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Issue #51: "Ghost Candidates" haunt the race for new Senate District 10
Senator Jason Brodeur has a tough re-election ahead
If you have been remotely clued in with Florida politics over the last 18 months, you are at least partially aware of a growing “ghost candidate” scandal from the 2020 elections. In 2020, the races for State Senate Districts 9 and 37 featured independent candidates that benefited from hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising. In both races, the “independent candidates” were featured in ads that aimed to make them a left-wing alternative from the official Democratic nominee. The goal was to divide the Democratic vote. In Senate District 37, this had clear impact, as Democratic Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez lost by 32 votes. Meanwhile, NPA candidate Alex Rodriguez got 3%.
That case has already seen candidates and consultants arrested for a litany of charges. Note, the notion of running a third-party candidate to divide the vote, while unethical, is not illegal. It is the action of operatives that aimed to hide their involvement, as well as paying the candidates - essentially a bribe to do it, that appears to be getting people in legal trouble. This is all still ongoing and developing. However, another big piece of news broke yesterday, with SD9 independent candidate Jestine Iannotti being charged in a criminal probe revolving around her candidacy. Iannotti is being charged, along with consultant James Foglesong, and Seminole County GOP Chairman Ben Paris. The charges so far revolve around making donations in the names of people; aiming to hide the sources of money.
In 2020, Iannotti was the beneficiary of advertisements funded by dark-money groups. The plan was clearly designed to ensure Republican Jason Brodeur could defeat Democrat Patricia Sigman, even if he fell under 50%. The race was bitterly fought by both parties, with Brodeur managing a 3% win as Biden narrowly won the district.
The irony is that in the SD9 race, Brodeur was able to secure 50% of the vote anyway. Biden’s weak win in the district (most operatives expected Biden to win the district by several points) allowed the GOP down-ballot advantage in the suburbs to carry Brodeur to victory.
But now, Brodeur faces a re-election campaign that will be dogged by this scandal, with more likely to come out as the months go on. Especially as some might have incentives to rat out others. See below
To make things worse for Brodeur, he is running for re-election in a bluer district.
If you have followed any of my redistricting writing (ranting) - then you know how terribly gerrymandered Florida’s new congressional map is. However, the story is very different with the state senate districts. Since the Governor has no veto power over the legislative maps, these plans garnered far less attention and drama. The State Senate plan is overall a balanced proposal. There are some issues, especially in the Tampa Bay, which I’ve discussed, but the map does not go out of its way to protect its GOP incumbents.
The clearest example of this is in Orlando. Before the first drafts came out, I posited that the logical move for SD9 would be to remain in Seminole County and move south into Orange. However, since this would make the district more Democratic, namely by leaving red-leaning Volusia, it was not something I expected to happen. Well sure enough, that is the final plan we got. The district moves out of Volusia and into Orange.
The district, now numbered SD10, is at Biden +4.5%.
This is much better for Democrats than the Biden +0.1% that the old SD9 was. Brodeur is long-believed to benefit from the fact 2022 is likely to be a Republican-favored year. Biden +4 in a red midterm is very much winnable for the GOP. However, Democrats recruited well, with State Representative Joy Goff-Marcil filed for the seat. Goff-Marcil won her seat in 2018, knocking off Republican Bob Cortes, and defeating him in a 2020 rematch. Her district overlaps with the southern portion of SD10.
Goff-Marcil is a strong contender for the district. Expect her to make the ghost candidate scandal a major talking point in the coming months.
The district is also trending further to the left; thanks largely to Seminole following other suburban counties and moving to the Democratic Party. Biden’s win in 2020 was a five point swing from 2016. Meanwhile, 3 of 5 Democrats running statewide in 2018 took the district.
Now, it is still too early to know for sure how the November race will shake out. Will Brodeur be implicated directly? How bad will the midterm get for Democrats? Will DeSantis’ culture-war push backfire in the suburbs? Will democrats be able to keep up with money in the race?
There are far too many questions at the moment. One thing is clear, however, this “ghost candidate” scandal is going to continue to be a headache for Brodeur through November.