Scott Powers, Author at Florida Politics - Page 4 of 289

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

Bill Nelson-Rick Scott U.S. Senate contest now in hand recount range

The U.S. Senate election’s numbers have tightened to the point that the question of who won — Republican Gov. Rick Scott or Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson — apparently now will go to a mandatory hand recount of all 8.1 million ballots, according to updates posted late Thursday by the Florida Secretary of State.

Scott’s lead was 15,175 votes statewide as of 7:30 p.m. Thursday. That’s down from more than 60,000 two days ago that separated the two.

Under Florida law, a recount by hand is required when the difference reaches one-quarter of 1 percent of the vote, or about 20,413 ballots in this contest.

If the contest’s spread remains below that level, the hand recount would be announced on Saturday by Secretary of State Ken Detzner, and hand recounting would start on Monday and run through Nov. 18.

It’s not clear, however, that that many ballots could be recounted by hand in that relatively short a time.

If the difference falls between that and about 40,426, then Detzner would order a machine recount of the ballots. That also would start Monday and would have to be finished by next Thursday.

There still are more ballots to be counted, including provisional ballots and other ballots that were set aside because of anomalies on Tuesday. They are now being counted by the election canvassing boards in each of Florida’s 67 counties.

Historically, more mistakes are found during a hand recount, as opposed to a machine recount and, therefore, can more quickly change the total vote tally in a race, Nelson’s campaign is contending. Given the trend of newly discovered votes leaning in Nelson’s favor, a hand recount could soon put Nelson ahead in the race, his campaign predicted.

Anna Eskamani’s fame is rising – in Iran

Democratic state Rep.-elect Anna Eskamani has been no stranger to national media coverage throughout her campaign, and now her election in House District 47 Tuesday also is drawing attention of Iranian media and international media broadcasting into Iran.

Eskamani, of Orlando, had been open throughout her campaign about her Iranian-American heritage, even working it into a campaign TV commercial, paying tribute to her Iranian-immigrant parents. Once elected, she pointed with pride to becoming the first Iranian-American elected official in Florida, and one of only a small handful across the United States.

Now she’s become a hot get for Iranian media, starting Tuesday night while she was still celebrating her victory over Republican Stockton Reeves. She’s done a half-dozen or so interviews since with Iranian media plus a live interview Wednesday on BBC News Persian, and another Thursday with Public Radio International, both broadcast into Iran and to Iranians living worldwide.

It seems people in Iran want to know, as she said one Iranian news medium headlined its story: “Who is this Persian girl, Anna Eskamani?”

“The love and support from the Iranian people has been incredible,” she said. “Actually, our website yesterday afternoon, I was told we received thousands of website visits, over 500 specifically from Iran. I think that for whatever reason the people of Iran have really been inspired by our story. … They see me as a fighter for rights here in Florida.”

Eskamani speaks and understands Farsi, but not well enough to be comfortable talking about politics, so she’s been giving her interviews in English.

A common line of inquiry from Iranian media, she said, comes from surprise that an American politician would be open about her Iranian roots, as many in Iran assume that would be a huge handicap in front of American voters, especially in a district that doesn’t have any significant Iranian-American population. That became an issue only briefly when a push-pollster started asking voters in September if they could vote for Eskamani if they knew she was Iranian. Reeves denied any connection to the poll and disavowed it, and it quickly went away as anyone’s issue.

Eskamani said she’s telling Iranian media that she’s turned her Iranian heritage into a more universal message about being the daughter of hard-working immigrants seeking to make better lives in America for their children, a message she said plays well with women back in Iran.

Eskamani is very conscious of the fights for human rights inside Iran, particularly by women, and has written graduate-level college research papers on it.

If there is a respect and admiration, it is mutual.

One interviewer asked her, “What message do you send to Iranian women and girls who find you to be an inspiration?”

“I told them that, ‘You inspire me, with your struggle, and the environment you have to navigate. It reminds me not to take anything for granted,'” she said.

