic recount rule.
The Republican-leaning district is being vacated by Rep. Frank Artiles, who was elected to the Senate. Rivera, the former congressman who left the state House in 2010 because of term limits, is attempting to return this year after losing reelection bids to Congress in 2012 and 2014.
A recount will follow if Secretary of State Ken Detzner orders one. State law requires a machine recount if the margin is the equivalent to one-half of 1 percent. After a machine recount, if the difference is one-quarter of 1 percent, a manual recount of the ballots is ordered.
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Democrats had a solid victory, however, as Daisy Baez, an Army veteran, edged out Republican John Couriel, a Miami lawyer, in the District 114 seat being vacated by Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami.
Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, won reelection to District 103 in the face of a vigorous challenge from Democrat Ivette Gonzalez Petkovich, a Miami attorney.
Democrat Nick Duran, a Miami healthcare executive, defeated another newcomer, Republican Rosy Palomino, a Miami business owner, in the District 112 seat being vacated by Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami. Rodriguez was elected to the state Senate.
Rep. Mike Bileca, a Miami investor, defeated Democrat Jeffrey Solomon, a chiropractor, in a district where a poll two weeks ago showed Barack Obama with a 61 percent approval rating and Hillary Clinton beating Donald Trump by 26 percentage points.
Republican incumbent Holly Raschein of Key West also outpaced her challenger, Democrat Daniel Horton, in District 120, which leans Democratic but has heavily supported Raschein in the past.
Miami-Dade is now a reliable Democratic county for statewide races, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans by more than 230,000 votes and the higher than expected turnout helping to swing races in a handful of tight seats.
But it is clear that down ballot, many voters split their party preferences.
The nail-biter is the Rivera-Asencio contest, in which Rivera outspent Asencio more than four-to-one and vigorously attacked him with charges that were debunked as untrue.
Rivera has been fined $58,000 by the Florida Commission on Ethics for accepting illicit campaign contributions. He remains under federal criminal investigation regarding an unlawful 2012 campaign-finance scheme to run a ringer candidate against former U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia.
Rivera said he expected a recount and claimed that there were many provisional ballots given to voters because their signatures didn’t match that have yet to be counted.
“Hundreds of votes remain to be counted,” he said late Tuesday. “This is very far from over.”
A subdued Robert Asencio declared himself the winner late Tuesday but was clearly disappointed that it would take some days to be sure.
As the votes were being tallied he said, “I’m highly disappointed it’s not a wider margin. We fought and fought. It’s a tight one.”
Later, on the phone hearing the news, he told someone “this is just unbelievable.”
About 40 people were gathered for the victory party at a Puerto Rican restaurant, roughly the same number of votes that divided him from his challenger.
“Even though we’re in a recount, it’s a win. So I want to hug,” he said to one supporter.
“I’m very confident the voters of District 118 have spoken,” he said. “I look forward to a democratic process. It’s a recount.”