Eileen Higgins earned a surprise win in a special election for Miami-Dade County Commission District 5, defeating the wife of the departing District 5 commissioner.
Higgins, who was backed by Democrats in the officially nonpartisan race, took in 53 percent of the vote compared to Zoraida Barreiro‘s 47 percent.
“When I got started, it really was about making sure that our neighborhood, our friends, our neighbors, and the rest of the county felt represented,” said Higgins to her supporters following the win. “And that we put people first, rather than special interests.”
The two were competing in a runoff election after no candidate reached 50 percent of the vote in an election last month. Higgins and Barreiro advanced to the runoff after receiving 35 percent and 33 percent of the vote, respectively.
Yet despite Higgins’ first-place finish last month, many saw her as the underdog heading into the runoff.
For starters, both Barreiro and the third-place finisher, Alex Diaz de la Portilla, were backed by Republicans. Diaz de la Portilla pulled in 27 percent of the vote. Many expected the majority of his votes to shift to Barreiro, which would have easily put her over 50 percent.
Then there are the demographics. District 5 covers parts of Miami Beach and Miami, including Little Havana and other heavily Hispanic areas. Barreiro was born in Cuba. Higgins is originally from Ohio.
Add to that the two were running for the former seat of Barreiro’s husband, who chose to run for Congress in Florida’s 27th Congressional District after holding the District 5 seat for 20 years. His congressional campaign poured in nearly $100,000 to support her election bid. Even Sen. Marco Rubio and Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez publicly backed Barreiro.
All of those factors pointed to a likely Higgins loss.
While most eyes have been trained on national races, Florida Democrats are seeing signs of a so-called “blue wave” on the local level as well. Certainly, Higgins’ surprising win is one example. Democrats also see hope in a Palm Beach County Commission race that could flip a longtime Republican seat.
Several Florida Democrats congratulated Higgins on the win Tuesday night, including candidates in the CD 27 and gubernatorial primaries.
Congratulations to Miami-Dade County’s newest commissioner, Eileen Higgins, on her huge win tonight! I know you will do the right thing and help govern our county in a way that puts people over politics. #flapol #sayfie @eyesonmyworld pic.twitter.com/ZMjOz4HJdo
— Mayor Philip Levine (@MayorLevine) June 19, 2018
— Andrew Gillum (@AndrewGillum) June 20, 2018
— Matt Haggman (@matthaggman) June 20, 2018
The Democratic Party also released a statement highlighting Higgins’ victory. “Eileen Higgins victory made it very clear that no seat is safe in Florida,” the party said in a statement according to The Hill. “Today’s victory by Ms. Higgins is further evidence of a blue wave in 2018.”
According to the Miami Herald, Barreiro blamed her loss in part on the attention paid to her husband, as well as party politics.
“It’s always been about my husband. From Day One,” she said. “It was always about District 27, not District 5. Which is a shame, because this is a race about the county. About the issues that we were facing. It should never have been about parties.”
The 53-year-old Higgins started off as an engineer but eventually moved into marketing, according to her campaign website. She’s also started her own firm called Inside the Glass, which “helps local entrepreneurs and small businesses grow their companies in Florida” and elsewhere.
Higgins has also advocated for slowing the school-to-prison pipeline and reducing gun violence.
Close to 15 percent of registered voters in the district cast ballots in Tuesday’s election. That’s an increase from last month’s contest, where only 13 percent went to the polls.
Higgins will now serve out the final two years of Bruce Barreiro’s term before getting a chance to run for her first full term in 2020.