“In my veins there are women who are fighting across this world for their rights, and so this reminds me I have to stay strong and continue to advocate for those issues that affect women and girls here in Florida, and knowing I’m not alone in those efforts,” she said. “There are women on the other side of the world who are doing the same under different circumstances.”

She recognizes that some of the things she’s said for broadcast or publication in Iran could have cost her. Eskamani has family in Iran, whom she and her sister and brother sometimes go to visit.

“I know there are Iranians my age who never want to get involved in politics because if they do they can never go back to Iran. To some degree I might have put myself in that place already,” Eskamani said. “But for me, I think it’s worth it to be an advocate on these issues, because people need an advocate.”

Photo is a screen shot from BBC News Persian

 

Bill Nelson’s lawyer, citing hand-recount trends, predicts Democrat’s victory

As Florida’s U.S. Senate election heads toward likely recount the legal counsel hired by Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson‘s campaign is predicting it will be a hand recount and says several trends convince him that Nelson will ultimately defeat Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who leads.

“Looking at historical data, Democrats tend to gain recounts, tend to gain more votes in hand recounts than in machine recounts, but tend to gain votes in machine recounts,” Marc Elias said in a press call Thursday morning.

“So I’m confident that Sen. Nelson and the Democrats are going to do well in terms of vote share in the days that come because when at the end of the day all eligible votes have their votes counted and counted accurately, the fundamental truth we are going to learn is more voters voted for Sen. Nelson than voted for Gov. Scott.”

As of the latest count from the Florida Division of Elections, Scott holds a 21,888 vote lead out of about 8.5 million votes cast, a difference of 0.27 percent. That’s well under the 0.5 percent margin that automatically triggers a machine-driven recount in Florida, and just over the 0.25 percent margin that would trigger a hand recount, in which vote canvassers actually examining every ballot. That margin has shrunk from a 57,000-vote lead Scott held at the end of Election Day.

Scott’s campaign responded Thursday by denigrating Elias, a well-known and well-traveled Democratic elections lawyer, as a hired gun hired to “steal” the Florida U.S. Senate election.

“It is sad and embarrassing that Bill Nelson would resort to these low tactics after the voters have clearly spoken. Maybe next, he’ll start ranting that Russians stole the election from him,” Scott’s campaign declared in a press release.

Elias, political law practice chair at the Washington D.C. law firm of Perkins Coie, has decades of experience challenging election outcomes and states’ elections practices, and overseeing vote recounts on behalf of Democratic candidates.

Elias brushed aside assertions that he can influence the outcome, saying that the election is heading into the hands of the counties’ canvassing boards; and while both sides will be watching and mobilizing what they can, those boards will be in position to determine the final counts.

“There isn’t anything that I’m going to be able to do about that. There isn’t anything that Gov. Scott and his millions of dollars are going to be able to do about that, or Secretary of State [Ken] Detzner is going to be able to do about that,” Elias said. “I think you’re going to see the will of the voters is going to come out in Florida. And Sen. Nelson will be sworn in for another term to the United States Senate.”

Florida’s 67 county Supervisors of Election’s canvassing boards have all begun canvassing ballots and will do so through Saturday morning, reviewing provisional ballots and others for acceptance and certifying the machine counts.

On Saturday afternoon the Florida Secretary of State’s office will make determinations of whether and what kinds of recounts would be necessary. Those would start Monday at the supervisors’ offices.

While Democrats, including Elias, and others are urging people who voted on provisional ballots to return to the supervisors’ offices to present identification and advocate for their votes, Elias said in many cases the votes will be “self-cured” when they’re examined by the canvassing boards.

If a machine recount is ordered, that is to be completed by next Thursday. If a hand-recount is ordered, that is to be completed by Nov. 18.

“I think you are going to see the race tighten from the provisionals as well,” he said, referring to the canvassing board activites now underway, adding that by Saturday the race should be very tight. “I would say it’s a jump ball. We may be up by 5,000 votes. We may be down by 5,000 votes.”

