Florida voters made a lot of decisions Tuesday night in races up and down the Primary ballot.
This election was like no other before it, with a national conversation raging about the safety of voting in person amid an ongoing pandemic juxtaposed with fears over the integrity of vote-by-mail. Yet voters showed up, regardless of how they chose to do so.
Incumbents were ousted, upsets were made and, like always, there were players who stood out and players who took a nosedive.
In our winners and losers list, we look at the people behind the scenes making calls that could make or break races.
The biggest winner
Matt Gaetz: It’s official — he’s now a kingmaker, or queenmaker, in Republican politics. Anna Paulina Luna defeated Amanda Makki in Congressional District 13, Scott Franklin vanquished Ross Spano in CD 15, and Laura Loomer overcame five opponents in the CD 21 GOP primary. And strong support for Marcus Chambers in Okaloosa and Alex Andrade in House District 2 was well founded. Nearly every candidate he backed is on their way to the General Election. The only question remaining … can his picks get it done in November?
Senate leadership: Incoming Senate President Wilton Simpson was already winning before Tuesday — Jason Brodeur and Danny Burgess landed the Republican nominations for Senate District 9 and SD 20 uncontested. But in the few races where Simpson’s chosen one had a primary challenger, they won big. If this year’s Senate slate was a poker game, Simpson got to pick his cards. As for Simpson’s Democratic counterpart, Gary Farmer, some may quibble about how much his sweeping impacted the curl of the races, but can you imagine how bad it would have been for him if he had Daphne Campbell and Irv Slosberg in his caucus.
Chris Sprowls: The incoming House Speaker has done a heck of a job. He invested heavily in Rep. Danny Perez, who fended off a Jose Oliva-backed challenger in convincing fashion. He has also recruited an all-star set of women candidates for Tampa Bay’s House slate — Linda Chaney in HD 69, Traci Koster in HD 64 and Fiona McFarland in HD 72 among them.
Josh Cooper: The world-class chef has certainly been too busy pursuing culinary excellence for his next-level opposition research to be put to use in ultra-competitive GOP primaries, amIrite? If you think so, well, these are not the droids you are looking for, either.
Anna Eskamani: She and Gaetz have at least one thing in common: They know how to pick a winner. Eskamani put her thumb on the scale in some high-profile primaries and, more often than not, her candidate won. Her biggest victories, by far, were Angie Nixon over Rep. Kim Daniels in HD 14 and Omari Hardy over Rep. Al Jacquet in HD 88. The rest of her picks: Chad Albritton for Casselberry City Commission, Christopher Benjamin for HD 107, Karen Castor Dentel for Orange County School Board, Nicole Hamm for Jacksonville City Council, Rep. Shevrin Jones for SD 35, Jacquelyn McMiller for Fort Myers Mayor, Rep. Amy Mercado for Orange County Property Appraiser, Jack Porter for Tallahassee City Commission, Michelle Rayner for HD 70, Nicole Wilson for Orange County Commission and Monique Worrell for Orange-Osceola State Attorney.
Jayer Williamson: The Panhandle lawmaker was one of the biggest winners of Tuesday night and he wasn’t even on the ballot. No more Mike Hill, no Cris Dosev. His job just became a hell of a lot easier.
Florida Chamber: Its candidates went 21-2 on Election Day. Either the Chamber has an underground PreCog department or it’s just that savvy. Whether the Chamber’s endorsements were a difference maker in Tuesday’s elections is debatable — the writing was on the wall in big races such as SD 27 — but its list makes a pretty good betting guide, no?
AFP Action: The free-market group’s PAC weighed in on state legislative races for the first time this cycle, supporting Ray Rodrigues for Senate and Lauren Melo for the House. They’re getting both. Oh, and Byron Donalds’ win in the CD 19 primary makes him a sure thing, too. Superb moves by Skylar Zander.
Pete Antonacci: Contrary to elections of yore, when Broward became a national laughingstock for its untimely election results, appointed Elections Supervisor Pete Antonacci delivered a seemingly seamless election under the most trying of pandemic conditions. Nothing speaks louder on election night than numbers. People want the results quickly and accurately, and Antonacci’s office delivered the rolling tallies without delays, far before Palm Beach County did. It also live-streamed its vote-counting and canvassing board’s work.
