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Democrat Tom Keen Wins Florida Special Election

A Ray of Sunshine in the Sunshine State—Florida Democrat Tom Keen Wins State House Seat Special Election    January 28, 2024  

 

           Most of the political world was, of course, obsessed with Demagogue Donald’s win in the Iowa Caucuses on January 15, 2024. That Trump victory should have come as no surprise with this right-wing group of GOP activists caucusing in a “Red”-leaning state. However, there was another election that occurred the next day, Tuesday, January 16, 2024. Few people paid much attention to this contest. On that day, Democrats brought a ray of sunshine to the Sunshine State, Florida. In what political pundits called a bellwether for Democratic chances in November, 2024, Democrat Tom Keen flipped Florida State House District (HD) 35 into “Team Blue’s” camp in a special election. The 35th HD had previously been held by GOPer Fred Hawkins. Hawkins resigned last year to accept a job as president of South Florida State College in Highlands County. Unlike the GOP tilt in IA, the FL 35th HD has an almost even amount of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents (orlandosentinel.com, 1/6/24, Lemongello, S.). Let’s now focus on the candidates and the FL 35th House District race.

 

            FL House District 35 currently covers the largest chunk of Osceola County on the east side and a large portion of East Orange County to the Brevard County line. It is located in the Orlando suburbs  (wesh.com, Kremposky, 1/16/24, kos.com, Singer, 1/16/24). The HD 35th has a swingy voting history. Biden carried it by 5 points in 2020, 52%-47%. However, in 2022, FL Gov. Ron DeSantis, according to FL data analyst Matt Isabell, carried the 35th by 13 points, 56%-43%, while U.S. Senator Marco Rubio took it by 53%-46%, a 7point-margin. In this hotly contested 1/16/2024 special election race, which Keen won by a 2.6% spread, 51.3% v. 48.7% over GOPer Erika Booth, Democrats put $1.21 million into this race, while the GOP outspent them with an estimated total of $1.5 million (kos.com, Singer, 1/16/24).

 

            Keen thanked the supporters and volunteers who made this victory possible (orlandosentinel.com, Lemongello, 1/16/24). According to Florida Democratic Party Chair, Nikki Fried, who is trying hard to revive “Team Blue’s” political fortunes in this state, FL Democrats rallied behind Keen with “unprecedented enthusiasm and investment in this special election from all over the state, as well as nationally (wesh.com, Kremposky).” What really clinched the win for Democrats, however, in this key special election, according to analyst Isabell, was the massive margin Keen garnered from NPA’s or non-partisan voters. This major group gave Keen an overwhelming 65% to 70% of its votes that made up for the larger numbers of GOPers who voted (orlandosentinal.com, 1/16/24). Keen and his team had been organizing for this election for months. They made calls, sent texts, and knocked on doors, what it traditionally takes to win (info@floridadems.org, 1/16/24).

 

              Democrat Keen is a businessman and former Navy flight officer. He works in the aerospace training and simulation industry. And what issues did Keen emphasize that pulled in Democrats, probably moderate GOPers, and independents? Keen made abortion rights, including reproductive legislation, property insurance, and the environment key issues in his campaign (wesh.com, orlandosentinel.com). 

              Keen’s GOP opponent, Erika Booth, made “no bones” about her far-right agenda. On her website, (erikaboothfl.com), she headlined herself right up front as a “Conservative Classroom Teacher.”   Get it? No liberal or moderate ideas will be pushed by her in the state legislature. She next declared she was running to “Defend our freedoms” and “defeat the woke agenda.” Translation: Just like her fellow GOPer, Gov. Ron DeSantis, she wants “woke to die” everywhere and anywhere in Florida. Booth is currently an Osceola County school board member supported by the Florida Republican Party. Her website indicates that she’s focused on issues surrounding education, immigration, and election integrity, as well as the non-issue of voter fraud or suppressing minority and Democratic voters (See wesh.com, Kremposky, 1/16/24).

         And there is more. Booth’s website attacks Pres. Biden as “inept Sleepy Joe” and falsely accuses him of pushing “trans-education” in our public schools, the latest GOP bugaboo. She promises to fight “side-by-side” with Gov. DeSantis and Donald Trump. She wants to protect “our children from indoctrination” and spends two website pages attacking illegal immigrants whom she plans to crack down on. She promises to defend “All Of Our God-given rights” found in the Constitution. You know what that means—the right to keep and bear arms with no restrictions whatsoever, despite the fact that FL has had several awful gun massacres (See www.facebook.com/ErikaBoothFL). You get the idea.

 

           Local prominent FL Democrats, including Cong. Maxwell Frost, state Rep. Anna Eskamani, and former Democratic Congressmember Debbie Mucarsel-Powell stumped with Keen to help him win (orlandosentinel.com, Lemongello, 1/16/24, kos.com Singer, 1/16/24). After Keen’s victory, they and fellow FL Democrats argued that in 11/2024, Biden should not give up on electorally winning FL and helping fellow Floridian Democrats take their down-ticket races. Mucarsel-Powell is running to unseat GOP conservative Rick Scott as he tries for a second U.S. Senate term. Scott barely won his first race in 2018. However, he has oodles of money to once again self-fund his own race. On January 15, 2024, GOP FL. Gov. Ron DeSantis was clobbered in the Iowa GOP presidential caucuses by Donald and barely beat Nikki Haley for second place. DeSantis has lost much of his luster since his 2022 second-term landslide. De Santis saw he was going nowhere against Trump. On 1/21/2024, DeSantis suspended his presidential campaign and endorsed Demagogue Donald (nytimes.com, Nehamas, Haberman, et al, 1/21/24). Still, Democrats have much rebuilding to do in FL politics and are presently facing a steep upward climb. The FL GOP has a “trifecta”--Gov. DeSantis, a lopsided 84-36 GOP state House, and a 28 -12 GOP state Senate majority. FL Democrats only have 8 congressional seats to the GOP’s 20 (CQ 118th Cong. At Your Fingertips). Biden and several fellow Democrats lost in 2020 because Cuban and other Hispanic voters fell for the GOP line that Democrats are “socialists” like the leftist tyrants many of them or their relatives had fled. Democrats must be ready to challenge this lie “big time” or they will not win in the Sunshine State. However, Keen’s victory shows that FL Democrats are intent on rebuilding their party and chipping away at FL’s super-legislative GOP majority. To do that, they must continue to organize year-round to elect FL state and federal Democrats and improve their turnout in November, 2024 when Keen runs for a full term of his own. Keen’s special election victory must be the beginning of a political “Blue” FL wave. Again, congratulations Florida Democrats and Tom Keen!       

 

            

 

         

 

              

 

 

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