Any margin close to that would trigger a hand recount.

On Thursday Elias pointed to several factors he said are likely to provide more votes, and contended that history shows those more votes would break Nelson’s way.

— In Palm Beach County, 10,000 ballots still need to be counted by the canvassing board because they had stray marks or other anomalies that prevented machines from counting them. In Palm Beach County Nelson got 58 percent of the vote.

— An unknown number of ballots still need to be counted in Broward County, where Nelson got 69 percent of the vote.

— Provisional ballots, he said, historically break Democrats’ way, even in Republican-dominated areas.

— And he pointed to what he said was a highly-unusual anomaly in Broward County: the U.S. Senate race actually drew fewer votes than the state cabinet races, not just for the governor’s office, but including for Attorney General, Chief Financial Officer, and Agriculture Commissioner.

He said a comparison with the U.S. House races in Broward also showed that there were many ballots counted in which people appeared to vote in the congressional races but not in the Seante race.

Elias speculated that scanners might not have been calibrated correctly and might not have always picked up the votes at the top of the ballot. If so, those would be caught in a hand recount, if not in a machine recount using a better calibrated machine, he said.

“What is unusual is to see undervote at the top of the ticket. Not only is it unusual, I can’t think of a single instance where you had fewer votes for the Senate than for the down-ballot,” Elias said.

‘Girl rescued at sea’ now riding high toward Democratic-controlled Congress

Few election losses anywhere in 2016 drew more Republican vows for revenge than when Stephanie Murphy came out of nowhere, dubbed the “Girl Rescued at Sea” for her life story as an infant in a family who fled Vietnam on a rickety boat, and stunned 12-term Republican U.S. Rep. John Mica in Florida’s 7th Congressional District.

Now, with Tuesday’s convincing re-election victory in a moderate district, Murphy finds herself as a potential rising power in the upcoming Democratic-controlled 116th Congress, especially if the party’s moderates try to take power.

Her re-election began emerging as inevitable shortly after she took office as a freshman congresswoman, even though the day after her 2016 election many Republicans circled Nov. 6, 2018, on their longrange calendars.

But as Murphy eased into office as a centrist Democratic congresswoman and began appealing to the Republicans’ chamber-of-commerce wing, all the Republican vows to take back CD 7 started falling away. A slew of potentially strong candidates, notably state Sen. David Simmons, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, and state Rep. Bob Cortes, one-by-one tested the waters and said no thanks.

Ultimately it was left to state Rep. Mike Miller, a nice, middle-of-the-road Republican lawmaker without any of Cortes’s fire, Simmons’ gravitas, or Jacobs’ star power, to brush aside hard-edge right-winger Scott Sturgill for the right to take on what had already begun looking like a Republican lost cause.

In the end, despite all the tough talk in late 2016 and early 2017, no cavalry ever rode to Miller’s aid. The national party and all the Republican support committees left him to what they knew would be his lost fate. Even the chambers of commerce abandoned him for Murphy.

Murphy won in the Republican-controlled Seminole County by 15,000 votes, 54-46 over Miller, and in the Democratic-controlled Orange County by 34,000 votes, 64-36. Overall, she defeated Miller 58-42. In the end, Democratic groups put in just over $1 million to help her re-election, but by the time it arrived, that spending looked more like investments in her than necessary aid for her.

And now she finds herself battle-tested and as a potential key centrist member of the upcoming Democratic-controlled 116th Congress.

On the one hand, Murphy has not endorsed the speakership bid of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and should she return to the speakership, Murphy’s lack of loyalty could cost her. On the other hand, Murphy has become a key member of so many centrist-Democratic and bipartisan groups, including the Blue Dog Coalition and the New Democratic Coalition, on both of which she co-chairs subcommittees, that her available vote in the speakership race could be a valuable get, worth negotiating for.

