In the 2020 election, some winners and losers are obvious. But much like the overall outcome of the presidential race, others are more elusive.
The Florida Politics crew contemplated the trail, the election, and the aftermath to develop a comprehensive look at who walked away victorious, tanked or landed somewhere in the middle.
While much of this list breaks on partisan lines — Republicans had a banner night in Florida so will obviously have an outsized presence in the winners’ column — the list includes an analysis of strategy and future implications that concerns itself not with political affiliation.
From Democratic wins in local races to GOP sweeps in the legislature, here are this year’s winners and losers of the 2020 election.
As with other lists, this isn’t necessarily set in stone. Email any sins of commission to [email protected] for consideration.
Mat Bahl, Tom Piccolo, Sarah Bascom, et al. — The three, along with Faron Boggs, fundraisers Cameron Ulrich and Tony Cortese, grassroots organizers Lyndsey Brzozowski and Kevin Sweeny and Lynn Imhof and Lara Medley, were the machine behind the GOP’s banner night in which they netted five seats in the Florida House, shifting power from 73-47 to 78-42, restoring the majority they had pre-2018 before Democrats wrested five seats that year amid a blue wave.
Their strategy was brilliant in its simplicity — recruit quality candidates in winnable races. Safely focus on the ground game. Use lessons from the ground to craft targeted strategies unique to each community. Work hard. Win.
They did all that and then some.
Chris Sprowls — That brings us to the other GOP mastermind. While the Speaker Designate was quick to praise his team for the aforementioned successful strategies, he was the man at the helm, demanding the best and inspiring the tireless strategy that delivered outcomes that defied many polls. His reward: A legislative body with even more GOP power heading into next year’s Legislative Session.
Ben Diamond — File this under a no-brainer winner selection. Diamond, the Democratic caucus’ Minority Leader in 2022-2024, secured a 54% to 46% victory over Republican challenger Matt Tito. The decisive eight-point victory is another in a long line of successes for the St. Petersburg Democrat, showing his star only continues to rise. After all with this year’s legislative losses, there’s nowhere to go but up in the caucus he will lead.
Hillsborough Democrats — While the GOP won the night statewide both at the top of the ticket and down-ballot, Hillsborough Democrats cemented their assertion that the days of the county being purple are no more. It used to be that Tampa went blue, while suburbs and exurbs in the county favored Republicans and helped make countywide races competitive, if not with a slight GOP advantage. But this year, Democrats held on to two seats on the County Commission and flipped another with former Tampa City Council member Harry Cohen’s victory in Sandra Murman’s District 1. Murman lost countywide against Commissioner Pat Kemp in District 6. The Democrats’ victories mean the party’s advantage on that board is now 5-2. Meanwhile, the county overperformed for Joe Biden.
Anna Paulina Luna — For her, the future is bright. As a flamethrower. Luna ran a high-profile campaign in a difficult district where Democrats have the advantage. She spent a lot of time knocking on doors, raise big money, and produced flashy ads that appealed to Second Amendment supporters, car enthusiasts and women. Hers was a loss that was actually a win. While Luna lost to U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist 53% to 47%, it was a closer victory than polls predicted and Crist’s narrowest victory margin since he was first elected over former Rep. David Jolly.
Fentrice Driskell — She was won unopposed months ago, so why land on this list? That Driskell ended her freshman term this year without drawing a GOP opponent isn’t remarkable on its face — Democrats hold a nine-point advantage in voter registration in her HD 63 — but with almost as many NPAs as registered Republicans, it’s not an impossible margin. Instead, it could be that Driskell’s calm approach to legislating and likability among voters makes her a target not worth expending the resources. To tackle that disadvantage, the GOP needs a flawed candidate. Driskell isn’t one.
