Democrats say Florida statehouse race a bellwether for US - KAIT Jonesboro, AR - Region 8 News, weather, sports

Democrats say Florida statehouse race a bellwether for US

By TAMARA LUSH
Associated Press

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) - A Democratic win in a Florida statehouse district that's firmly Republican is being called a bellwether for national politics, a referendum of sorts on President Donald Trump and his conservative agenda.

On Tuesday, in Florida's House District 72 - a district that encompasses the southern end of the city of Sarasota, a few smaller communities in Sarasota County and the upscale barrier island of Siesta Key - Democrat Margaret Good won by seven percentage points over a Republican James Buchanan, the son of six-term Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan. She claimed 52.2 percent of the vote compared with 44.8 percent for Buchanan and 3 percent for Libertarian Alison Foxall.

Good was sworn in Wednesday. She will be the 41st Democrat in the 120-member House.

This, in a district that Trump carried in 2016 by 4.4 percentage points.

"In years like this, when swing voters are frustrated with the incumbent President, their only vehicle to express their frustration is through members of the incumbent party," wrote Steve Schale, a Democractic political consultant, on his blog.

This is the 36th Republican to Democrat switch in a state legislative race since the 2016 election.

The Republican Party blamed the loss on out-of-state money that poured into Good's campaign.

"None of that will be going on in November, when the local GOP will have a full slate of strong candidates running," said Joe Gruters, the chairman of Sarasota's Republican party.

He noted the same seat will again be open during the regular election in the fall, adding, "I'm confident the Republican Party will be able to win back this seat and provide strong representation in the Florida Legislature."

It remains to be seen how Democrats will ultimately do in November; Republicans in Florida generally do better in midterm elections. Since 1998, Democrats have only won two statewide elections in a non-presidential election year. That was in 2006 when U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson won his second term and Alex Sink was elected Florida's chief financial officer. Sink then ran for governor and lost to Republican Rick Scott in 2010.

A total of 36 percent of eligible voters in the district turned out, which is large for special elections, according to experts. More than 44,000 voters cast ballots.

Candidates on both sides garnered national support. Former Vice President Joe Biden endorsed Good and helped her campaign by recording automated calls that went out to voters in the days before the election. Last weekend, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski flew to Sarasota to hold a rally for Buchanan.

Republican voters outnumber Democrats by more than 12,000 in the district.

"A bunch of Republicans chose to revolt today," Schale wrote on Tuesday. "Both by not voting, and by voting for Good."

The seat in a traditionally conservative, older and white area of Sarasota opened up last summer when Republican Rep. Alex Miller resigned, citing family and business reasons. She had been in office less than a year.

The seat hadn't been held by a Democrat in more than a decade.

Follow Tamara Lush on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tamaralush

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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