Florida Politics

Florida Democrats avoid a primary clash in flippable Miami Senate race

Former Rep. Robert Asencio, D-Miami, seen on the floor of the Florida House of Representatives on May 8, 2017, will not run for Florida Senate.
Former Rep. Robert Asencio, D-Miami, seen on the floor of the Florida House of Representatives on May 8, 2017, will not run for Florida Senate. AP

Former state Rep. Robert Asencio has decided against a run for a Miami state senate seat, allowing Florida Democrats to avoid a potentially costly primary in a swing district they view as a good bet to flip from red to blue.

Asencio publicly committed last month to campaign for the seat being vacated next year by term-limited Republican Sen. Anitere Flores. Flores’ 39th Senate district represents southwest Miami-Dade and the Florida Keys, and has been pegged by Florida Democrats as a priority this election cycle.

But Senate Democrat leaders recruited Miami state Rep. Javier Fernández to run for the seat, and encouraged Asencio to reconsider his options. This week, sources familiar with Asencio’s thinking say he acquiesced, informing the campaign arm for Senate Democrats and supporters that he would not seek the seat.

“I am again overwhelmed and humbled by the support of this community encouraging me to continue to serve,” Asencio said in a statement, in which he confirmed his interest in running instead for the Miami-Dade County Commission seat currently held by Joe Martinez. “I’m going to take the next couple of days to talk with supporters, family and friends and make a decision in the near future.”

Asencio’s pivot was first reported by Florida Politics. Asencio is expected to announce a campaign for Miami-Dade County Commission District 11 next week.

For Senate Democrats, Asencio’s decision should clear the way for Fernández to run uncontested in Senate District 39 as a Democrat, or at least avoid an established opponent in a potential August primary next year. Republicans have lined up behind state Rep. Ana Maria Rodriguez as the preferred successor to Flores, but she faces opposition from Angie Chirino, the daughter of Cuban pop singer Willy Chirino.

Asencio, meanwhile, is pivoting toward what would be a difficult race against Martinez, a former Miami-Dade police officer who is well-known in his district, once ran for mayor and is now serving a second stint on the county commission. But Asencio — also a retired police officer — would likely have help from Democrats.

County Commission races are non-partisan. But Martinez is a Republican, and Miami-Dade Democrats have recently treated local races as if they were partisan clashes, seeing success recently with the surprise election of Democrat Eileen Higgins in a district representing Little Havana.

Additionally, Asencio’s political consultant, Reggie Cardozo, also represents the current House minority leader, state Rep. Kionne McGhee, who is term-limited and campaigning for the Miami-Dade Commission’s ninth district.