Janelle Perez drops U.S. House race, resets sights on flipping SD 37 blue
Image via JanellePerez.com.

'What’s happening in Texas is just an example of the need for Democrats to step up and fight (at) local levels.'

Democrat Janelle Perez is swapping races as she makes her inaugural run for political office. She’s now running for the Florida Senate and dropping a bid for the U.S. House.

Perez told Florida Politics she has canceled her bid to oust Republican U.S. Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar next year. Instead, she’s running to flip Florida Senate District 37 back to blue next year by unseating Republican Sen. Ileana Garcia.

“Over the past few days, it’s become clear that absolutely the best way for me to have a positive impact in our community is to run for the state Senate,” she said Tuesday evening. “Florida’s state government’s disfunction has reached new lows. Gov. Ron DeSantis has made our children less safe during the pandemic by restricting health and safety measures in schools. Voting rights have been consistently attacked as Republicans are desperate to maintain power, (and) what’s happening in Texas is just an example of the need for Democrats to step up and fight (at) local levels.”

The change from a federal to a local race comes less than a month and a half after Perez announced her candidacy for Florida’s 27th Congressional District. Since then, her campaign self-reported raising hundreds of thousands of dollars from grassroots donations. The most recent tally, nearly $300,000, will go into a new political committee called Democracy and Freedom PC, which longtime Democratic consultant Christian Ulvert will manage.

All the necessary paperwork will be filed Wednesday, Ulvert said.

As was the case with Salazar, Perez shares several similarities with her new opponent. She and Garcia are both daughters of Cuban exiles. Both grew up in Miami-Dade County. And until six years ago, when Perez returned to Miami after working as a GOP staffer, both were registered Republicans.

Perez has said she changed parties shortly after doctors told her she had stage 4 follicular lymphoma. She beat the disease, but the diagnosis, among other things, made her realize she was “not so much of a Republican,” she told the Miami Herald.

Perez is an active member of Miami-Dade County’s LGBTQ community, serving on two local boards. The 34-year-old local business owner has a young daughter with her wife, Monica.

While Perez’s shift from a federal to state election lowers the general profile of her political ambitions, it likely improves her chances at winning. Salazar’s campaign funds swelled to more than $672,000 by her last reporting. Garcia sits on a less formidable war chest at $256,000.

Garcia, a first-time state Senator, supplanted incumbent Democratic Sen. José Javier Rodriguez in November by a mere 34 votes in a race that has since led to a pair of felony charges for election meddling.

Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle’s office said it had no evidence Garcia, who denied involvement, knew of or took part in the scheme. Democrats still called for Garcia to resign and face a Special Election.

Perez said the way Garcia won office in November “absolutely” puts her at risk of losing her seat.

“As a resident of the district, I followed the dirty tricks that were employed last year in the race, and voters were deprived of the opportunity to freely make their choice in an election,” she said. “We lost a great champion in JJR, and I’m running because it’s time we fought for our democracy and protected the right to fair and free elections.”

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


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