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Issue #40: The Multi-Million Democratic Primary to come in FL Senate 35
South Broward will be home to a massive race
As Florida continues to wait on a final Congressional map, the races for the legislative districts are well underway. Florida’s house and senate districts were approved by the Florida Supreme court weeks ago and the musical chairs of candidates/incumbents as begun.
Redistricting can be a major source of inter-party primaries; thanks to a combo of incumbent pairings and new terrain for members. As of Friday, a major Democratic primary is now set up for state senate. In SD35, located in Southwest Broward County, Senator Lauren Book (left) is being challenged by former County Commissioner Barbara Sharief (right).
This seat carries a good deal of voters that Book has represented since she was elected in 2016. The new lines actually placed her just outside the district’s borders, though she intends to move. Book currently resides in what will now be the new SD32; an African-American senate district that is likely to be represented by Senator Rosalind Osgood. Sharief, meanwhile, hails from the City of Miramar, on the southern end of the new SD35.
This ensures a massive, multi-million dollar primary. On top of this, Book, as Senate Dem leader, will be forced into a campaign instead of focusing all her attention on electing fellow Democratic senators across the state. As the current and incoming leader, her role is to work to elect Democrats. A strong fundraiser, the cash she raised would go to other campaigns if she had no race of her own.
But before we get into all of that, lets look at the district itself.
The New 35th District
Senate 35 sits right in the southwest quarter of Broward County; the biggest source of Democratic votes in the state. Its south border is the county line, east border is the turnpike, north border is largely I-595, and west border is the Everglades. The district covers the cities of Davie, Weston, Southwest Ranches, Cooper City, Pembroke Pines, and Miramar. Small slivers of Hollywood and Sunrise are also included.
On a personal note, this is the region of Broward I grew up in, and I know it like the back of my hand. I have multiple family members still in the seat, and I’m going to be texting them to save every piece of mail they get.
The region is incredibly diverse, and continues to grow as such. In 2010, the census data had the district at 38% Hispanic, 37% white, 20% black (which includes both African-American and Caribbean voters). The 2020 census data is 46% Hispanic, 26% white, 21% black. This is a heavily suburban district; filled with bedroom communities and new developments. Broadly speaking, the upper-income suburbs cover the west end of the district, while renters and smaller homes populate the east end.
In a Democratic primary, the district is three-way split between Hispanic, black, and white voters. The Hispanic drop is due to large numbers of Hispanics registered as NPA or Republican - as well as a general Hispanic lag in registration and citizenship. Hispanics are prominent in Weston and Pembroke Pines. White voters populate the cities of Davie and Cooper City, while Miramar is heavily black and Hispanic.
Hispanic voting power takes another hit, however, when we look at the Democratic primaries of the past. The 2020 primary comes out to 35% black, 34% white, and just 20% Hispanic.
This is due to the large turnout gap among registered Hispanic voters. This is a common phenomenon across Florida, not just here. This further reiterates what I have discussed in past redistricting articles. Hispanic-performing seats need high Hispanic super-majorities to actually be Hispanic in voting performance. That is why this seat is not considered Hispanic-access, despite the census data.
The diversity of the primary is continuing to grow, however. The 20% Hispanic share is the highest its ever been. Trends indicate it should top 20% this year. In addition, black share of the primary also grows. Each primary becomes more diverse.
The city breakdowns can also be viewed below (as registered Democrats). Pembroke Pines and Miramar are the biggest sources of Democratic votes; with half the vote coming from those cities alone.
So this the quick breakdown of the district. Lets talk about the race.
The Titanic Fight to Come
The fact this primary is happening is not entirely surprising. Barbara Sharief would have been a prime contender for this district if no incumbent was running. She was elected the Miramar city Commission in 2009 and the County Commission in 2010. She had a re-election fight in 2014 and was unopposed in 2018. Then, with the death of Congressman Alcee Hastings in 2021, she ran in the special election for her seat. I covered that primary here. In the end, she came in 3rd place, but won in her Miramar base - taking 32% of the vote in the city.
Sharief couldn’t fully capitalize on her Miramar base thanks to eventual winner Sheila McCormick hailing from the city. McCormick self-funded her way to victory. Sharief did, however, have a weak showing in the east end of the district; which is more Caribbean. Those voters went more toward Commissioner Dale Holness, who is Jamaican. Holness and Sharief have a rocky past, with Holness backing Sharief’s 2014 primary challenger. Holness supported Miramar City Commissioner Alexandra Davis, in a race that got insanely nasty and tinged with racial tensions.
Sharief does benefit from being recently on the ballot in part of the district. However, the total votes from the city (which is the only part of the 20th in the new senate seat) in that primary was just 7,700; with Sharief getting 2,200 of that. Since over 50,000 likely votes will be cast in the upcoming primary, this means a vast majority of voters are still up for grabs.
Book, meanwhile, was elected to the state senate in 2016 unopposed, and has never actually been on a ballot. A well-respected advocate for women and sexual abuse victims, and the daughter of powerful lobbyist Ron Book, no one ever bothered to take her on. A victim of sexual abuse herself, Lauren has written books on assault and founded the charity Lauren’s Kids. She drew national attention for speaking against the Florida GOP’s anti-abortion bill, which offered no rape/incest exemptions.
Senator Book only has one more election left. After this election, which only goes till 2024, she will be termed out. There was a broad sentiment Sharief and other candidates would look to a 2024 run; allowing the Democratic leader to finish up.
Sharief’s announcement has changed this. Book has already hit Sharief for viewing the seat as a consolation prize, while Sharief has hit Book for not living in the district. Republicans, meanwhile, are giddy at the fight to come. Every second and dollar Book spends on this race means less spent working to defend Democratic incumbents in SD14 and SD3, as well as aiming to win open seats.
The initial view is that Book has the advantage in the district. Sharief should do well in south end where she is a longtime politician. Book’s resources and name ID (she is well known despite the unopposed wins) will carry her further north. Areas like Weston and Pembroke Pines are likely to be major battlegrounds. While there is some racially-polarized voting here, it is not as extreme as other regions of the state. The reality is this will be a major money fight, with candidates fighting for votes across the district.
And as the Democrats fight, the Republicans will sit back and smile.