Democratic scramble on for Amy Mercado’s seat in HD 48
More business-friendly Julio Rocha and more progressive Samuel Vilchez Santiago lead money chase among five Democrats in HD 48 battle.

Julio Rocha and Samuel Vilchez Santiago
Five Democrats battle for a seat Democrats expect to keep.

When a plum seat for Democrats in the Florida House of Representatives unexpectedly came available in May, a scramble started, drawing a bevy of candidates for Tuesday’s Democratic primary in House District 48.

The scramble quickly lined up two wings of the party, with progressives pouring in endorsements and financial support for Samuel Vilchez Santiago, and the more business-focused moderate wing of the party doing so with Orlando financial planner Julio Rocha.

None of that, however, dismisses the other three, hotel industry strategic planner Tony Tsonis, real estate manager Nelson Pena, and former Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor Daisy Morales. A sixth Democrat withdrew.

Though Mercado was one of the leading voices in the Legislature for the party’s progressive wing, and a co-founder of its Progressive Legislative Caucus, HD 48 is not exactly a progressive community It is not like neighboring House District 47, with its trendy urban neighborhoods, or neighboring House District 50, home to University of Central Florida.

HD 48 covers a swath of central and southern Orange County with a majority-Hispanic electorate, a large Puerto Rican community, and a collection of mostly modest neighborhoods and industrial and retail centers. They all have been hard hit by the coronavirus crisis and the ensuing economic collapse.

The winner of Tuesday’s primary will face Jesus Martinez, a Republican who’s been garnering strong support from prominent Republicans throughout the region. But HD 48 will be a tough win for him, regardless of who emerges Tuesday. HD 48 gives Democrats a 30-point advantage in registered voters.

The coronavirus crisis, the economic collapse, and the ensuing struggle with Florida’s troublesome unemployment compensation system have been top topics for all of the candidates, and for the residents of HD 48, which has suffered Orange County’s worst COVID-19 outbreak, and is home to many people who lost jobs in the hard-hit tourism sector.

HD 48 also is a district where the affordable housing shortage is particularly acute.

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 [email protected]



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