As Florida Republicans reported a slew of open seat victories Tuesday night, growing their majority presence in the House, one race appears an outlier.
Newly elected Rep. Andrew Learned took House District 59 with 51% of the vote to Republican Michael Owen’s 49%, a margin of 1,238 votes.
This win for Democrats was an important one. The seat opened when Democrat Adam Hattersley stepped down to run for Florida’s 15th Congressional District after being first elected to HD 59 in 2018. Before Hattersley’s election, the seat was occupied by Republican Ross Spano, who had held it since 2012.
Republicans netted five seats Tuesday night, growing their majority in the House from 73-47 to 78-42, just outside the super-majority threshold.
The brunt: If Owen had come out on top in HD 59, Republicans would have netted six seats — putting them only one seat away from a super-majority.
Republicans saw this open district as an opportunity to get the seat back, while Democrats thought they had a solid chance of hanging onto it, given their candidate and the current political climate.
So, how did Learned emerge victorious in an election where Democrats saw overwhelming defeat?
HD 59’s boundaries encompass Hillsborough suburbs like Valrico, Brandon, Palm River and Riverview. There are 45,721 registered Democrats in the district, and 39,582 Republicans. And that chasm appears to be growing. But, there are more than 36,116 NPAs and many more third-party and independent voters in the district. So, Learned had to appeal to NPAs.
And that’s where the newly elected representative credits his successful campaign, having cross-over appeal.
The campaign targeted the non-partisan and third-party voting bloc by emphasizing who Learned is, making sure to highlight his military service, said campaign manager Scott Arceneaux. Learned is a Navy veteran who has 10 years of service, including three Middle-East deployments. He remains a Reserve Officer out of MacDill Air Force Base.
“Andrew leaned heavily into his bio,” Arceneaux said. “He’s a Navy veteran, he’s the only veteran in the race. And Tampa’s a Navy town.”
As far as the issues, Learned kept it simple, focusing on what the district was concerned about: health care, jobs and education.
“That’s what people wanted to talk about,” Arceneaux said.
Learned credits his win to his cross-over appeal and by working with the community without a partisan lens.
“I’m a former Republican,” Learned said. “I speak the language, and at the end of the day, I just want what’s best for my district, and the people here on both sides of the aisle. We run partisan races, but they’re nonpartisan offices, and just making sure we do the basics of the job really effectively is my number one priority.”
Learned also believes his victory was in part due to the work the campaign put into building relationships with the community.
“We worked very hard for it,” Learned said. “We worked for two years, we built relationships. We met people, both before and after the coronavirus really kind of upended everything, and I think real relationships are lasting.”
Learned’s first priority for the 2021 Session: COVID-19 recovery.
“COVID is number one. It’s number one, two and three,” Learned said.
For now, the new elect will spend the next two months learning more about other areas across Florida, an important step to understanding his role as a state Representative, he said.
“I spent the last two years learning the ins and outs of my district really well and meeting everybody here” Learned said. “If we’re going to work for the benefit of the whole state, I want to spend two months really kind of broadening my horizon a little bit more before going up there for session. And I think that will hopefully help us work across the aisle and be more effective.”