A win in Senate District 39 Tuesday would have been reason enough to celebrate for Ana Maria Rodriguez.
The seat was a high-priority target for both parties. Republican Sen. Anitere Flores was term-limited, which left the seat open. And with top-of-the-ticket Democrats performing fairly well in the district recently, Democrats saw a chance to snipe the seat and build toward an eventual Senate majority.
Rodriguez put those dreams to rest Tuesday with a dominant 13-point win over Democratic Rep. Javier Fernández.
“You’re running four, five different races in one district,” said Rodriguez consultant Alex Miranda of Miranda Advocacy LLC.
“Monroe’s another world. It’s one of the most fascinating places that I’ve ever worked in, that I’ve ever experienced in my entire life. I spent the last five weeks living in Key West, essentially, which was an experience in and of itself.”
Miranda and the rest of the Rodriguez team juggled that task to send Rodriguez to the Senate after just one term in the Florida House.
But the win was costly to Democrats beyond just its impact on the Senate. Fernández gave up his House seat after just one full term to join the SD 39 race. That left the contest in House District 114 open as well.
The result? Republicans flipped his seat, one of a handful of GOP pickups in the state.
The Rodriguez seat in House District 105 was also open though, presenting a similar pickup opportunity for Democrats. Rodriguez won the 2018 race by just 417 votes, but it was another swing-and-a-miss for Democrats, who lost this year’s contest by 8 points.
The shellacking in Senate District 39 stings the most though, as Democrats were just a few flipped seats short of taking control of that body.
Miranda, for his part, blamed Democrats’ messaging in the district. He cited a push by Fernández to go after Rodriguez on her vote to permit school districts to allow teachers to arm themselves. Teachers would first be required to receive training through the state’s extensive Guardian program.
Miranda argued that with the pandemic at the top of voters’ minds, the issue likely fell flat with residents.
“I was like, where is this registering on anybody’s radar right now? Schools aren’t even in session,” Miranda said.
“He kept harping on it, harping on it, and it made no sense to me. Everybody’s talking about jobs, the economy, COVID, and getting back to work.”
Miranda even conceded many people would agree with Fernández on certain gun control measures, such as banning high-capacity magazines for assault rifles.
“Most people would say yes. But in terms of, how important is this issue to you, it’s probably bottom 10% at this point,” Miranda explained.
“[Democrats] think that what’s important to them is important to everybody else and that what tests the highest is actually what resonates, and it doesn’t resonate.”
Miranda said Rodriguez brought him on during her 2018 House run. “I was just an advisor and a vendor and then eventually became her general consultant,” he recalled. “She just came to rely on me more and more.”
That reliance paid off Tuesday. It wasn’t in the bag all along though, argued Miranda. After the first presidential debate of the General Election cycle caused President Donald Trump to tank in the polls, down-ballot Republicans such as Rodriguez were impacted as well.
“Trump tanked, and we weren’t immune to that down here. In some parts of the county and some parts of these districts, obviously the impact was worse than in others.”
That dip didn’t hold, however, and many surveys of the state were wrong in retrospect anyway. While Fernández had plenty of cash by his side, Miranda and Rodriguez retained Republican control of the seat.
“At the end of the day, our message, our resources and our candidates outperformed whatever Democratic money was thrown into those races at the last minute.”