The jam-packed Democratic Primary in Florida’s 20th Congressional District is likely headed to a recount, with just 12 votes separating Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness and Trinity Health Care Services CEO Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick.
More than 49,000 votes were cast in the contest, with Holness running as a moderate deal-maker and Cherfilus-McCormick positioning herself as a progressive insurgent.
The two were part of an 11-person field running to succeed the late U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings in Florida’s 20th Congressional District. That field featured five current elected officials and a former state Representative.
According to Alex Daugherty of the Miami Herald, the Palm Beach Supervisor of Elections said 204 vote-by-mail ballots remain outstanding as of late Tuesday night. The Broward County Supervisor of Elections did not give a similar estimate when contacted by Florida Politics.
With all precincts reporting same-day results, but with mail ballots only partially counted, Holness led with 23.76% of the vote compared to 23.73% for Cherfilus-McCormick. That lead flip-flopped multiple times throughout Tuesday evening as additional ballots were counted.
As of this posting, County Commissioner Barbara Sharief sits in third with 17.69% support, followed by Sen. Perry Thurston at 14.84%, Rep. Bobby DuBose at 7.05% and Rep. Omari Hardy at 5.92%.
Former state Representative and Palm Beach County Commissioner Priscilla Taylor earned just 3.42% of the vote, while lawyer Elvin Dowling had 1.31%.
Former U.S. Department of Labor investigator Emmanuel Morel, retired college administrator Phil Jackson and Dr. Imran Siddiqui all sat below 1%.
Hastings’ son, Alcee Hastings II, endorsed Holness in the contest, as did the SEIU. On Saturday, Holness also reported a new batch of large donations totaling nearly $67,000. That included a $2,900 contribution from Coral Gables mega-donor Barbara Stiefel. Miami Heat Owner Micky Arison, who made his fortune with Carnival, also donated $1,000.
Early polling showed Holness and Thurston as the favorites in the race, though with so many candidates in the contest, that early support was never a guarantee.
Cherfilus-McCormick was largely fueled by a self-funded campaign. She ran just one year after unsuccessfully challenging Hastings himself in the 2020 Democratic Primary.
During this year’s contest, Cherfilus-McCormick poured in millions of her own dollars to her run. That led to a consistent ad presence, which made hay with voters. She also courted endorsements from the Communications Workers of America and the progressive group Brand New Congress, among others.
If the contest ends with both candidates within 0.5 percentage points, state law requires an automatic machine recount. A margin of 0.25 percentage points would trigger an automatic hand recount.
Republicans Jason Mariner and Greg Musselwhite also duked it out on the Republican side. But Mariner, who toppled Musselwhite with 58% of the vote Tuesday night, will have an uphill battle come Jan. 11.
The CD 20 seat won’t be officially filled until the Special General Election on Jan. 11. But the district’s heavy lean to the left makes whichever Democrat emerges the favorite in that contest.
The Special Election stood out not just for the fact that it’s a rare Special Election for one of Florida’s 27 — soon to be 28 — congressional seats. The 84-year-old Hastings was Florida’s longest-serving member of Congress at the time of his death and was seen as a trailblazer in the Black community.
He worked as a civil rights lawyer in the 1960s alongside W. George Allen — the first Black man to graduate from the University of Florida law school. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter appointed Hastings to the federal bench, making him the first Black federal judge in Florida’s history.
Accusations that Hastings took a bribe ended his career as a judge after Congress impeached Hastings. But he found redemption after winning a congressional seat in 1992. Alongside Corrine Brown and Carrie Meek, the three were the first Black Congress members hailing from Florida since Reconstruction.
His legacy left large shoes to fill in CD 20. The district spans Broward and Palm Beach counties and several majority-Black areas near major cities such as Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.
Sharief and Hardy courted support from major publications in the region. The Miami Herald and Palm Beach Post editorial boards backed Sharief, while the South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board endorsed Hardy.
Sharief was seen as a more moderate candidate. Her experience as a nurse resulted in a last-minute ad buy from 314 Action Fund, which supports doctor and scientist candidates. EMILY’s List — a national organization aimed at helping elect Democratic women who support abortion rights — also endorsed Sharief and carved out a last-minute five-figure ad buy.
That latter endorsement was paired with $5,000 from EMILY’s List, part of a large influx of cash in the campaign’s closing days. A Friday report submitted with the Federal Election Commission also showed the Elect Democratic Women PAC donated $25,500 to Sharief. Women in Congress founded that group, and U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel chairs the organization.
Sharief also put in an additional $170,000 in loans to her campaign, and courted 10 additional donations ranging from $1,000 to $2,900.
Three of Hardy’s more progressive colleagues in the Florida House backed his bid. In mid-October, the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida endorsed Hardy’s candidacy as well. Late last week, a last-minute ad buy also benefited Hardy. The newly-created Florida Democratic Action PAC, which backs progressive Democratic candidates, dropped more than $100,000 on dozens of ads on MSNBC.
Like most of his fellow Democrats, Hardy backs much of President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda, though he has called for additional investments at times. He’s also outright broken with his Democratic counterparts, perhaps most notably on the issue of Israel. Hardy says he supports the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, which entities and businesses with interests in Israel in order to pressure the nation to change its policies regarding Palestinians.
“As an idealist I have to believe there is nothing incompatible about supporting Israel’s right to exist and Israel’s right to defend itself and also supporting the inalienable right of the Palestinians, which are grounded not just in humanity, but also international law,” Hardy said, according to a report from the Sun-Sentinel.
That led to criticism from U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Hastings II. But Hardy — who originally opposed BDS before he said he became more educated about the issue — stood by his newfound support for the movement.
“I refuse to politicize human rights,” Hardy told the outlet Jewish Currents. “This isn’t about politics. It’s about right and wrong. I’m happy to have done the right thing morally, even if it was the wrong thing, politically. And if we lose on Nov. 2 by a handful of votes because of my position on BDS, I will rest easy.”
Thurston has more than a decade of experience in the state Legislature. He first won a House seat in 2006, eventually rising to become House Democratic Leader. He then moved over to the Senate, winning the Senate District 33 seat in 2016. He then rose to the Democratic Leader-designate role, but gave up the chance to lead the Senate Democratic caucus when he entered the CD 20 Special Election.
According to the Cook Political Report’s Partisan Voter Index, the district leans Democratic by 28 percentage points. That leaves the Mariner and multiple third-party candidates with huge hurdles to overcome in the General Election.