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Issue #108: Jacksonville Gives Democrats a Big Win
The return of "Blueval"?
Tuesday night provided a much-needed win for Florida Democrats. The victory in the Jacksonville Mayor’s race is the first big win for the party since its drubbing in the 2022 midterms. Lets take a look at these results!
I have written about Jacksonville extensively recently, so I am going to keep their backstory short. Jacksonville (which is also all of Duval County) was holding its runoffs for local races this week. The main event was Mayor, which was a runoff between Jacksonville Chamber CEO Danny Davis and former newscaster Donna Deegan. Both advanced in the March primary, besting other party candidates.
The primary was nasty, especially on the Republican side. Davis was a business-minded Republican who was long known as a more moderate voice. However, he faced threats from conservative councilmembers Al Ferraro and LeAnna Cumber. Davis launched massive attacks to stop these two, but also ran to the right himself. Deegan, meanwhile, was always viewed as the frontrunner for Democrats, but was unlikely to get 50% in the first round due to the campaign of former State Senator Audrey Gibson, who was strongest in the black community.
After the primary, there were many bitter feelings. Ferraro and Cumber never backed Davis, and Gibson never backed Deegan. Both candidates then had to work to unite their party for the runoff.
My Tuesday Morning substack saw me look at the recent elections in Jacksonville and the issue with turnout that Democrats have had. I’d give that a read if you haven’t already.
The Runoff Results
The runoff was dominated by the Mayors race, as expected. For Democrats, the ground game really kicked off at this point. Both sides aimed to persuade voters to their camp. However, the Davis campaign, by all accounts, did not aim to moderate itself for the runoff. Perhaps worried that supporters of Ferraro and Cumber supports wouldn’t show up, Davis, despite years as a moderate business-friendly Republican, began to run a race much more akin to the DeSantis-era culture war fights. Davis also relied heavily on Sheriff T.K. Waters, who operated as a surrogate for Davis and hitting Deegan on crime.
Deegan’s campaign seized on the Davis right-wing tilt, presenting herself as a more moderate choice. This was still different from Alvin Brown’s 2011 campaign - as Brown worked to present himself as very conservative Democrat. (Read my Tuesday article for more on that). Deegan presented as a moderate, but still more of a mainstream Democrat. For Deegan, she had to be sure to not only win over swing voters, but also ensure black turnout increased in the runoff. With Gibson refusing to back her, Deegan could not tack too far to the right and alienate the base.
As the polls closed on Tuesday, it was arguably anybody’s game. Polls had the race neck-and-neck. Many believed Deegan would have more cross-party and NPA appeal, but the GOP was finishing the day with a solid voter turnout advantage. The final GOP edge in terms of votes cast was 3.2%,
We will talk turnout much more further down in this article.
In the end though, Deegan would go on to win the race by just over 4% - the biggest Democratic Mayoral campaign win in decades.
The Deegan win gives Democrats in Florida a massive moral victory. It clearly points to Deegan getting a decent chunk of NPA voters, as well as taking away some moderate Republicans. Deegan crushed Davis in the black community, dominated in Riverside, won the Arlington region and made gains in southside, and expanded Democratic wins into the growing suburbs of the Southwest
However, it was not the only good news for team blue that night.
The second biggest countywide race on the ballot was Duval Property Appraiser. Incumbent Jerry Holland (R), a well-liked official, was termed out of office. In the March primary, his preferred successor (more on that in the March article) did not advance to the runoff. Instead the race was Democrat Joyce Morgan, a city councilwoman vs Republican former State Rep Jason Fischer.
Fischer did not want to be Property Appraiser. He wanted to be a Congressman, but the GOP pushed him away from a run. He wanted to be a State Senator - again the powers that be said they had other favorite candidates. Now of course Jason could have said “screw you I’m gonna run anyway” - but instead he agreed to run for Property Appraiser.
Now if you don’t know - the Florida County Property Appraisers are responsible for - you guessed it - appraising the property. Now, there are many rules and regulations that govern this, so its not like one man/woman can be elected and radically restructure anything. This post can have political implications - especially when it comes to a business appealing an evaluation (they obviously want it lower because lower value = lower taxes). A few years ago, I wrote about when US Sugar tried to oust the Hendry Property Appraiser because his office would not back down on the value it set for their juicer plant. Give that a read here - its a crazy story.
Some appraisers may settle with a business quicker, others may stick to their guns and go through appeals. Fischer, appealing to lazy cynicism, basically tried to act like his election could radically lower property taxes.
The implication is Fischer would have just lowered values, which would lower taxes. Well first he couldn’t do anything out of bounds with the MANY regulations and formulas used. Second, he wouldn’t actually do anything. It was all nonsense talk. It showed how unserious he was.
Meanwhile, Fischer faced Joyce Morgan, who’s City Council win in 2019 was a rare bright spot for Democrats that year. Morgan had far less cash than Fischer, but was well respected and had name ID from her time as a local news reporter. Morgan would end up beating Fischer by a few thousand votes!
Morgan’s win is not only good for Duval Democrats, but all Duval voters as well. I trust that office will be well managed.
