In a special election on Tuesday, voters in southwest Miami-Dade County will determine the successors for two seats in the state Legislature that opened up after a Miami Republican senator was forced to resign last spring when he made racist and insulting remarks in front of fellow senators at a bar near the state Capitol.
The fight for the District 40 Senate seat — formerly held by Frank Artiles, who stepped down in April — has been highly competitive for what it could mean, particularly for Democrats: The chance to flip the seat and narrow Republicans’ current 24-15 advantage in the chamber.
The House District 116 seat is also on the ballot, because Florida’s “resign to run” law required Miami Republican state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz to vacate that seat when he chose to run in the District 40 contest.
Diaz and Democratic businesswoman Annette Taddeo — a familiar, but so far unsuccessful, candidate on Miami-Dade ballots — have fiercely competed in an effort to sway voters in the Hispanic-heavy, Democratic-leaning district.
Diaz has frequently pointed to his seven years as a legislator in Tallahassee and his ability to navigate and influence the process, including as a committee chairman. Taddeo, meanwhile, has argued Diaz serves special interests, and she’s cast herself as the candidate who would, by contrast, speak for the average resident.
Last week, when Republicans had submitted more absentee ballots by that point than Democrats, the Democrats sought to boost their turnout with a late, high-profile endorsement for Taddeo from former Vice President Joe Biden.
Christian “He-Man” Schlaerth, who has no party affiliation, is also on the ballot for the District 40 contest.
In the House District 116 race to replace Diaz, Republican Daniel Perez faces Democrat Gabriela Mayaudón.
Perez is an attorney and political newcomer. While Mayaudón is a first-time legislative candidate in Florida, she has political experience as a former Venezuelan legislator. (She said she moved permanently to South Florida seven years ago.)
The district, also in southwest Miami-Dade, leans Republican and is unlikely to switch to Democratic hands.
As of midday Monday, 30,700 ballots had been returned from residents who voted early by mail, out of more than 82,000 who had requested ballots.
Of those, about 14,200 Republicans had returned absentee ballots, compared to 10,700 Democrats, according to the Miami-Dade County Supervisor of Elections office. About 5,800 voters affiliated with no party had also returned absentee ballots.
Another 4,560 ballots had been cast in-person at early voting sites since Sept. 16.
The scandal surrounding Artiles’ alcohol-fueled tirade against two black lawmakers last April made national headlines and sparked a tumultuous week at the state Capitol, which ended with his resignation.
After the incident, Artiles apologized and was initially defiant against calls for him to step down.
But he then chose to give up his Senate seat after knowledge of a Herald story that then published within hours of his resignation, which revealed he’d hired apparently unqualified young women — including a former Hooters “calendar girl” — as campaign consultants.