Now the party is seeing the same signs in a race for a Palm Beach County Commission seat that’s playing out much differently than expected.
The race to watch is the District 4 seat. Only three people — all Republicans — have held the seat since its creation in 1988.
Until last month, this race was expected to be a contest between Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie and Boca Councilman Robert Weinroth. But that changed when Haynie, a Republican, was arrested after allegedly hiding hundreds of thousands of dollars from developers and then lying about it. She has withdrawn from the race and now faces up to 23 years in prison on counts including official misconduct and perjury.
That leaves Weinroth and Democrats feeling confident they can take the typically Republican seat. But much like the U.S. Senate race in Alabama, there are events specific to this race so far which make it tough to draw out any larger conclusions about November. Not every Republican opponent is going to get arrested in the middle of the race.
Instead, it’s what Republicans have chosen to do in the aftermath of Haynie’s exit that has Democrats excited. At least two high-profile Republicans have declined to step in to challenge Weinroth. That’s despite the fact that the seat was won by the Republican candidate, Steven Abrams, with 59 percent of the vote back in 2014.
Nevertheless, Republicans seem to be backing off. Boca city councilman Scott Singer is choosing a run for mayor instead of county commissioner. And state Rep. Bill Hager, whose House district covers much of the county commission district, also declined to run despite the fact he is term-limited in the House.
That the GOP seems so ready to concede this longtime Republican seat is notable. The only challenger to Weinroth is William Vale, who has raised just over $3,500 as of May 3. By contrast, Weinroth has pulled in more than $81,000, including nearly $24,000 just last month. He has more than $76,000 still on hand.
Weinroth was outraising Haynie as well, even before her arrest. He has also now collected enough signatures to get his name on the ballot without being forced to face a qualifying fee.
So far, all signs point to this longtime GOP seat turning blue. If Democrats can replicate this pattern across the country, they’ll have much to cheer about come November.