Tom Keen flips HD 35 from red to blue in critical Special Election

Tom Keen
Democrats invested heavily in the race, hoping to prove Florida remains a battleground.

Aerospace entrepreneur Tom Keen is headed to the House after flipping a red seat blue.

The Orlando Democrat came out on top in a critical Special Election in House District 35, besting Republican Erika Booth.

Unofficial final results showed Keen winning 51.3% of the vote, with all precincts reporting and only 36 mail-in votes unprocessed.

“I am honored and humbled to announce that I am now your State House District 35 Representative!” Keen said in an email blast to supporters.

“This victory is not just mine; it is OURS! It belongs to every single one of you who believed in our vision, stood by our side, and put your trust in our campaign. Together, we have shown the power of unity, determination, and a shared commitment to a better future.”

Booth conceded early in the evening.

“First, I want to thank my amazing family, the countless friends, new and old, volunteers and campaign staff that helped propel us to this point,” Booth said in a statement. “Obviously, this is not the result we wanted- but I respect the will of the voters. I congratulate Tom Keen on his win and a race well run.”

Of note, Booth serves on the Osceola County School Board, where she won a seat in 2022 but had to resign her office to run for the state House seat. Florida’s resign-to-run law requires a resignation effective at the beginning of the term for an office being sought.

The win prompted celebration by Democrats.

“Florida Democrats rallied behind Tom Keen,” said Florida Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried. “We saw unprecedented enthusiasm and investment in this special election from all corners of the state, as well as many of our national partners. We proved that Florida is still worth fighting for and that a well-organized, well-funded Democratic campaign can still win a swing seat in this state.”

Democrats had invested heavily in the battleground district, hoping to prove the party remains competitive at the start of a Presidential Election year. The victory could have ramifications in the donor class as Sunshine State Democrats proclaim this remains a swing state.

He now succeeds Rep. Fred Hawkins, a St. Cloud Republican who resigned to take a job as President of South Florida State College.

That created an opportunity for House Democrats to add a member to their caucus.

“I look forward to the House of Representatives seating Rep. Tom Keen quickly after the election is certified,” said House Democratic Leader Fentrice Driskell. “The nearly 180,000 people he now represents deserve their voice in Tallahassee during the ongoing legislative session.

For the voters in Orange and Osceola counties, this is a major victory. They elected a man who will serve his community with honor like he served his country in the Navy, and as he’s made clear throughout this campaign, will stay in his post. He’ll join us in Tallahassee fighting to give Floridians the freedom to be healthy, prosperous, and safe.”

On the campaign trail, Keen argued that the Legislature has ignored issues like home insurance rates impacting Floridians day-to-day, instead focusing on Gov. Ron DeSantis’ culture wars agenda. He promised to bring real-world issues before the Florida Legislature.

“I fought for our country for 21 years as a Naval Flight Officer,” Keen said during the campaign. “I will fight for my fellow neighbors in District 35 when I get to Tallahassee. I filed to run in this race in May 2023 because the residents of District 35 deserve better representation in Tallahassee.”

He echoed the sentiment after winning the seat. He praised his campaign team and said he looked forward to serving.

“Now, as we move forward, I want you to know that my commitment to our shared values and our district’s well-being has only grown stronger. I will be a champion for your needs, your concerns, and your hopes for a brighter future,” he said.

“In the coming days, weeks, and months, we will work tirelessly to bring about positive change, tackle the challenges ahead, and build a House District 35 that we can all be proud of. Together, we will leave a lasting legacy of progress and prosperity.”

Keen has also campaigned before in the district but lost the Democratic nomination in 2022 by just 57 votes. In November, he pulled an upset victory in the Democratic Primary, beating two candidates who outraised him. Now he’s done it again, besting a Republican who raised substantially more funds, though Keen also enjoyed more help from his political party in the Special Election.

Both parties invested heavily in the election in a swing district. Hawkins won the district in 2022 by 10 percentage points. But two years before that, voters in the district favored Joe Biden in the 2020 Presidential Election by 5 points.

A look at registration rolls shows the race as a true battleground, especially after both parties prioritized voter registration and vote-by-mail requests. As of the Dec. 18 registration deadline to vote in this race, the 37,389 registered Democrats barely outnumber 37,155 registered Republicans. Voters with no party affiliation outnumber both groups, with 37,786 registered, though turnout is traditionally low among independents in unusually timed races, and this election appears to be no exception.