Julie Marcus — This was the Pinellas County Supervisor of Election’s first presidential General Election at the helm after being appointed earlier this year. She ran a problem-free election from sending initial mail ballots to early voting to Election Day. When the biggest problem encountered is a couple of armed security guards purporting to be working for the Trump campaign, you know you did it right. It doesn’t hurt that Marcus was also victorious in her first time on the ballot with a decisive 58% victory over Democrat Dan Helm.
Barry Edwards — Edwards has long been Sen. Darryl Rouson’s go-to right-hand man. This year, Edwards led Rouson’s campaign to a resounding victory over a litigious independent candidate with about two-thirds of the vote. A margin like that speaks for itself.
Anthony Pedicini — What do Chad Chronister, Jackie Toledo and Linda Chaney all have in common? They all had Pedicini leading their campaigns. Chronister won his reelection to Hillsborough County Sheriff handily, with 55% of the vote in a three-way race, meaning two candidates received fewer combined votes than just him. Toledo also won easily, with 54% of the vote over a challenger who polls predicted would win by 6-9 points. Chaney, the only of the three who was not an incumbent, overtook Rep. Jennifer Webb to flip a seat for the GOP with 52% of the vote. She handed one of five seats to the GOP Tuesday night in a banner night for the party. That’s a lot of winning.
Preston Rudie — Batting 1,000 Tuesday night, all three candidates Rudie represented this election claimed victories Tuesday night. It was a bipartisan slate. Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long overcame a tough challenge from former lawmaker Larry Ahern with 51% of the vote. Hillsborough County Commissioner-elect Gwen Myers, also a Democrat, earned an easy and commanding win over Mara Cruz Lanz with 72% of the vote. Rep. Chris Latvala, a Republican, made easy work of dispatching his Democratic challenger, Dawn Douglas, with 57% of the vote.
Scott Arceneaux — While Arceneaux landed on Florida Politics list of statewide losers because of defeats elsewhere, he was a winner in Tampa Bay. Arceneaux consulted for Democrat Andrew Learned in House District 59, a seat that opened when former Rep. Adam Hattersley declined to run for reelection to run, unsuccessfully, for Congress. It gave the GOP an opening to reclaim the seat Hattersley flipped blue just two years ago. But Learned held on with 51% of the vote in a hard-fought battle over Michael Owen.
The Henriquez family — Hillsborough County Property Appraiser Bob Henriquez’s path to yet another reelection was as wholesome as it gets. He quietly overtook Republican challenger D.C. Goutoufas with more than 56% of the vote. He did so without flashy ads or attacks but with fierce backing from none other than his family. Henriquez’s wife, Carrie Henriquez, was a fierce supporter, talking up her husband in all the places it mattered and serving as a de facto consultant. Campaign creative often featured his family prominently, a wide-eyed, smiling family that was more forward-facing than typical campaigns.
Evan Donovan — Local television news isn’t exactly where political insiders go for election-related news and information. Local network reporting tends to be superficial and lacks any meaningful insight to anyone who actually pays attention to the process. Enter Donovan, who has built Politics On Your Side and the Sunday morning Florida Battleground on WFLA News Channel 8 into the real deal of political insight. He hosts quality guests to provide insight into local and state races and analyze political trends that are truly worth watching.
Berny Jacques — Jacques replaced GOP analyst Chris Ingram on Bay News 9, often appearing alongside Tampa Bay area Democratic consultant and longtime BN 9 analyst Ana Cruz. Jacques is a refreshing alternative to Ingram, whose views have turned vitriolic over the past four years and led to his removal from the platform.
Beth Rawlins — This is one of those issues that gets little attention. The Pinellas County referendum asking voters to reauthorize a half-penny sales tax for public schools is usually an easy sell. But more politically savvy voters this year might have noticed a slight difference in the language, which requires proportionally sharing the revenue with charter schools, which legislation approved now requires. That might have turned off some, typically liberal, voters. But she quietly advocated and saw the referendum pass with a whopping 80% of the vote.
