Two Miami state Senate candidates who raised and spent the most in their respective primaries — Republican Rep. Jose Felix Diaz and Democratic businesswoman Annette Taddeo — notched easy victories in a special election Tuesday night.
Taddeo and Diaz will now face off in the Sept. 26 general election for Senate District 40, a competitive seat in the heart of Southwest Miami-Dade County.
Diaz defeated two opponents, former Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla and attorney Lorenzo Palomares. The testy rivalry between Diaz and Diaz de la Portilla — who released a pair of polls early on boasting about his broad name identification — suggested the race could be close.
But Diaz, who along with his political committee spent more than $2 million on the campaign, won decisively Tuesday: He took 58 percent of the vote, compared to Diaz de la Portilla’s 26 percent and Palomares’ 17 percent, according to unofficial results that were still incomplete late Tuesday.
Diaz, who is known as Pepi and is a beloved figure among most Tallahassee Republicans, resigned his House seat to run.
“When this race started and we looked at the numbers, they weren’t wrong: We were losing by a lot,” Diaz told supporters Tuesday at the Latin American Cafeteria in Kendall. Some of them celebrated by playing bongos and singing “Guantanamera.”
“In this district, every time I started knocking on doors, people started saying, ‘I remember your sister, I remember you from St. Brendan’s school, I remember meeting your mother in Santiago de Cuba and in Bayamo. Those roots matter, those roots count, and our opponents didn’t have them.... We crushed an opponent who was beating us by 40 points, by 30 points.”
Diaz de la Portilla’s loss is the fifth straight defeat for his family’s political dynasty. He lost a 2012 House race, and his older brother, Miguel, lost a Senate bid last year. A third brother, Renier, is a former House member who lost a House race in 2012 and a judicial race in 2014.
“I chose Pepi Diaz because he’s a very, very capable young man who has the interest of the constituents of Miami at heart,” said Bertha Alvarez, 65, who cast her ballot at the Kendall library.
Taddeo bested former Rep. Ana Rivas Logan in a contest that featured far less publicity but was nevertheless fiery between the two candidates. Taddeo raised nearly $60,000, more than five times as much as Rivas Logan, and defeated her by 71-29 percent.
“With tonight’s decisive victory, we can, and will, send a loud message in September that the politics of division coming from President Trump and Washington D.C. will not be tolerated in South Florida,” Taddeo said in a statement. “Together, we will make history by electing the first Hispanic Democratic woman to the Florida Senate and a champion for our families.”
It was Taddeo’s first win after losing four campaigns — Miami-Dade County Commission, as Charlie Crist’s gubernatorial running mate, and twice for Congress.
Teacher Kimberly Smith, who voted at Ethel F. Beckford/Richmond Elementary School in West Perrine on Tuesday, said she backed Taddeo because of her opposition to House Bill 7069, which the GOP-controlled Legislature passed this year and gave more public dollars to privately managed charter schools.
“I’ve watched how private schools are taking away money from public schools, and then if their students don’t perform to their standards, they kick the students back to the public schools,” said Smith, 46. “We are already underfunded, overworked and overcrowded — and now we don’t have the money we need for resources.”
Diaz, 37; Taddeo, 50, and Christian “He-Man” Schlaerth, who is running without party affiliation, will vie to fill the post vacated by former Sen. Frank Artiles, a Republican forced to resign in April over insulting remarkshe made to a pair of colleagues and over revelations that he’d hired apparently unqualified young women, including a former Hooters “calendar girl,” as campaign consultants.
Democrats see the race as a chance to win back a seat that, until last November, was held by one of their own, former Sen. Dwight Bullard. Republicans control 24 of 40 Senate seats.