Before Election Day, more Democrats had voted than Republicans, though that shifted in midafternoon on Election Day. Unofficial turnout reports showed that between Orange and Osceola counties, some 4,248 Republicans turned out compared to 2,621 Democrats and 1,187 no-party-affiliated voters. But despite the turnout deficit, Keen won by 590 votes, according to unofficial final results.

Booth’s campaign, through Jan. 11, collected nearly $323,000 and spent about $260,000 before the final push. Keen’s campaign collected significantly less, about $121,000, and deployed $104,000 through the last full week of campaigning.

But the parties have upped spending as well. The Florida House Democratic Campaign Committee spent upward of $541,000 from the Democratic Primary through the Jan. 11 reporting deadline. That’s far more than the $207,000 spent in the same time by the Florida House Republican Campaign Committee.

FHDCC leaders said the election results prove Democrats can still win close elections in the state, even after Republicans over-performed in 2022.

This is the blueprint for how we win elections: ground game, early investments and hard work,” Driskell, who chairs the FHDCC, said. “The FHDCC was on the ground immediately in this district, signing up Democrats to vote by mail and registering new voters through his primary and into the general election. The FHDCC is ready to repeat this formula and break the Republican supermajority this November. 

“When we go on offense, Republican dark money spending doesn’t matter. While they waste time and resources with attack ads, dirty tricks, and demonstrably untrue statements, we do the work on the ground. I’ve said for years: Florida Democrats can win while being outspent even 2-to-1 or 3-to-1 because the voters are with us on the issues. The Republicans spent millions of dollars attempting to defeat us here, and it didn’t work. The people of HD 35 spoke with a loud voice tonight, flipping a seat the GOP comfortably won as recently as 2022.”

Fried said Keen deserved the most credit for running a successful campaign.

“I have to congratulate Tom most of all, for working tirelessly to prove to Democratic primary voters that their faith in him, and in Florida’s future, is worth it. The Keen campaign left it all on the field — thanks to them, we’re one seat closer to ending the Republican supermajority in Tallahassee,” Fried said.

“Florida Democrats are serious about changing the way things work in Tallahassee, and tonight’s victory is an important first step to taking back Florida. With this win, all eyes are on Florida this fall — we’re ready to carry this momentum, excitement, and work ethic into election season.”

Democratic National Committee Chair Jaime Harrison spotlighted the win and participated in a livestream with Driskell and Keen at his victory party.

So grateful for the leadership of my friends Leader Fentrice Driskell and Florida Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried and my friend Sen. Shevrin Jones,” Harrison posted on X. “Florida Democrats, This is Huge!!!!”

Various state and national Democratic groups also cheered the victory.

“This victory in Florida is an earthquake and shows the strength of legislative Democrats as we head into this critical election year,” said Heather Williams, president of the National Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. “Rep-elect Keen’s victory delivers a blow to Florida Republicans — this was a Republican seat that DeSantis won in 2022, and they should’ve had it in the bag. This victory puts Republicans across the country on notice that Democrats have undeniable momentum in 2024. “This is only the first of several special elections this year and the DLCC is just getting started. As we build our momentum for November, the time to invest in state Democrats and secure more wins is now.”

Former Sen. Bud Gardner, part of the Florida Leadership Council, praised Keen’s campaign and party registration efforts. It has partnered with the FHDCC to help enroll 7,000 Democrats and no-party affiliation voters, then chasing vote-by-mail ballots.

“I’m thrilled to congratulate Tom on his impressive primary victory,” Gardner said. “This victory is a testament to Tom’s hard work, and also to the strong leadership of House Democratic Leader Fentrice Driskell and her team — working in close coordination with the FLC — to ensure that Tom had the support he needed. I know that Tom will work tirelessly to lower costs, protect women’s freedom, and support our public schools — and I can’t wait to see him sworn in.”

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].


  • Eric

    January 16, 2024 at 8:47 pm

    He cheated. His paid staff were at the polls causing voter intimidation. They were practically near the doors of the polling location getting in people’s faces. Criminals.