In Congress, Murphy has established credentials in two critical areas that Republicans have long dominated. She also stands as the only Democratic member of the 115th Congress who succeeded in getting a gun-law reform bill approved into law.

Drawing on her background as a former U.S. Defense Department analyst and what became an obvious deep interest and understanding of foreign affairs strategy, Murphy has become a respected and effective member on the House Armed Services Committee.

She established herself as a leading Democratic policy shaper in several foreign affairs areas, notably North Korea, China, Southeast Asia, and Asian alliances. She also became an active and articulate critic of President Donald Trump‘s national security, trade and cyber-security policies, and his actions in the region and in dealing with the military and political moves. She got herself appointed co-chair of the Democratic National Security Task Force.

Her influence on that committee, particularly on East Asian policy, will no doubt grow expodentially now that Demoratic Ranking Member Adam Smith of Washington is set to take the chair.

She’s also a member of the House Small Business Committee, drawing on her background as a businesswoman and business instructor at Rollins College, and family connections to a myriad of businesses in Orlando, Winter Park and elsewhere involving her husband and his family, starting with the for-profit Full Sail University. It’s that position, and her legislative maneuvers regarding small businesses, that won her endorsements of several chambers of commerce, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, effectively killing any hope Miller had of establishing a winning Republican coalition for Tuesday’s election.

That committee’s likely next chair, Ranking Member Nydia Velázquez of New York, campaigned in Orlando for Murphy.

Brightline submits only proposal for Orlando-Tampa train line

Brightline, the operator of the new South Florida private passenger train service with plans to extend to Orlando, has submitted the only proposal to Florida officials for a proposed new route from Orlando to Tampa.

The Florida Department of Transportation announced late Wednesday that Brightline, which initiated the process by submitting an unsolicited proposal in June, was the only company to have responded after the department opened to other potential companies’ proposals with requests for proposals the department issued in June.

Wednesday was the deadline for the proposals to be submitted.

The department is looking for a proposal that would put in an intercity passenger train line that would lease and use highway rights of way owned by the Florida Department of Transportation and the Central Florida Expressway Authority.

That presumably would mean the I-4 corridor between the cities, and either the State Road 417 or State Road 528 corridors from I-4 to the Orlando International Airport, which now has a constructed but not operational high-speed passenger train terminal. Brightline’s plan to extend its South Florida service up the east coast to Orlando would terminate at that airport terminal. The department also lists the Florida Turnpike as available for a possible route.

Parts of both State Road 417 and State Road 528, which both have exits to the Orlando airport, are owned by both the state department and the Central Florida Expressway authority. The other roads are owned by the state department.

The exact route into Orlando, and whether it includes any stops in Central Florida’s tourist centers, is likely to be controversial, as it was in the last major attempt, a decade ago, to bring high-speed passenger rail service between the two cities. That proposal, killed by Gov. Rick Scott in 2011, had divided Central Florida interests between a proposal to use State Road 528, a more expensive option that could have included a stop serving the International Drive district including the Orange County Convention Center, SeaWorld and Universal Orlando. That was opposed by Walt Disney World, which supported the shorter and less-expensive corridor along State Road 417, which would bypass its competitors.

The Florida Department of Transportation has not yet released the Brightline proposal. However, a project selection committee has been appointed and will meet to review the proposal on Nov. 28.

As Trump turns Florida more red, Orange County sparkles blue

Florida might not have seen a blue wave, but Orange County certainly did. A pink one, too.

The waves also rolled through neighboring Seminole County, where they didn’t wash away much Republican establishment, but likely scared plenty.

The results of Tuesday’s election means that for the first time in more than 20 years Democrats will control the Orange County Commission. It’s officially a nonpartisan board, but the parties battle hard for it, and this year it is flipping from a 5-2 advantage for Republicans, to a 5-2 advantage for Democrats.

“The largest accomplishment to me was taking back the county commission,” said Orange County Democratic Chair Wes Hodge. “We’ve had a Democratic county [in voter registration] for quite some time and the fact that the party could not control the county commission was unacceptable to me … I said that was my highest priority.”

