Lantana Democrat Lori Berman easily defeated Republican Tami Donnally in the special election to fill the Senate District 31 seat vacated by former Sen. Jeff Clemens.
With more than 27,500 ballots cast, Berman captured nearly 75 percent of the vote, according to unofficial totals posted on the state Division of Elections website
According to Democratic consultant and numbers-cruncher Matt Isbell, this is the highest share of the vote received by any Florida Democrat in at least a decade.
Berman was immediately welcomed to the Senate by President Joe Negron on Twitter and by incoming Senate Democratic Leader Audrey Gibson.
“I am extremely excited to have now Senator Lori Berman as a member of our caucus!” said Gibson. “Lori is a deliberative legislator and will be a tremendous asset on policy discussions and value action from such discussions.”
Florida Democratic Party chair Terrie Rizzo also celebrated Berman’s win.
“South Florida has a progressive champion in Lori Berman – as a Representative she pushed for commonsense gun violence prevention measures, advocated for public schools, and fought for seniors,” said Rizzo. “We know she will continue to the same for Senate District 31 constituents. Let the Blue Wave in Florida continue!”
Berman’s victory had been a foregone conclusion since the early stages of the race.
The Boca Raton Democrat did as much to Clemens in the 2016 race, using nearly $1.9 million of his own money to bolster his insurgent campaign, though he ultimately received less than a third of the vote in in the three-way primary race.
His decision to step aside and endorse his former House colleague turned the Democratic Primary into a mere formality — Berman dominated in both fundraising and name recognition, and cleaned up with nearly 96 percent of the vote in her head-to-head against the fledgling campaign of first-time candidate Arthur Morrison.
Despite breaking the low bar set by Morrison in the primary, Donnally’s candidacy was no threat to Berman’s Senate hopes.
Unlike the 2017 special election for SD 40, or the pending special in HD 114, SD 31 is a Democratic stronghold. No Republican challenged to Clemens in the 2016 race and the seat voted plus-25 for Hillary Clinton — one of her best margins among the 19 state Senate districts she carried.
Also unlike the HD 114 race, Berman’s victory serves more of a purpose than providing another data point for Democrats’ forecast of a “blue wave.”
The Lantana lawmaker will get to be just that for the 2019 and 2020 Legislative sessions before she must reenter campaign mode.
Her election makes for 14 women in the state Senate and cuts the Republican advantage in the chamber to 23-16 — the SD 16 seat resigned by Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala will remain vacant until November.
***Update – 7:35 a.m.***
Between late Tuesday and Wednesday morning, several Democrat-aligned organization congratulated Berman on her victory.
The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee framed Berman’s win as part of a larger trend.
“The DLCC’s work alongside Florida Democrats has resulted in the election of three Democratic women to this battleground state’s upper legislative chamber, and we look forward to gaining more ground in 2018 and 2020 elections ahead of critical redistricting,” said DLCC executive director Jessica Post.
Post notes that DLCC recently announced a new record for first quarter fundraising of more than $5 million, with $1 million coming from online donations.
EMILY’s List noted that it had endorsed Berman.
“It’s exciting to see a talented woman like Lori Berman fill this vacancy,” said Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List. “Lori is one of the many women we’ve seen step up and run for office at this critical moment in time, when more women are desperately needed at decision-making tables across the country and at every level of government. Women are driving systemic change in politics, business, entertainment, and numerous other industries. Electing women like Lori to office is a way to help ensure that the voices of women and families are heard and their interests are represented.
Schriock emphasized a takeaway several Democrats offered after Berman’s win: It is not just a wave.
“This is an electoral sea change led by pro-choice Democratic women who are driving the momentum for Democrats at the ballot box across the country,” said Schriock. “Their success will change the face of leadership for decades. This is their moment, and EMILY’s List was proud to announce our support for these women in state offices and looks forward to standing with them throughout their careers.”