Voters in Senate District 38, which spans a swath of southeast Miami-Dade County, chose Republican first-time candidate Alexis Calatayud on Tuesday to represent their interests in Tallahassee.
With all 231 precincts reporting, a full count of in-person votes and all mail-in ballots tallied, Calatayud had 54.4% of 172,321 votes cast compared to 45.6% for Democratic candidate Janelle Perez.
Both were first-time candidates.
Florida Politics reached out to Calatayud for comment and will update this story upon receipt of one.
Several noteworthy Florida leaders congratulated Calatayud on her win.
“Congratulations to (Alexis Calatayud),” Senate President-designate Kathleen Passidomo wrote on Twitter. “You’ve made history as one of the youngest females elected to the Florida Senate!”
Sen. Ben Albritton of Bartow wrote, “Welcome to the Florida Senate!”
Madeline Pumariega, President of Miami Dade College, said the school “looks forward to working together to expand education opportunities.”
Amber Mariano Davis of Hudson, who at 21 became the youngest person elected to the Legislature in 2016, called Calatayud’s victory a “Huge win for Florida.”
“You are going to do amazing things, Senator!!” she added.
SD 38 covers several coastal Miami-Dade municipalities, including Cutler Bay, Palmetto Bay, Pinecrest, South Miami, parts of Homestead and Coral Gables, and the unincorporated neighborhoods of Goulds, Kendall, Perrine, Redland, Sunset and Westchester.
The district leaned Democratic in 2020, when voters there chose Joe Biden over Donald Trump by 7 percentage points, according to an MCI Maps analysis. Florida’s GOP-favoring voter registration numbers indicated that edge would likely be smaller this year.
Calatayud, 28, is a self-described “lifelong Republican” who worked as a campaign manager and legislative aide of outgoing Miami state Rep. Vance Aloupis. She originally filed to succeed him in the House before a reshuffling of races within the Florida GOP reset her sights on SD 38.
She also spent time working for former Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. Prior to running for office this year, she worked as director of public policy and programs for the Florida Department of Education.
Calatayud earned a bachelor’s degree from Florida International University, where she doubled majored in political science and international relations, served two terms as student body president and was a university trustee. Her LinkedIn page shows she is currently enrolled in a public leadership credential course at Harvard University.
Perez, 35, holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from FIU and a master’s degree in government from Johns Hopkins University, according to her LinkedIn Page. She works in private life as co-owner of her family’s managed health care business.
She began her political career working under former U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a moderate Republican who served for 30 uninterrupted years as the first Cuban American to serve in Congress.
The daughter of Cuban exiles, Perez grew up in a conservative Miami family but left the Republican Party about seven years ago after beating stage 4 follicular lymphoma.
She’s an active member of the LGBTQ community, having served on two local advisory boards, including as the inaugural chair of the Miami LGBTQ+ Advisory Board, and she has a young daughter with her wife, Monica.
That aspect of her life and the issues she encountered battling cancer put her in diametric opposition with several broadly held GOP positions, she said, and prompted her to depart for the Democratic Party.
Perez and Calatayud shared several policy priorities, but with different focuses. Both said they want to protect the environment and help small businesses thrive.
To help Floridians’ bank accounts, Calatayud vowed to work toward reducing homeowner insurance premiums and permanently cutting gas and holiday taxes throughout the state. Perez prioritized expanding access to “affordable, high-quality” health care.
Perez also promised to improve access to education, including broadening options to early and post-high-school educational options. Calatayud backed school choice — which, among other things, means providing further support to privately run but publicly funded charter schools — boosting teacher salaries, investing in vocational programs to upskill Florida’s workforce and improving safety on school campuses.
Perez was alone in voicing support for women’s reproductive rights. She also backed increased background checks on gun sales, a ban on “military-style assault rifles” and requiring licenses for gun ownership.
Of the two candidates, Perez headed to Election Day with an edge in personal and organizational endorsements. She received nods from Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book, Miami Sen. Annette Taddeo, who is running for Congress, and former U.S. Reps. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Donna Shalala and gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist.
Former state Rep. Javier Fernández, who is running for South Miami Mayor, also supported her.
Groups backing her bid included Giffords, EMILY’s List, SAVE, Equality Florida, SEIU Florida, AFSCME, South Florida AFL-CIO, LPAC, Victory Fund, Ruth’s List Florida, The Next 50, Moms Demand, Run For Something and the South Florida Council of Firefighters.
Meanwhile, Calatayud ran with endorsements from Senate President Wilton Simpson, Senate President-designate Kathleen Passidomo, Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez and Sen. Ben Albritton, who is in line to become President of the chamber for the 2024-26 term.
She enjoyed organizational support from the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Metro Dade Firefighters Local 1493, Associated Industries of Florida, South Florida Police Benevolent Association and the Florida East Coast chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors.
The candidates’ campaigns maintained a mutual respect until recently, when the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee ran ads, sent text messages and launched a website painting Perez as a “trust fund millionaire,” “out-of-touch opportunist” and “wannabe political insider.”
One video alleged Perez’s company “profits most by denying medical claims for seniors” and bashed her campaign for mailers the Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee sent voters with images of Republican Senate candidate Corey Simon, a Black man, and children overlayed on shooting targets.
Perez’s campaign, in turn, complained the FRSCC ads and texts exploited images of her taken immediately after she’d overcome cancer, before she’d regrown her hair, and shared her personal — but publicly available — phone number.
Perez said she received hundreds of threats, some involving murder, as a result of her number being publicized.
Calatayud’s campaign said parties working on Perez’s behalf are guilty of doing the same thing, citing texts purportedly sent sharing Calatyud’s personal — and also publicly available — phone number with recipients.
Perez had a sizable monetary advantage heading into Election Day. Between when she filed for public office in 2021 and Nov. 3, she raised about $1.37 million between her campaign account and political committee, Democracy and Freedom. The Florida Democratic Party added to that sum with nearly $163,000 worth of in-kind assistance, mostly for campaign staff costs.
A significant portion of Perez’s gains came through grassroots giving, a fundraising approach she said told Florida Politics she favored when she initially filed to run for Congress. She switched to a state race a month and a half later.
She also received more than $317,000 worth of in-kind aid from the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee for polling, staffing and consulting expenses, among other things.