Spectrum News to air debate between HD 35 Democrats

Rishi Bagga, Tom Keen and Marucci Guzman
Rishi Bagga, Marucci Guzmán and Tom Keen face off in a Nov. 7 Primary.

Democrats running in a critical Special Election in Central Florida will debate on live television this week.

Spectrum News 13 announced a debate among the Democrats running in House District 35: Rishi Bagga, Marucci Guzmán and Tom Keen. The half-hour debate will broadcast on Oct. 11 at 7 p.m.

Spectrum News 13 anchor Ybeth Bruzual and Orlando Sentinel politics editor Steven Lemongello will moderate.

The Democrats face one another in a Nov. 7 Democratic Primary. The winner of the race will advance to a Jan. 13 Special Election and compete with the winner of a Republican Primary.

The Special Election will choose a successor for former Rep. Fred Hawkins, a St. Cloud Republican, who resigned his seat in the Florida House to become President of South Florida State College.

Democrats see a chance to flip the GOP-held seat blue.

Hawkins won the newly redistricted seat in November by about 10 percentage points, defeating Bagga. He had already served a term in the House in a district that overlaps the existing HD 35.

But in the 2020 Presidential Election, nearly 52% of the district’s voters supported Joe Biden over Donald Trump for President. Democrats hope to rally voters during a Presidential Election year to take the seat.

As of book closing for the 2022 elections, the district served as home to 40,746 no-party voters, compared to 40,464 registered Democrats and 37,534 Republicans.

Bagga ran for the seat in 2022, winning the Democratic nomination by 57 votes out of more than 10,000 cast. The Orlando lawyer went on to lose to Hawkins. More recently, he was appointed to the Orange County Charter Review Commission.

Guzmán serves now as Executive Director of Latino Leadership. She was the last candidate to qualify. She’s also married to former Rep. Rene Plasencia, a Republican, and is sister-in-law to sitting state Rep. Susan Plasencia.

Keen lost the Democratic nomination by inches to Bagga. The Navy veteran has served on both the city of Orlando Citizens’ Police Review Board and the Mayor’s Veteran Advisory Council. He also has worked in the aerospace and simulation space.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


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