Democratic Rep. Geraldine Thompson held onto her seat in House District 44 in Tuesday’s election.
Thompson, of Orlando, defeated Republican businessman Bruno Portigliatti, 52% to 48%, based on unofficial early returns.
The victory gives Thompson a second term in HD 44 after she had previously served in House District 39 and then in the Florida Senate.
Tuesday’s election was another setback for Orange County Republicans, who saw in Portigliatti a candidate who appealed to more of the base of the party than state Rep. Bobby Olszewski had. Thompson ousted Olszewski to flip the seat in 2018.
Portigliatti had tried to paint Thompson as a career politician, but she made that work in some ways. While insisting she also is a businesswoman — she founded and runs the Wells’ Built Museum of African American History and Culture in Parramore — Thompson maintained she has the skills to speak to voters from either end of the district’s economic spectrum.
HD 44 covers most of southwestern Orange County. It takes in lower-income communities on Orlando’s southwest side; some of the most affluent areas in Central Florida, in Windermere and Bay Hill; all or parts of the suburbs of Oakland, Ocoee and Winter Garden; and almost the entire tourism corridor of Orange County, including Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, SeaWorld Orlando, and International Drive.
The voting populous is evenly split, with Republicans holding a 1-point advantage in voter registrations, according to the latest book closing available through the Florida Division of Elections.
Until Thompson won in 2018, the district had been represented by Republicans for decades. It’s a district Republicans wanted back, and in Portigliatti they found someone with star quality.
Portigliatti is a lawyer and business owner. He runs several family businesses including the private Florida Christian University in Orlando.
He ran for HD 44 previously, losing to Olszewski in the Republican primary for a special election to fill the vacant seat in 2017.