    • My Take

      January 16, 2024 at 9:44 pm

      Space lasers (undoubtedly Chinese) reprogrammed the voting machines, which were intentionally made vulnerable by a corrupt manufacturing company. DeepState organized it all. They all laugh at you (plural).

    • DrBob

      January 16, 2024 at 9:44 pm

      You forgot “/s”. Mail & early ballots provided the margin of victory, not election day votes. Nice that at least 500 Republicans voted for the Democrat.

    • Victor

      January 17, 2024 at 7:30 am

      “They cheated!” “The election was rigged!”. Blah blah blah. Same old song and tired dance.

  • Phil Morton

    January 16, 2024 at 8:51 pm

    Interestingly, the 13 point swing here to Democrats was the same as the HD 118 race last month. Repeating that throughout the state in November will really put the Republican majority in play.

  • Meatball Ron

    January 16, 2024 at 9:11 pm

    Is maga tired of all the “winning” yet?😂🤣

    • Dont Say FLA

      January 18, 2024 at 7:32 am

      You’d think so, but Iowa just said they prefer more of the Republican brand of “winning”

      This Republican House of Representatives has “won” so much that their wins can’t even be counted with any non-zero number.

  • Randy

    January 17, 2024 at 7:34 am

    This is 100% on Pediccini and his bag of too cute, dumb ass dirty tricks. Bonehead move.

    • Pack E. Derm

      January 17, 2024 at 10:19 pm

      Let’s not forget that Pantanakis and Baker were paid by Zeigler to run a PC in this race.

      Bad messaging by mediocre consultants lost this.

  • tom palmer

    January 17, 2024 at 10:00 am

    If the Democrats can field good candidates and focus on issues people really care about, the blue wave can happen

  • Kevin Preston

    January 18, 2024 at 6:03 am

    I keep hearing about how this is a red state…blah blah blah.

    I just registered my kid at HCC only to be asked “What Gender were you assigned at birth” on the application.

    Then you see all the electric scooters that litter downtown Tampa.
    Drugs openly being sold across from “******” High School

    To top it off that forced masking for two years.

    This is no longer the state I was born and raised in.

    It is time to think about taking it to the next level before Jane Castor and the rest of those progressives ruin this state and DeSantis seems to just do things for his presidential resume.

    My biggest disappointment is Disney World where I can’t, in good conscious, take my Grandson. Ending a 45 year family tradition.

    • rick whitaker

      January 18, 2024 at 11:53 am

      kevin preston, why do you complain so much about the state you live in? florida has a gop stranglehold on the state so how could any thinking person blame anyone but those in charge. you voted for those people, not me. the gop steals and cheats, not govern. i bet you are going to vote for trump come election day. what a loser.

      • Kevin Preston

        January 18, 2024 at 3:12 pm

        I forgot that the GOP runs Tampa.
        One of the largest cities in Florida.

        Jane Castor got into a huge argument over the mask requirements where DeSantis lost.

        I’ve lived in this state for over 55 years and been under both parties.

        Chiles was cool, especially the part of $30 per car vehicle inspections that only produced revenue and the part about not allowing you to cut down trees on your own property without getting permission from “the state”

        Everything bad has come from Democrats.
        Who took blame for and fixed the 30 tons of sewer waste that went into Tampa Bay? I remember someone blaming Rick Kriseman for that. 2 million dollar spending spree by that guy.
        Revitalized parts of St. Pete then provided no police because, of course, they were racists.
        The crime is so bad that Walmart left and took the jobs with them.

        BTW, I only complain when it’s warranted.
        The “Gender Assignment at Birth is just another example the same as Disney World.
        I will never take my grand kids to that over priced tourist trap since Iger destroyed it. That is 45 years of family trips down the drain because of his DEI policies.

        The left destroys EVERYTHING.

  • Dont Say FLA

    January 18, 2024 at 7:30 am

    Florida state legislature exempted Rhonda from Resign to Run.

    Buyer’s remorse, however, is another story.

  • It's Complicated

    January 18, 2024 at 11:55 am

    The explanation is simple. Keen’s camp won the low turnout Special Election ground game of GOTV. The real test of whether a district is shading towards purple (a swing seat) is, “Can it be achieved during a General Election?”

Comments are closed.


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