In Florida’s final special election before the November mid-terms, Democrats once again took a swing district in the nation’s largest swing state.
Outspent but not outmaneuvered, Democrat Javier Fernandez took Florida’s 114th House district Tuesday, keeping the purple Miami-Dade seat in the fold for the state’s surging minority party. He beat Republican Andrew Vargas by roughly 4 points — 51 to 47 percent — with all the votes counted. Independent candidate Liz de las Cuevas netted an estimated 2.5 percent of the vote.
The contest — for a measly six-month term in an office that will be up for election again in November — was the final test before the mid-terms of a Democratic winning streak that began in September with Annette Taddeo’s victory in a south Dade Florida Senate race. It also comes on the heels of Margaret Good’s victory in a Sarasota House race, giving Democrats reason to celebrate even as they lost another election Tuesday in a staunchly red Central Florida house race.
“Tonight’s special election victory is the latest in a string of special election victories for Florida Democrats, which shows us that after nearly 20 years of failed Republican leadership, people are ready for a change,” state party chairwoman Terrie Rizzo said in a statement.
Fernandez, a rookie candidate and former aide to then-Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, held the seat for the party, which was forced to defend the district after disgraced representative Daisy Baez resigned last year following a residency scandal.
Prior to Democrat Baez, the seat was held by Republican Erik Fresen, who termed out and then pleaded guilty last year to failing to file a tax return for 2011, a year in which he received $270,136 in income he didn’t report to Uncle Sam. (He also didn't file federal income tax returns from 2007-2016 — eight of those years when he was in the House.)
Republicans were confident that Vargas, the longtime law partner of OAS ambassador and former state representative Carlos Trujillo, could win in a district where Republicans slightly outnumber Democrats and down-ballot Republicans have outperformed the top of the ticket.
But once again, Election Day turnout pushed a Democrat over the top. Vargas secured 807 more absentee votes than Fernandez, but Democrats said their numbers show Fernandez pulled Republicans, and as many as nine out of 10 independent voters, during early voting. Election Day turnout gave him a clear victory.
“It’s pretty sweet, man. I can’t lie,” said Fernandez, who was battered during a negative election in which both competing candidates were hammered by political committees. “Substance wins over slights, right? “
Fernandez said his performance with independent and Republican voters gives him confidence heading into November.
“We absolutely outperformed in that segment. We’re excited about that and we think it’s a strong statement about our ability to keep the seat going into November.”
Some political insiders have speculated that regardless of who won on Tuesday, the contest could end up being round one of a November re-match between him and Fernandez. But reached by phone late Tuesday, Vargas said he couldn't say what the future holds for his political career.
"We lost election day, and we support our new representative and we move on. That’s it," Vargas said.
As for the significance of the win, Nelson Diaz, chairman of the Republican Party of Miami-Dade County, was dismissive.
“I think HD 114 elected another Democrat," he said.
But Republican pundit Ana Navarro, who lives in the district, tweeted that Republicans can blame Donald Trump for another loss.
"GOP candidate spent oodles of $$. His ppl knocked on my door, called me on the phone & I got mailers in my mailbox, DAILY," she wrote. "If u think Trump isn’t dragging folks down, I want some of what ur smoking."