Morgan got 1.4% less than Deegan, but did outperform the Mayor-Elect in much of the African-American heavy Northside, with downtown basically being a tie.
Deegan was much stronger than Morgan along the beaches and the Southeast end.
Deegan and Morgan both won 6 of the 14 city-council seats. Their solid margins in Districts 7 and 14 aided Democrats in fending off very strong GOP challengers there.
I am actually gonna try and get another substack out early next week looking at some of the council races in more detail and the map itself (which is from a court order after the council’s gerrymander was struck down). So keep an eye out for that.
City Council At-Large 5
The final county/citywide race Tuesday was the At-Large City Council 5 seat. This open race between Chris Miller and Charles Garrison was largely overshadowed. It would be the one Republican win citywide that night.
I was not surprised to see this race go Republican because the turnout was still favoring the GOP. This race was very much Generic D v Generic R for most voters, as Mayor dominated coverage. Miller, unlike Fischer or Davis, did not shoot himself in the foot with controversies. This unfortunately put Garrison in a bad position, as with a more GOP-leaning electorate and parties largely remaining united (and maybe more of a 50-50 NPA split), he had little chance to get to 50%. It also can hurt if voters think “well I’ve voted for two Democrats already, let me give Deegan a check on her power.”
Deegan outperformed Garrison across the county.
The smallest swings were in heavily Democratic pockets were most votes are straight-line Democrat. Btw the won Garrison-up precinct was a 1 vote difference in a very blue area.
Turnout vs Party Unity
What is clear from these citywide results is the importance of the NPA vote and party unity. As I said, turnout still favored the GOP overall. Heading into election day, Democrats held a 6200 vote lead in turnout, but everyone knew election day would be good for the Republicans. Sure enough, as the day went on, the Republican vote poured in. By noon, more Republican than Democratic votes had been cast. By 7pm, the GOP lead was 7,000.
Black turnout was 26% vs 36% for white voters. This 10 point gap may seem high, but its drastically lower than the 40 vs 59 gap (19 points!) from the November midterm. The 24.5% share of the vote being black was up 2 points from November.
The turnout difference between Democrats and Republicans was 7.3%, which is HIGHER than it was in March. However, despite this, the GOP edge in votes cast went DOWN. In March, the electorate was GOP +4.2%. In the runoff it was 3.2%. What happened? NPA voters increased their turnout and clocked in at 12.7% of the vote, a record for Jacksonville elections.
The increased NPA share effectively smoothed-out the D v R gap. Democrats also increased their turnout at a larger rate than the Republicans. It can be hard thing to believe at times - “wait so the GOP turnout advantage grew but their share of the vote went down relative to Democrats?” It can seem counterintuitive, but that is the power of an increase in a third group - the NPAs.
Now these NPA voters are not a monolithic group - and depending on who shows up, the NPAs can break in different ways. What is very clear from the results is that Deegan and Morgan both did well with NPA voters, allowing them to overcome that party deficit. It also seems clear that Democrats kept their base more united - with Davis and Fischer certainly losing a batch of Republican voters.
This is also where I think the At-Large result also makes alot of sense. That race generated less controversy and attention - so the party makeup of turnout dominated how that vote went more than anything else. Deegan and Morgan absolutely owe their wins to winning NPAs by a solid margin and taking some moderate Republicans.
Don’t get me wrong though, if turnout had been weaker for Democrats, this crossover would not have been enough - especially for Morgan. It all works together - but I believe the City 5 race really shows that without crossover support, it would have been a Republican night.
This win is undoubtedly good for Florida Democrats. Does it mean Florida is now prime Biden territory? No of course not. What it does show, however, is the party can begin to regionally rebuild. Jacksonville has been trending Democratic over the decade, but reverted to the right in 2022. This week shows that bad cycles can be reversed. The 2024 elections in Florida will have plenty of local and legislative races that Democrats let slip away in the past and want to try and take back. Jacksonville shows that is possible.
Turnout was not great, but it was improved. It also comes amid the Republican legislature resetting the absentee voter list, which meant time spent getting voters re-signed up. Considering the climate of fear the Florida Republicans are trying to establish around voting, the turnout operation deserves even more credit. I think another good test for GOTV efforts with Democrats will be a likely special election for the GOP-held and Orlando-based HD35 that might come soon.
The top of the Jacksonville ticket did well to win over swing voters as the GOP candidates have become more reliant on culture war fear-mongering; something that did not work on Tuesday. This has already backfired for Republicans in other races as well, both in the midterms and local races sense then. The results Tuesday show the Republicans cannot just fall back on these far-right talking points when running in a diverse metro area.
I have made this analogy many times in recent months. Democrats in Florida are were the Republicans were in the 1980s; out of power but strong in specific pockets. The 1980s saw the GOP build and grow and seize control in the 1990s. I have firmly maintained that a path for Democrats must be similar. Build slow and steady. This is a good first brick in the bridge back to power and relevancy.
For Florida Democrats, there is really no place to go but up. For Republicans, they have plenty to lose.
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