Familiar candidates Rivera, Bullard, Campbell win state legislative primaries

The Senate District 38 candidates clockwise from top left: Don Festge, Kevin Burns, Daphne Campbell, Anis Blemur, Jason Pizzo and Michael Góngora. Campbell prevailed in the Democratic primary and will face former Democratic State Rep. Phillip Brutus, who is running as an independent.
The Senate District 38 candidates clockwise from top left: Don Festge, Kevin Burns, Daphne Campbell, Anis Blemur, Jason Pizzo and Michael Góngora. Campbell prevailed in the Democratic primary and will face former Democratic State Rep. Phillip Brutus, who is running as an independent. Miami Herald file photos

In Miami-Dade County’s high-profile legislative contests, voters preferred familiar faces over newcomers as former U.S. Rep. David Rivera, state Sen. Dwight Bullard and state Rep. Daphne Campbell each edged out a lineup of opponents in their quest to return to the Florida Legislature.

Rivera — who remains embroiled in a pending federal investigation and allegations of violating state ethics laws — narrowly edged challenger Anthony Rodriguez, a Kendall businessman, with 36 percent of the vote, compared to Rodriguez’s 34 percent. The seat was vacated by Rep. Frank Artiles, who is now pitted against Bullard in the race for the Senate District 40 seat.

Bullard fended off former state Rep. Ana Rivas Logan and well-financed newcomer Andrew Korge in what was perhaps the ugliest legislative race in Miami-Dade. And Campbell won a six-person brawl to become the favorite in taking over the heavily Democratic District 38 seat vacated by veteran lawmaker Gwen Margolis.

Senate District 38

With her victory Tuesday, Campbell has perhaps the best chance at becoming the next state senator from this coastal district, which extends from the MacArthur Causeway to the Broward County line.

Campbell edged out five Democratic opponents to win Tuesday’s primary in a district reshaped by Florida’s redistricting battles. She now faces former Democratic state Rep. Phillip Brutus, who opted to run as an independent instead of trying his chances with the crowded primary field.

The seat representing Miami-Dade’s most diverse Senate district was left ripe for the taking when Margolis withdrew from her re-election bid — and announced her retirement from politics — after she insulted her opponents at a candidate forum in June.

Campbell left her Little Haiti-based seat after six years to run for higher office. She’s been dogged by an investigation into her now shuttered healthcare business, but that hasn’t kept her from handily winning elections in the past.

In unofficial results Tuesday night, Campbell led the field with 31 percent of the vote, with 165 of 169 precincts reporting. She was trailed by attorney Jason Pizzo (24 percent) and former Miami Beach commissioner Michael Góngora (21 percent). Pizzo received the most endorsements in the race and invested $770,000 of his own money — making it one of the most expensive in the state.

Former North Miami mayor Kevin Burns and Góngora jumped in after Margolis dropped out. Accountant Anis Blémur and high school teacher Don Festge also competed.

Góngora had attacked Campbell, a Haitian-American, for crossing party lines to vote for abortion restrictions and for sponsoring a controversial bill to restrict transgender individuals from using public bathrooms.

Senate District 40

Bullard, of Cutler Bay, spent much of the summer battling Korge, a first-time candidate whose aggressive, bombastic style turned off some of his fellow Democrats.

In unofficial results with all 138 precincts reporting, Bullard won easily with almost 49 percent of the vote, followed by Rivas Logan with 25 percent. Korge came in third with 22 percent and relative unknown Missalys Perez got 5 percent.

Rivas Logan, a Republican turned Democrat, only briefly ran for the seat earlier this summer before unofficially suspending her campaign due to family issues. She resurfaced last week at a South Dade polling place where she got into a screaming match with Korge. She said Tuesday she resumed her campaign after being “riled up” by personal attacks from Korge.

Korge — who works in real estate and is the son of Chris Korge, a major Hillary Clinton donor — drew criticism from his fellow Democrats in part because he dabbled in running for other seats this election cycle before deciding to run against Bullard right before the qualifying deadline, when the incumbent posted relatively poor fundraising numbers.

The race was marked by other strange twists, including an allegation that Korge offered Bullard $25,000 to switch state Senate races. The state attorney’s office recently dropped its investigation.