Tim Baker: The veteran campaign consultant’s candidates came up aces. His list of primary winners: U. S. Rep. John Rutherford in CD 4, Rep. Ray Rodrigues in SD 27, Pat Maney in HD 4, Webster Barnaby in HD 27, Fiona McFarland in HD 72, Adam Botana in HD 76, Rob Hardwick for St. John’s Sheriff, Jody Phillips for Duval Clerk of Courts and Rep. Mel Ponder for Okaloosa County Commission.
James Blair: Blair makes our winners column for the third cycle in a row, starting with his time at the Republican Party of Florida in 2016 and on the Ron DeSantis campaign in 2018. Now running his own firm, Blair made a big mark in Republican congressional primaries. He was hired in mid-February to save the flagging Luna campaign when the candidate cleaned house after five months of paltry fundraising. Blair’s turnaround culminated in an 8-point victory for Luna in the primary. In CD 19, Blair helped orchestrate outside air support for Rep. Byron Donalds, including running his own Super PAC that blistered the opposition and helped Donalds down the stretch as it got tight. Especially noteworthy was his fast response work after text messages went out to voters claiming Donalds had dropped out on Election Day. Blair will be busy in the General Election, but his phone will need a new battery after Tuesday’s victories.
Black candidates in Broward: Broward voted for Black candidates up and down the ballot Tuesday. Sheriff Gregory Tony is virtually assured a full term with his Democratic primary win against ousted Sheriff Scott Israel; Harold Pryor is set to be State Attorney; Gordon Weekes is poised to become the county’s Public Defender; Joe Scott emerged from a six-way primary to take over as Supervisor of Elections; and incumbent Brenda Forman secured reelection as Clerk of the Court.
Carlos Beruff: The Medallion Home founder enjoyed a big night in his home base of Manatee County. Beruff-backed George Kruse won an open County Commission seat over former County Administrator Ed Hunzeker, who had the endorsement of outgoing Commissioner Betsy Benac. Meanwhile, James Satcher, a Beruff-friendly candidate, also unseated Priscilla Trice on the board, greatly boosting the influential developer’s influence.
Disney: Mercado’s defeat of Orange County Property Appraiser Rick Singh, a thorn in the side to Orlando’s theme park industry, was the best news for The Mouse since the debut of “Hamilton” on Disney+.
Brad Herold: With wins for handling the media for Luna in CD 13 and Donalds in CD 19, Herold (who quarterbacked DeSantis past Adam Putnam) is making a name for himself for winning big, tough primaries.
Eric Johnson: He went five out of six in his primary races. Polsky walloped the better-known Irv Slosberg despite being outspent by more than a half-million dollars. He also partnered with Ashley Walker on one of the toughest wins in the state: Getting appointed Broward Sheriff Tony elected over Israel. Johnson also shepherded Kelly Skidmore and Christine Hunchdosky’s state House primary wins and Harry Cohen’s victory in the Hillsborough County Commission District 1 primary. His only loss was in the Broward State Attorney race, where George Soros spent $1 million in the 11th Hour. Oh, well, nobody can win ’em all … but Johnson can win most of them.
Justice for Dan Markel: Friends of murdered FSU professor Dan Markel are unrelenting in their efforts to bring justice to Dan and his family. Most recently, the group focused scrutiny on HD 81 candidate Michael Weinstein – the longtime friend and sometimes-attorney of Charlie Adelson, Markel’s former brother-in-law, who authorities say hired the hitmen that killed him. Weinstein defended his groomsman on national TV and provided legal advice to the Adelson family, who have remained free despite their accomplices being arrested. When he announced his run for HD 81, Weinstein said helping Charlie Adelson was no different than a doctor treating a friend with cancer. He won’t need to explain this offensive analogy to constituents though — Weinstein lost his primary to Skidmore.
Alex Miranda: In one of the closest races of the Primary — the three-way scrum for House District 120 — the savvy Republican operative came in near the end to help Jim Mooney across the finish line.
