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Democrat wins Florida House seat that GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis kept empty for nearly a year

Rep.-elect Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick improved on President Joe Biden’s 2020 margin of victory in Florida’s 20th Congressional District.

By Josh Israel - January 12, 2022
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Florida Democrat Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick

Democratic nominee Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick overwhelmingly won a Florida congressional election on Tuesday. Due to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ refusal to schedule a timely special election, the seat had been vacant for more than nine months.

Cherfilus-McCormick, an attorney and health company CEO, defeated Republican nominee Jason Mariner by a 78.7%-19.6% landslide in Florida’s 20th Congressional District. The district’s longtime representative, Alcee Hastings (D), died on April 6, 2020.

Under Florida law, the governor has the unilateral authority to schedule special elections to fill vacant House seats. DeSantis waited weeks to take any action at all to fill the majority-Black district’s seat before a month later finally ordering Tuesday’s special election, well after local election officials had urged him to.

“I know there’ll be a lot of folks that want to run for it, so hopefully that gives them enough time to be able to get on the ballot and do whatever they need to do to be competitive,” he claimed at the time.

This meant that the more than 776,000 residents of the district have lacked any House representation for 281 days. According to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, DeSantis’ delay was far longer than any other of the past 20 years.

Cherfilus-McCormick’s victory margin of over 59 points on Tuesday actually improved on President Joe Biden’s 2020 margin in the district. According to data from Daily Kos Elections, Biden got 77.3% of the vote there to former President Donald Trump’s 22.1%, a 55.2% margin.

Top national Republicans have been claiming they expect a “red wave” in the 2022 midterm elections will give them the majority in the House and maybe the Senate.

Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who is chair of the National Republic Senatorial Committee, told the Associated Press in late December, “We’re going to have a hell of a year,” predicting, “Every state that Biden won by less than 10 is now a battleground state.”

But Tuesday’s results in his own state would appear to put a damper on that optimism.

And they come as recent polling has shown the GOP has lost its national midterm advantage, as registered voters generally now prefer Democrats over Republicans on the congressional ballot.

When Cherfilus-McCormick is sworn in, Democrats will be back to the full 222-seat majority it had at the start of the 117th Congress. They have easily won all four special elections to fill Democratic vacancies since January 2021.

Democratic state legislators in Florida proposed a bill last week that would require future special elections be held within 180 days of the start of a vacancy at most. Noting that delayed special elections for state House and state Senate seats left some parts of Broward County with no representation at all, state Sen. Tina Polsky (D) said, “There was no reason for this to happen. It has never happened before. … I don’t want to see this happen again in the future.”

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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