Florida Democrats forced to scramble for candidate in competitive Miami Senate district

Pinecrest Councilwoman Anna Hochkammer told supporters Thursday that she is withdrawing her candidacy for Senate District 39.
Pinecrest Councilwoman Anna Hochkammer told supporters Thursday that she is withdrawing her candidacy for Senate District 39. Photo provided to the Miami Herald

With less than a year to go until the 2020 primary elections, Democrats are suddenly scrambling for candidates in Florida’s southernmost state Senate district — a race Senate Democrats have identified as their top priority this year.

Citing medical issues, Pinecrest Councilwoman Anna Hochkammer unexpectedly withdrew her candidacy Thursday for Florida’s Senate District 39, a purple district currently represented by term-limited Republican Sen. Anitere Flores.

Hochkammer could not immediately be reached for comment, but told supporters in an email that she received some “unexpected news” this week from her doctor. She did not specify the nature of her medical issue.

“As a mother of three girls, two of which are still in high school, I need to put my family and health first,” she wrote. “I am a fighter at heart and know that I will overcome my health challenges — but quite frankly, I cannot take on two fights at once.”

Her withdrawal, first reported by Florida Politics, shakes up the campaign for what figures to be a competitive and expensive race. The district voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 by double digits over President Donald Trump, the same year that Flores was elected in the newly redrawn district.

Republicans, who enjoy a 23-17 advantage in the upper chamber, have begun to line up behind freshman state Rep. Ana Maria Rodriguez, who narrowly won her seat in November over an underfunded and largely unknown opponent. Democrats are now scrambling to find a new candidate in a district that will be crucial to their attempts to hold greater sway over legislation in the Republican-controlled Capitol.

Senate Victory, the campaign arm of Senate Democrats, turned once again Thursday to state Rep. Javier Fernandez, an attorney who’d turned down their recruitment efforts early this year due to the fact that he’d have to relocate his family in order to live within the district. As of last week, Fernandez wasn’t interested, but he told the Miami Herald Thursday that he was “giving it a look, given the circumstances.”

Former state Rep. Robert Asencio, a Democrat who lost his southern Miami-Dade seat in November, has also been talking for months about running. Asencio told the Miami Herald Thursday that he’d already decided to run before Hochkammer withdrew.

“The news of Anna possibly pulling out because of medical conditions breaks my heart. I wish her well,” he said.

Hochkammer’s withdrawal comes the same day that the Orlando Sentinel published an article describing Democrats as “falling behind” in the race to pick up another swing seat, District 9 in Central Florida.

Anders Croy, a spokesman for Senate Victory, declined to comment Thursday, referring a reporter to a statement issued Wednesday in response to questions about whether they were still recruiting in the race.

“Senate Victory views District 39 as the top pick-up opportunity next year in the fight for a Democratic majority in the Florida Senate,” Croy said in the statement. “As Democrats turn out across the state to defeat Donald Trump’s radical agenda, we will be fully prepared to get our voters to the polls and flip District 39 blue in 2020.”