Ruth’s List: The group that supports abortion rights candidates is celebrating wins for more than 30 of the Democratic women it backed in the primary. Some of them were shoo-ins, to be sure, but others held their ground in truly competitive races. Their Senate picks made it look easy — Patricia Sigman earned more than 50% of the vote in the five-person primary for SD 9 and Polsky demolished Slosberg in SD 29. Big wins in the House include Rayner in HD 70, Yvonne Hinson in HD 20 and Marie Woodson in HD 101, all of whom will go on to replace men who previously held those seats.
Team Donalds: Donalds’ CD 19 win was a true team effort. Shawn Frost did such an impeccable job as campaign manager, nobody would guess it was his first time leading a congressional campaign — really. Jordan Gibson killed it on social media. Mark Harris was an ace general consultant. The rapid response to the bogus Election Day texts sealed the deal, resulting in Cold Spark’s first win in the Sunshine State. It surely won’t be their last.
Wes Hodge: It wasn’t long ago in Orange County that Republicans dominated politics, winning most elections even as they increasingly faced disadvantages in voter registration. Now they’re not even competitive, except in select spots. Is the Chair of the Orange County Democrats making all the right moves? Or is he like someone who bought into Apple just before the MacIntosh was announced? Regardless, Hodge wins. A lot, lately. On Tuesday, Democrats ousted a very accomplished and seemingly safe Republican County Commissioner Betsy VanderLey, and held off high-profile challengers to two of their own who should have been vulnerable, Mayra Uribe and Emily Bonilla. Orange County Democrats also saw primary elections shake out with true progressives winning primaries for State Attorney and Property Appraiser. Based on Tuesday’s results, Orange Democrats will sweep countywide offices in November and are likely to continue to dominate congressional and Florida House and Senate elections. That’s partly because, since Hodge took over in late 2016, Orange Democrats have increased their rolls by 28,000 voters, while Republicans have seen no increase in theirs.
Christian Ulvert: As one insider noted, if you want to know who are the consultants du jour in Florida Democratic Party circles, look at who is advising former party chair turned House candidate Allison Tant: Deliver Strategies, MDW, and, of course, Edge Communications’ Christian Ulvert. The veteran South Florida Democrat had a strong showing Tuesday, running the table in the twelve races in which he was playing. His notable wins include Daniella Levine-Cava’s strong showing in the Miami-Dade mayoral race (Ulvert gets bonus points there because Alex Penelas DID NOT make the run-off as was widely expected) and a dogged defense of Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle.
Michael Worley: The Democratic digital strategist had 22 (!) candidates win or make run-offs, including Daniella Levine-Cava, who is poised to become the first woman Mayor of Miami-Dade County, and the first Democrat in more than 15 years.
Mark Zubaly: We could tally up all the wins and losses of the veteran consultant, but it doesn’t matter. He helped Michelle Salzman beat Mike Hill. Even if he struck out otherwise, that alone makes him a winner — not just to Pensacolans, but to all Floridians with a sense of decency.
Front Line Strategy’s press releases touting its clients’ wins: Brett Doster says he’s not sending them anymore because we made fun of them. But now we miss them. You never know what you have until its gone.
Anthony Pedicini: A lot of losses in open House races, but a lot of wins, too. Alex Andrade, Fred Hawkins, Danny Perez, Chad Chronister. The Tampa consultant says he went 17-7 Tuesday night. Any other consultant would be ecstatic with those numbers.
Marc Reichelderfer: Losses in CD 3, CD 13, and HD 82 are offset by the upset win of the night in Scott Franklin, Lauren Melo‘s win in HD 80 and beating David Rivera’s ally in HD 120. Reichelderfer also had a piece of Fred Hawkins win in HD 42 and he’s got a big race coming up in Marva Preston‘s bid in Senate District 3.
Homophobes: Bye-bye to Reps. Al Jacquet and Mike Hill. Turns out using homophobic slurs and laughing about stoning LGBTQ+ people is a political death sentence from the Panhandle to South Florida. If only there were a stronger word than schadenfreude.
Nick Carr and Matt Pusateri: The closely-tied Southwest Florida operatives drew sideways looks when Carr signed on with self-fund Casey Askar and Pusateri formed an “independent” Super PAC Honesty America. It shocked no one when HA trashed every other major candidate in CD 19. Then it cut a big check to a marketing firm tied to Pusateri right before as texts wrongly claiming Byron Donalds quit hit phones on Election Day. These two might count their blessings Askar went down, making FEC complaints not worth the time.
