Florida House Democrats give up 2018 gains — and any hope of influence

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TALLAHASSEE — Florida House Democrats were a silver lining for their party in 2018, an election cycle in which they picked up five seats in the conservative state chamber while the party overall lost gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races that had drawn national attention.

Two years later, those gains have vanished.

Florida House Democrats were hammered on Election Day, losing three incumbents, two open seats, and a handful of races for what they thought were flippable Republican House districts. Republicans now lead the chamber 78-42.

The rout doesn’t change the balance of power in the state Legislature, but it dashes any hopes Democrats might have had to mount challenges to Republican policies. And it kills any chance the party can influence the 2020 redistricting process.

Tuesday’s drubbing came after weeks of optimism among Democrats that they would ride a wave of more than $12 million in outside progressive cash to grow their numbers in Florida House. The money came mostly from Forward Majority, a Washington-based super PAC that focused on flipping state legislatures for Democrats this year ahead of the 2020 redistricting cycle.

Not only did they not take the 14 seats needed to wrest control of the House for the first time in decades — a prospect most Democrats conceded was unlikely — they gave five seats back, making the deep red Florida House even more conservative headed into the 2021 legislative session.

“Progressive groups and liberal billionaires targeted the Florida House with tens of millions of dollars,” incoming Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls said in a statement. “They showed up pushing their out of state agenda on Florida voters. And [Tuesday] was an unprecedented win for House Republicans.”

Donald Trump beat Joe Biden by 375,029 votes in Florida, more than twice the size of his 2016 margin of victory. Riding his coattails, down-ballot Republicans crushed long-in-the-making Democratic House campaigns in nearly every region of the state.

In the Tampa Bay area, Republican Linda Chaney defeated incumbent Democrat Jennifer Webb 52-47 in House District 69.

On the other side of the state in St. Lucie County, Rep. Delores Hogan Johnson lost to Republican Dana Trabulsy 52-47 in House District 84.

And in South Florida, Republican Tom Fabricio ousted Democratic Rep. Cindy Polo in House District 103, which includes portions of Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Fabricio won the seat 54-45.

Republicans also won two hotly contested open seats.

Rep. Fiona McFarland bested Democrat Drake Buckman 54-45 in House District 72, a seat opened when Democratic Rep. Margaret Good made a bid for Congress. Good lost on Tuesday.

And in Miami-Dade County, Republican Demi Busatta Cabrera topped Democrat Jean-Pierre Bado in House District 114, vacated by Democratic Rep. Javier Fernández, who lost his bid for a Florida Senate seat on Election Day.

Sprowls, who begins his two-year term as House speaker on Nov. 17, said the five pickups are a clear sign from voters.

“We won big and received a mandate from the voters to continue to stand up for Floridians and Florida values,” he said.

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