Traditional public schools — Speaking of charter schools. Those who favor emphasizing traditional public schools over what critics see as siphoning public dollars to private pockets, voters rejected Pinellas County School Board candidate Stephanie Meyer, with Laura Hine earning 56% of the vote. Meyer is a private school teacher who strongly advocates for school choice programs for charters, often run by for-profit entities, and school vouchers, which use public funding to send kids to private schools.
Pinellas’ Black community — Another Pinellas County School Board candidate served as a referendum on the value of diverse leadership on elected boards. Had Karl Nurse been elected to the District 7 seat, the board would have become all White. For nearly 20 years, the seat has been held by a Black representative. Before that, it never had. It’s the only seat on the seven-member board where the Black community can reliably hope for minority representation. Instead of white-washing the board, Caprice Edmond won handily with 57% of the vote.
James Grant — When Grant resigned his seat in the Legislature to take a job as Florida’s Chief Information Officer, he potentially left his HD 64 seat vulnerable in an open race. Replacement candidate Traci Koster came through, though, beating schoolteacher Democrat Jessica Harrington with about 54% of the vote and keeping the seat red. He got to take his promotion without losing GOP ground.
Chris Ingram — Ingram is an unabashed, no-filter Donald Trump supporter who is known for his fiery rhetoric on social media. While as of late Ingram has pedaled in the occasional conspiracy theory, he came through in the days following the election, rejecting Trump’s no-evidence provided claims of voter fraud, calling on supporters instead to let democracy work and reminding that if there are signs of fraud, there’s a process to follow. While his unnecessary line bashing the media was a bit cringe, it was refreshing to see a Trump stalwart stand up for the Democratic process. Way to do the right thing.
Shannon Love — This Pinellas County activist Shannon Love took her ferocity to the East Coast this year to serve under Kevin Sweeny to help lead Republican Dana Trabulsy to an upset win in HD 84, flipping the seat red. The kicker, Love typically supports Democrats and Democratic causes, so her work with a Republican shows her willingness to buck party loyalty to support her client. That’s rare these days.
Dan Parri — The former Republican turned Democrat got a shout on in The New York Times for establishing a progressive jeep club, an answer to a larger jeep enthusiast club that became a hotbed for Trump swag, and is credited by some for shifting the tone in Pinellas. Considering Biden’s narrow victory in Pinellas, maybe there’s some credence to his tricked jeep cruising around town with Biden flags and stickers prominently displayed, earning a few votes for the Democrat. Even if not, his jeep is undeniably awesome.
Sean Shaw — To the nonparty faithful, Amendment 3 didn’t seem like a devious proposition at first. But Shaw and his group helped explain the dangers it posed to non-White communities and built grassroots operation that unified progressive groups to oppose and defeat it. This was a statewide win, but as a local figure, it keeps him in the running for Tampa Bay politics.
Citizen ballot initiatives — It’s already hard for citizens to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot. The legislature made it harder this year with a now signed into law bill that, among other things, makes it harder to fundraise for initiatives by pushing judicial review back. Once an initiative makes the ballot, it requires a 60% plus one vote to pass. Amendment 4 would have required a second vote. While neither Pinellas nor Hillsborough reached the 60% threshold (it did statewide), most voters in both counties rejected the measure: 55% in Pinellas and 51% in Hillsborough.
Harry Cohen — Cohen earned lovable marks last year with a fun ad in his bid for Tampa Mayor that, among other refreshingly creative highlights, poked fun at the Democrat’s vertically challenged height. He lost then, but he turned that loss into a win this year for Hillsborough County Commission. Double bonus, he flipped a red seat blue, giving Democrats what will be a 5-2 majority on the dais.
Pinellas as a bellwether — All eyes were on Pinellas County this year as a potential bellwether for the state and even nation in the presidential election. While the county’s margin for Biden seems to be mirroring the tight lead the former Vice President has over Trump, it was pretty far off in statewide results and very far off what polls predicted. Biden carried the county by less than 1% but won the state by 3%. Polls in the county put Biden ahead 13 points in a mid-October survey and nine points in one taken the day before the election.