Chris Dorworth: He threw everything he had at Seminole County Commissioners Lee Constantine and Ben Dallari. On Tuesday, they body slammed the City Commissioner and WWE star they faced on the ballot. If Dorworth wanted to win, he should have asked Mike Clelland to switch districts.
Everglades Trust: If the Trust had played it smart, the money it spent could have shifted a lot of races. But they bet nearly all of it on Heather Fitzenhagen only to see her earn a quarter of the vote. That has to sting. And that $50K they sent to Jack Latvala’s committee … it’s not 2017 anymore. More like Everglades Bust, amirite?
Former lawmakers: Other than Mercado it was black Tuesday for the Representatives of yesteryear. Republican Rep. David Santiago suffered a 20-point defeat in the Volusia County Tax Collector race. Clelland didn’t even get a third of the vote in the Democratic primary for Seminole County Commission District 5. And Republican former Rep. Mike Miller got a measly 29% of the vote in his campaign for Orange County Commission. Take a hint, guys.
Dave Kerner: The Palm Beach County Mayor went all in for Slosberg and lost big. He not only endorsed Slosberg but put his own political brand on the line by appearing in mail and TV commercials, calling Polsky — not by name, simply referring to her as “Irv’s opponent“ — a liar and pitted himself against the Democratic establishment of the county. Voters rejected Irv and his spokesman, Kerner, by almost 40 points.
Jose Oliva: He could have been remembered as the Speaker who busted the “hospital industrial complex” or whatever he’s calling it these days. Instead, he’ll be remembered as a cigar salesman who put nearly $1 million into bashing future House Speaker Danny Perez with nothing to show for it except a pile of ash where bridges used to be.
David Rivera: He, Anthony Bustamante and Bill Helmich made the mistake of putting Rhonda Rebman Lopez on TV and using a PC she chaired to go negative. Worse yet, they let her go on Keys Radio to say “I’m just a figurehead, I’m just a figurehead.” It’s almost like they wanted to lose.
Jeff Roe: The founder for Axiom Strategies, suffering from a bad reputation for playing dirty, was left further branded as a dirty loser. First, he lured Fitzenhagen out of a congressional race, where, granted, she had a rough path forward, and into a losing Senate race that looked hopeless from the start. By the time bogus text messages hit CD 19 on Election Day claiming front-runner Byron Donalds quit, it took moments to finger Roe thanks to his modus operandi that captained Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign into the ground.
Marco Rubio: He backed Rep. Dane Eagle in CD 19. Fine. He was wrong, but a lot of people were, and it was close enough that nobody can really fault him. But he also supported Spano in CD 15. That’s indefensible. He may be Florida’s senior Senator, but he should walk over to Gaetz’s office and ask for some tutoring on how to avoid getting egg on your face.
Mac Stevenson: He boarded Spano’s sinking ship with no sign of land. Credit to him for getting Club for Growth and congressional leaders Keven McCarthy and Steve Scalise on board, too, but apparently fundraising was so bad the campaign couldn’t afford a second take on that “Spanos” ad. Why he chose to go against fellow Putnam alums — and winners — Amanda Bevis, Trey McCarley, Bret Prater and Justin Hollis is anyone’s guess.
Trump Team 2020 Florida: As if Annie Marie Delgado’s shady LLC wasn’t already in bad standing, the only candidates this team thumbed the scale for who won were winning anyway while the group’s no-explanation-needed report card on candidates’ pro-Trump-ness didn’t help anyone at risk of losing. Delgado’s bogus scoring system couldn’t save Spano from defeat at F-graded Franklin’s hands in CD 15, nor could it stop Loomer from winning the primary in CD 21. And despite Loomer earning the only F in a six-candidate field, the President effectively trashed the report card when he endorsed her on Twitter and retweeted four others praising the win. Could Delgado be any more out of touch?
Watt Political Consulting — Tough cycle. The team signed on early with Dan Severson in CD 19 but bailed, then signed on with William Figlesthaler, who became a top-tier candidate but ultimately came in fourth. Then there’s that Sheriff’s race, in which, despite a barrage of bad headlines, incumbent Carmine Marceno won 2-to-1 over Watt-groomed challenger Jim Leavens.