Tuesday’s results also saw Orange Democrats flip three Florida House seats, two entirely inside Orange County and one split with Seminole County. The day began with Republicans holding five of nine seats that are at least partially in Orange County, and ended with Democrats getting seven of those nine. Democrat Joy Goff-Marcil took House District 30 away from Republican state Rep. Bob Cortes. Democrat Geraldine Thompson took House District 44 away from Republican state Rep. Bobby Olszewski. And Anna Eskamani flipped House District 47 from Republican control.

In other officially nonpartisan races, Orange County Democrats filled out six of eight seats on the Orange County School Board, including seats taken in the August election as well; and took both available seats on the Orange County Soil and Water Conservation District.

The changes in elected office were only a matter of time as the Democrats have been building a tremendous registered voter advantage over the past decade, now with almost 132,000 more registered Democrats than registered Republicans.

That led, Tuesday night, to Orange County delivering a net 113,000 votes for Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, and a net 122,000 votes for Demorcratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum, who both lost but appear heading toward statewide recounts.

“We cleaned up,” Hodge said.

Meanwhile, Seminole County, long a Republican counterweight to Orange County in Central Florida, was no such thing Tuesday. Seminole County voters also favored Nelson and Gillum, albeit by razor-thin 3,500 net votes apiece. Democratic Agriculture Commissioner nominee Nikki Fried also won in Seminole.

Seminole County voters also contributed significantly to the easy re-election of Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy over Republican state Rep. Mike Miller in Florida’s 7th Congressional District, and to Goff-Marcil’s upset over two-term incumbent Cortes in House District 30. Murphy won by 34,000 votes on the Orange County side, and another 15,000 in Seminole. Goff-Marcil won by 2,000 in Orange and almost that many in Seminole against a much-better financed Cortes.

The Democrats muscle-flexing didn’t end there. In the other two Seminole County Florida House races the Republicans barely held the seats against under-financed Democrats. State Rep. Scott Plakon and David Smith both won by 51-49 margins.

As for the pink wave:

Murphy, Goff-Marcil, Thompson, and Eskamani; the three Orange County Commission winners, Republican Christine Moore and Democrats Mayra Uribe and Maribel Cordero; both Orange County School Board winners, Johanna Lopez and Melissa Byrd; and both Soil and Water Conservation District winners, Daisy Morales and Dawn Curtis; all are women.

Later this month when the new Orange County School Board is sworn in, all eight members, including  Republican Chair Teresa Jacobs, who won in August, will be women.

In December when the new Orange County Commission is sworn in, all six members, not including new Mayor Jerry Demings, will be women.

Florida’s U.S. Senate race headed for a recount

Despite GOP Gov. Rick Scott claiming victory Tuesday night, the U.S. Senate election between him and incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson is heading to a recount.

The initial margin of victory is less than a half-percent, which triggers an automatic machine recount under state law. Just 26,056 votes separate the two candidates out of more than eight million cast, according to the state’s elections website.

Scott, a former Naples businessman, won election as governor in 2010 by one percent, and then won re-election in 2014 by one percent, and looked to have knocked off Nelson by less than one percent.

At 12:15 a.m., Nelson’s longtime chief of staff, campaign manager and confidant Pete Mitchell addressed what was left of his campaign party, declaring the race had been called by multiple media outlets, that Scott had won, and that Nelson would be making a statement Wednesday.

“Numerous reports on the Senate race have called it for Gov. Scott. This is obviously not the result Sen. Nelson’s campaign has worked so hard for. The Senator will be making a full statement tomorrow.” An exhausted-looking Mitchell then left the room.

In the light of day Wednesday, a new reality emerged: those South Florida votes came in and put the race in recount territory.

“We are proceeding to a recount,” Sen. Nelson said Wednesday morning in a brief statement.