Reggie Cardozo — We have him as a statewide winner because he ushered Shevrin Jones and Kionne McGhee to victories in South Florida legislative races, but he was one for two closer to home. He scored a win with School Board candidate Hine but suffered a bruising loss with former Rep. Webb, a race that handed the GOP one of its five netted seats this year.
Pinellas County Democrats — Yes, the county went blue at the top of the ticket, but just barely. And Webb’s loss was not only a bid deal statewide for the partisan makeup of the Legislature but a big deal locally where the Pinellas delegation now has one fewer Democrats on its side.
Pinellas Commission incumbents — While Commissioners Janet Long and Charlie Justice, both Democrats, scored wins Tuesday night, they did so by margins far less than anticipated. Each had closer races than previous reelection campaigns. Long won by just over 1 percentage point while Justice eked by with a less than a single point lead. While it may have been a 2020 anomaly, it could suggest future reelection campaigns are vulnerable.
Curtis Holmes — The defeated Largo City Commissioner is just a curmudgeon. Voters saw it, voting 54% to 46% to replace Holmes with Eric Gerrard, Pinellas County Commissioner Pat Gerard’s husband.
Karl Nurse — Nurse gets this dubious distinction because he shouldn’t have run for Pinellas County School Board in District 7 at all. Revered as a progressive stalwart in St. Petersburg and Pinellas County, the affluent White former City Council member may have done lasting damage to his image in local political circles. As a Democrat, running to yank the county’s only Black representation from the School Board isn’t a good look.
Tom Alte — Alte ran Pinellas County Sheriff candidate Eliseo Santana’s race to unseat an arguably popular Republican incumbent in Bob Gualtieri. There was nothing wrong with taking a chance on a candidate in a tough race, but Alte backed a series of campaign ads, video and mailers, that exploited rape victims to attack Gualtieri. The ads drew a swift rebuke from fellow Democrats, namely Webb and Harrington, whose names showed up in fine print on the offending mailers, and likeness appeared in video content. Gualtieri’s allies in the GOP quickly called for condemnation and for Spectrum to stop running the ads, and it resonated. Santana was a long-shot already, but those ads really cooked his goose. And you have to wonder how much Webb and Harrington’s affiliation with the ads aided in their eventual defeats.
St. Pete Polls — The typically on-target local pollsters had a rough cycle. It’s hard even to fathom just how wrong their polls got it this year. Two polls showed Pinellas County going for Biden, first by 13 points and then later by nine. At best, they were off eight points. The pollsters predicted wins for Webb and Jenkins, both of which were far off. There were others around the state, too. While some Hillsborough County races were spot on, Hillsborough Commission candidates and Biden’s margin there, the glaring misses are hard to ignore.
Hillsborough school board incumbents — Three incumbents were on the ballot this year. Only one held onto her job. Incumbents Tammy Shamburger and Steve Cona were both ousted by challengers this year, buoyed to victory most likely because Hillsborough voters soured over what was perceived as botched handling of the COVID-19 crisis as it related to school safety, reopening and overall fiscal management. In races where incumbents typically win easy reelection, this year showed that voters pay attention to the down-ballot when it matters most.
Immigrants — Voters were asked this cycle whether the constitution should explicitly ban undocumented immigrants from voting. Of course, it should! Perhaps that’s why 77% of Pinellas and Hillsborough voters favored an amendment doing just that. There’s just one problem, though — in the state and U.S. Constitutions, it already does. To most in the know (at least those in the know who opposed this amendment), it was an anti-immigrant dog whistle. It worked statewide and locally.
Long-shot candidates — In what turned out to be a foolhardy strategy, Democrats ran candidates in 119 of 120 Florida House races this year. Many, if not most, were long-shots, running either against powerful incumbents or in districts with a heavy GOP lean. We wouldn’t go so far as to call them all “tomato cans,” but look no further than north Pinellas for evidence. Running against the Speaker Designate in red Clearwater, seriously?