Issue #16: Florida 20th Democratic Primary Preview
A multi-candidate battle royal
Tomorrow, November 2nd, the special election for Florida’s 20th district will finally take place. Well, the primary will - which is all that matters. This deep-blue, majority black district; located in Palm and Broward County, is home to one of the most crowded primary races in recent memory.
This district, or some version of it, was held by Congressman Alcee Hastings since 1992.
Over the course of his three decades in office, Hastings built a strong base of support in the district. The Congressman became a visible advocate in the community; making it easy for him to repel any primary challenges that emerged. As a result, all the candidates running invoke the Hastings name as they seek to replace him.
This district is huge and complex. I’ll delve into this more, but broadly it can be broken down into four distinct regions.
Central Broward is the powerhouse of the district. A candidate of central Broward could be easily favored in any primary. However, with multiple candidates running from multiple regions, that geographic advantage is weakened to some degree.
A look at the candidates
There are ELEVEN democratic candidates for FL-20. Obviously not all have the same chance of winning. Here is a rapid breakdown.
Here are the main candidates from Central Broward
Perry Thurston - the Senator for District 33, he represents more of the registered democrats than anyone else in the race. His district covers most of the central Broward region. He is a establishment liberal Democrat who’s served in the state house and state senate in the area
Bobby Dubose - the State Representative for District 94. Dubose represents Thurston’s old house district; winning that election in 2014. Before then, he served on the Ft Lauderdale city council. Like Thurston, he’s an establishment liberal.
Dale Holness - the county commissioner for District 9. Holness is a powerful local politician. He has built up a strong operation in the Caribbean community that populates his district. He’s the most moderate candidate - a man willing to cut deals with both sides.
Here are the main candidates from south Broward
Barbara Sharief - the county commissioner for District 8. Sharief has been in office since the 2010 elections and is a strong candidate as another establishment liberal.
Here are the main candidates from Palm Beach
Omari Hardy - the State Representative for District 88. Hardy won his seat in a contentious 2020 primary, which saw him ousting the incumbent democrat at the time. Hardy is running as by far the most liberal elected official in the contest.
Priscilla Taylor - a former state house member before the 2010s, she served on the Palm Beach City Council until 2016. She ran for West Palm Beach mayor but did not win.
Strong candidates with no geographic base
Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick - a businesswoman who has invested over $3 MILLION of her own money into the race. She ran against Hastings in 2020 and 2018, but never generated strong support. She is also running as a progressive.
One of these seven people will be elected to congress. McCormick is the only serious candidate without a geographic base; but self-funding definitely makes up for it.
Candidate Bases - Divided Broward
I’ll be talking about the “bases” alot in this newsletter because its pretty critical. The winner of this race is likely to emerge with under 30% of the vote; perhaps under 20%. Candidate familiarity can matter. Below is where each of our elected official candidates hail from.
As a share of Democratic voters, Perry Thurston is, on paper, the clear frontrunner. Thurston represents over half of Democrats already. However, as the data table below shows, he only represents 23% of the electorate by himself.
Thurston would likely be a strong frontrunner if not for Holness and DuBose splitting the central Broward base with him. The central Broward block is badly divided between three candidates - with 15% of voters being represented by all three Broward politicians at once.
So geography is one thing. What about race? Well African-Americans are likely to be 70% of the primary vote; with white voters at 15%, and Hispanics maybe around 6%. All prominent candidates are African-American. However, south Florida also has a large Caribbean community. The growing Caribbean population (including Haitian and Jamaican voters) has become a much larger political force in south Florida in recent years.
Dale Holness, who was born in Jamaica, is by far the strongest candidate with the Caribbean community. He has a strong campaign apparatus in the community and his GOTV operation has propelled him to victory before. In 2016, he survived a close challenge from then-State Senator Chris Smith. Both candidates were black, but Holness’ Caribbean ties got him the victory.
Holness’ GOTV operations could serve him well in a low-turnout special election. Holness has also been working to make inroads with the Caribbean community in Palm Beach - while he already has ties in Miramar.
Unlike other special elections, the FL-20 primary has not generated a huge amount of outside money. Its only in the last couple weeks after national groups appeared to get heavily engaged. The big involvement all revolves around Omari Hardy. By far the most lefty elected official running, Hardy has over $100,000 in third-party ads being run by a progressive PAC. On the other hand, Hardy is getting hit by DMFI for his opposition to the Israeli Iron Dome funding and his support for the BDS movement.
The issue for both of these outside investments is that they come very late in the election. In fact, the winner may already be decided.
Absentees will Dominate
The election for FL-20 is Tuesday. However, the voting has been going on for weeks. In fact, recent history suggests a vast majority of the vote is already cast. Below is the voting method in FL-20 primaries from 2016-2020.
The rise of the pandemic and Democratic embrace of vote-by-mail has led to a sharp increase in VBM voting for Democratic primaries. It almost a guarantee that VBM will top 65% of the vote cast.
For more context, in the August primary for St Petersburg, FL mayor, the vote-by-mail was 78% of the ballots cast.
As of me writing this (which doesn’t include all of the Palm Beach early voting data) - the total Democratic ballots cast break down as follows
As I said, the data is incomplete, but it does match with some important points: Broward will dominate the vote - and VBM dominates as a method of voting.
We will see what the final early voting data looks like, and how Tuesday goes. Regardless, I’m expecting a vote-by-mail dominated election.
Who Is the Frontrunner?
If you read this article hoping for a sense of who was likely to win the election - then I apologize. There is no way to narrow this down to anything more than likely candidates. I can offer some key pro/con items for why candidates may or may not be able to win.
Pro: Represents biggest block
Con: His base is divided
Pro: Strong campaigner with recent wins
Con: Likely third string to Thurston and Holness
Pro: His GOTV operation is primed for this environment
Con: Good deal of mistrust of his motives outside his base
Pro: Strongest progressive candidate gives him a lane to run in
Con: Hasn’t got big outside help, has also drawn attacks on himself
Pro: Represents big block of votes all by herself
Con: Holness fighting on her turf as well with Caribbean voters
Pro: Self-funding critical to having a chance
Con: No key base in a low-turnout special
With a winner likely to emerge with under 25% of the vote - any candidate has a shot to win based on how the votes split. We will see who emerges on the other end. Rest assured, I’ll break the vote down once it arrives.