From here, local supervisors of election will recheck the tally, and the Nelson campaign will contact voters with verification issues. The campaign will have observers in all 67 counties.

As a measure of how close Tuesday night was, this isn’t even the biggest statewide nail biter: a manual recount scenario is in play for the Agriculture Commissioner race between Democrat Nikki Fried and Republican Matt Caldwell, with the margin there at 8,254 votes and outstanding mail ballots from Democratic strongholds Broward and Palm Beach, as well as Democratic performing Duval County.

The Governor’s race between Democrat Andrew Gillum and Republican Ron DeSantis, meanwhile, is also on a razor’s edge, though with a 0.58 percent spread it is outside of recount territory. If Gillum snags another 6,000 or so votes, he and DeSantis will join the club.

A close call after an expensive election on both sides.

A Scott spokesman criticized Nelson immediately: “This race is over,” Chris Hartline said. “It’s a sad way for Bill Nelson to end his career. He is desperately trying to hold on to something that no longer exists.”

This election not only shattered Florida records for money spent on the campaigns — $177 million through last week, with bills still not posted — but also set new low-water marks for negative campaigning, as both candidates and their allies strove to define or redefine their opponents:

— For Scott, that meant Nelson and several Democratic committees combined to spend at least $80 million convincing voters that the governor cut education funding, stripped away environmental protections, oversaw Florida’s red tide disaster, waffled on health care pre-existing conditions coverage, refused to expand Medicaid in Florida, pushed through tax cuts that made rich people richer, and had a dodgy business career, highlighted by massive Medicare and Medicaid fraud by his company.

— For Nelson, that meant Scott and the New Republican PAC spent nearly $100 million, including at least $51 million of Scott’s own fortune, convincing voters that Nelson’s accomplished little or nothing in a half-century in public service, other than voting along Democratic lines in key moments involving taxes and health care; has long been an empty suit collecting government pay and amassing government pension benefits; and that he’s getting old, and perhaps growing “confused.”

Campaigns are “divisive” and “tough,” Scott said.

“And they’re really actually way too nasty,” he said. “But you know what? We’ve done this for over 200 years, and after these campaigns, we come together.”

That kumbaya moment won’t happen until after the recount, however.

While Scott’s campaign aggressively and sometimes angrily fought back against the charges leveled against him in the Democrats’ campaigns, Nelson mostly shrugged off Scott’s attacks.

The governor, in what may have been a premature victory speech, vowed to bring to Washington the same business-like approach he used as an outsider when he assumed office eight years ago as governor.

“The federal government is frustrating. It’s outdated. It’s wasteful. It’s inefficient,” Scott said. “All of us in state government have dealt with the federal government over the last eight years, and we can tell you story after story after story. Now, I’m just one individual, but there are a lot of other individuals in D.C. that want to do the same thing. And I’m going to work with them and we will change, like we did in Florida, the direction of Washington, D.C.”

For all his public awkwardness that supporters say makes him look genuine and critics say makes him look creepy, Scott managed, especially in the closing weeks, to project a sincerity: someone who looked in command overseeing hurricane recovery, someone who looked comfortable playing with his grandchildren, someone who sounded true stating his positions.

Also in play was Nelson’s card-carrying membership in the opposition to President Donald Trump, while Scott went from close friend and ally of Trump, to someone who hardly ever spoke the president’s name, to someone who joined the divisive party leader at a rally last week. In huge swathes of Florida outside the urban cores, Trump’s support may remain unchanged, and party leaders like Volusia Chair Tony Ledbetter spoke of a Republican base that was angry, ready to vote.

Many political observers postulated that Nelson had never previously been seriously challenged in his Senate campaigns, beating then-U.S. Rep. Bill McCullum in 2000; controversial Secretary of State Katherine Harris in 2006; and then U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV in 2012, each by easy margins. Lucky some called him.