Korge characterized Bullard as a lazy legislator who doesn’t get things done in Tallahassee. He attacked Bullard for traveling to the Middle East with a group affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement and with a tour guide associated with an anti-Israel organization.

Bullard criticized Korge for living outside the district and for district-shopping — after Korge switched from intending to run against Republican Sen. Anitere Flores to challenge Bullard.

Bullard, a high school history teacher, was first elected in 2012 to the seat formerly held by his mother, Larcenia Bullard, who served in the Legislature for two decades. He won the endorsement of several local unions this year.

Bullard now faces Republican state Rep. Frank Artiles in the district, which elected President Obama by a 10 percentage point margin in 2012. Artiles hopes to tap into the district’s large Hispanic voting-age population — nearly 75 percent. He has been able to spend the summer gearing up for November with aggressive fundraising, including strong support from Republican senators.

Artiles wants to take the Miami-Dade seat for the Republicans, while Democrats are prepared to direct resources to defend Bullard.

House District 118

Rivera’s toughest challenger was Rodriguez, a businessman and newcomer, followed by former Miami-Dade County Commissioner Lynda Bell, who received the endorsement of former Gov. Jeb Bush but collected only 21 percent of the vote.

The two candidates split the anti-Rivera vote with two other political newcomers, Carlos Pria and Steven Rojas Tallon, earning 4 percent and 5 percent of the vote respectively.

Rivera now faces Democrat Robert Asencio, who retired as a captain from the Miami-Dade School Police Department, in the Hispanic Southwest Miami-Dade district formerly held by Artiles, who is running for the state Senate. The district favored President Obama by 4 percentage points in 2012.

Rivera, a close friend of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, wants to return to the Florida House where his political career began in 2002. He left because of term limits and ran for Congress, where he served from 2010-2012.

But Rivera’s dominance in the district was marred by his protracted ethics battle and a pending federal criminal investigation into claims he unlawfully financed a ringer candidate in the 2012 congressional election. The investigation, however, has stalled.

Rivera, also faces allegations that he improperly received more than $41,000 as reimbursement for travel that had been paid for by campaign accounts and failed to properly disclose financial information as required by Florida law. The Florida Ethics Commission recommended he be fined $58,000 by outgoing House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, for the transgressions but Rivera continues to dispute the findings.

Rivera is challenging the constitutionality of the law, arguing a House speaker should not be given that kind of authority over a former House member.

Establishment Republicans largely stayed out of the race, given Rivera’s troubled past and Bell’s longstanding political relationships across the county. Although Bush endorsed Bell, he did not campaign for her.

House District 108

Liberty City activist Roy Hardemon emerged the winner from the seven-candidate Democratic field in the district to fill the open seat formerly held by Campbell, who ran for the state Senate.

The race offered voters a rare open primary where all registered voters could participate because were are no Republican, independent or write-in candidates, giving Hardemon a victory with just 3,393 total votes.

It was one of 18 Democrat-dominated House districts in Florida expected to be decided Tuesday. It was also the most crowded primary in the state.

Hardemon, the uncle of Miami Commissioner Keon Hardemon, defeated former North Miami Councilwoman Marie Erlande Steril with 22 percent of the vote to Steril’s 20.4 percent. Immigrant rights activist Francesca Menes came in third with just 20.1 percent of the vote in the district that primarily serves the Haitian-American community, centered in Little Haiti.

Menes, director of policy and advocacy for the Florida Immigrant Coalition, touted her experience working as a lobbyist in Tallahassee and distanced herself from other Haitian-American candidates by taking liberal positions on social issues, including abortion. She collected the endorsements of Ruth’s List and the Florida Young Democrats and was the most successful fundraiser of the group.

Henry Patel, an Indian-born businessman who owns a motel on Biscayne Boulevard, raised more money than his competitors, with more than $48,000, and had the support of the business community but it wasn’t enough to win more than 15.7 percent of the vote in the crowded field.

At the bottom of the pack was Moise Duge, a teacher who worked on past campaigns received just over 9 percent of the votes cast and community organizer Taj Collie-Echoles, ran against Campbell in the 2014 primary, earned 6.5 percent of the vote Fayola Delica, a registered nurse, came in last with 5.9 percent of the vote.

Staff writers Patricia Mazzei and Alex Daugherty contributed to this report.