TALLAHASSEE – Buoyed by the biggest win in a Florida governor’s race in 40 years, Gov. Ron DeSantis is crowing that his resounding victory was more than just a singular accomplishment — it was seismic.
“Thanks to the overwhelming support of the people of Florida, we not only won election, we have rewritten the political map,” said DeSantis, after taking the stage Election Night at the Tampa Convention Center.
He called it a “win for the ages.” And across all levels of Floridspan government, DeSantis and Florida Republicans have recast the state’s political balance.
Among the shifts:
More Republicans going to Washington
Republicans won 20 of the state’s 28 congressional districts Tuesday, improving the number of GOP members Florida will send to Washington next year by four.
DeSantis was central to the effort, having pushed through the Legislature a controversial redistricting plan that eliminated a North Florida district which had elected Black Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson to Congress since 2016.
Instead, 370,000 Black voters in Lawson’s current district were scattered among four that are now heavily Republican districts in the region. Lawson was defeated Tuesday by U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn, a Panama City Republican, in the state’s only congressional contest between two incumbents.
Although the redrawing of the minority-access district was ruled unconstitutional by a Leon County circuit court, the map has remained in place for this election while the ruling is appealed.
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A future trial on the validity of the map is expected. But for now, DeSantis can claim that he helped send more Republicans to Congress, helping the party achieve its likely takeover of the chamber.
Lawson, first elected to the state Legislature in 1982, is a historic figure in the region. But helped by the DeSantis map, Dunn has likely ended Lawson’s political career.
Among other changes, Laurel Lee, a Republican, former DeSantis appointee as Florida secretary of state, won her bid for a new congressional district including parts of Hillsborough, Pasco and Polk counties.
A Pinellas County district held since 2016 by Democrat Charlie Crist also turned Republican after he resigned in August before getting clobbered by DeSantis in the governor’s race. His old District 13 was won by Republican Anna Paulina Luna, who had lost to Crist two years ago.
Redistricting made the seat more Republican and clearly winnable for Luna, a conservative firebrand endorsed by former President Donald Trump and a 2020 election denier.
Two Miami-Dade U.S. House Republicans who had eked out narrow victories two years ago, coasted to easy wins Tuesday. U.S. Reps. Maria Elvira Salazar and Carlos Gimenez won big in the state red wave stirred up by DeSantis.
A redder state Senate
Two Democratic state Senators were sent packing by Republican opponents, helping the GOP gain a supermajority, 28 of the chamber’s 40 seats.
It’s the first time Republicans have held two-thirds majorities in the state Senate and House since 2010.
Tampa Democrat Janet Cruz was defeated by Republican Jay Collins, hand-picked by DeSantis to run. Collins, a former Army Green Beret who lost a leg serving in Afghanistan, unseated Cruz, who had served four years in the Senate.
Sen. Loranne Ausley, a Tallahassee Democrat whose rural-heavy district became more Republican following redistricting, also lost to Corey Simon, a Black Republican and former Florida State University football player who played seven years in the NFL.
Ausley’s loss, combined with Lawson’s defeat in Congress, further turns North Florida politically red, breaking what had been a still-lingering, Democratic grip on the Tallahassee-area and state Capitol region.
While Democrats had held 16 seats in the Senate going in, incumbents retiring or running for other offices opened districts made more Republican friendly by redistricting. And the GOP took full advantage, sweeping every competitive contest.
The Senate, historically more moderate than the House, may no longer carry that distinction. Both chambers emerge from Tuesday’s elections more conservative and even more likely to endorse whatever policies DeSantis pitches as he begins a second term.
GOP at record high in state House
Republicans now command 85 seats in the 120-member Florida House, the largest GOP House caucus in state history.
Like in the Senate, the House Republican supermajority can limit debate, rule out-of-order Democratic amendments and enact procedures that stifles the minority party’s already muted influence in governing.
“The Florida House will continue to pursue a bold, conservative agenda for the nation to follow that gives citizens more freedom and opportunity to achieve their American dream,” House Speaker-designate Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, said of the victory.
Republicans went into Election Day with 77 seats, having controlled the Florida House for the past 26 years. There’s still one Miami-Dade County race, District 106, headed toward a recount, so the 85-seat Republican number could actually climb to 86 with a victory there.
Republicans swept most competitive races and also defeated two prominent Democratic incumbents, Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando, and Rep. Andrew Learned of Tampa, after both were drawn into more Republican-leaning districts in redistricting.
Smith, the first openly LGBTQ Hispanic lawmaker, was elected in 2016, shortly after the Pulse shooting. He was an outspoken critic of DeSantis’ parental rights legislation, dubbed by opponents ‘Don’t Say Gay.’
House Republicans, though, point to emerging diversity in their caucus. A record, 24 Republican women have been elected to the House, along with three Black Republican House members, thought to be the most to serve simultaneously since post-Civil War Reconstruction.