Scott, meanwhile, was seen by many political observers as someone capable of overcoming negative campaigning against him to come out of nowhere to win, as he did in 2010, defeating Alex Sink 49-48; or with an underwater favorability rating, as he did in 2014, defeating ex-Gov. Charlie Crist, 48-47. His personal wealth certainly helped: he spent $73 million of his own money in 2010, and at least $51 million this time.

However, the election isn’t over. Yet.

__

Orlando correspondent Scott Powers, Jacksonville correspondent A.G. Gancarski, and The News Service of Florida contributed to this post.

Mike La Rosa wins re-election in HD 42

Republican state Rep. Mike La Rosa rode to an easy victory Tuesday night in Florida House District 42.

La Rosa pulled off a 54 percent to 46 percent win over Democrat Barbara Cady in a district that has trended Democrat to the point where La Rosa swam against a six-point Democratic advantage in voter registration.

The district is similar in many ways to House District 30, where La Rosa’s Republican colleague state Rep. Bob Cortes went down hard Tuesday night.

But La Rosa, the three-term representative from Saint Cloud ran on a campaign that he was had been delivering for the district, watching out for the critical tourism industry as a powerful chairman of the House Gaming Control and Tourism Subcommittee, and was a steady figure in a rapidly changing Osceola County, while Cady ran largely on homeowners’ association rights.

Scott Plakon re-elected, David Smith wins in Seminole House seats

In two nail-biter elections that followed their Republican colleague’s surprising loss earlier in the evening, Republican state Rep. Scott Plakon was re-elected Tuesday and David Smith won election to another Seminole County seat that had always been held by Republicans.

But neither won easily. Plakon defeated Democrat Tracey Kagan 51 percent to 49 percent to win re-election in House District 29.

Smith defeated Democrat Lee Mangold also by 51 percent to 49 percent to win an open seat in House District 28.

Earlier they watched Republican state Rep. Bob Cortes lose House District 30 to Maitland City Councilwoman Joy Goff-Marcil.

Plakon’s victory actually gives him a fifth term. He had served two terms in what is now Cortes’s district before he lost to Castor Dentel in 2012.

The Longwood publisher then ran and won in HD 29, and was re-elected in 2016. During that campaign and much of this one, he had to face the gradual decline of Susie Plakon, his wife of nearly 33 years, from Alzheimer’s Disease. She died in July, and Plakon said his focus on his campaign in the past couple of months has helped him cope.

Smith, of Winter Springs, a retired U.S. Marine colonel and business consultant in the field of simulation and modeling technologies, first emerged politically in 2014 when he challenged then-U.S. Rep. John Mica in the Republican primary. Mica easily won that challenge but lost to Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy two years later.

Smith had shown fundraising prowess and an ability to also self-fund his campaign, and a hard-driving commitment to campaigning and as soon as he entered the HD 28 race, seeking to succeed outgoing Republican state Rep. Jason Brodeur, he was the candidate to beat.

Geraldine Thompson topples Bobby Olszewski in HD 44

Democratic former state Sen. Geraldine Thompson is back, grabbing a House District from Republican state Rep. Bobby Olszewski that once was considered such safe Republican seat that no previous Democrat has ever been competitive.

Thompson claimed House District 44, covering suburban southwestern Orange County Tuesday night, defeating Olszewski by 2,000 votes and a 51 percent to 49 percent spread.

In her victory speech, Thompson declared that no Democrat, no woman, and no African-American candidate had ever had a chance there before, but “now you’ve got the trifecta!”

“This particular race shows we are moving to the point where we are knocking doors down, we are breaking the barriers,” Thompson said.

Despite being outspent five to one in the campaign, she returns to Tallahassee after previously serving in the Florida House in another district, and the in the Florida Senate in Senate District 11, which covers much of the same area, stretching from Winter Garden and Ocoee down through Windermere an Dr. Phillips and to the Orlando theme parks and tourist districts.

“It’s about serving everybody rather than just the special interests,” Thompson pledged.

Olszewski won the seat just 13 months ago in a special election.

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