On paper, it should have never been this close. But Republican Maria Elvira Salazar made a sure-win seat for Democrats as competitive as any analyst could have imagined, before losing the 27th Congressional District of Florida seat to Democrat Donna Shalala.
"I’ve been through a lot. I have a lot of experiences. This is just another teaching moment for me," Salazar told WLRN after her concession speech. "We expected different results, but we feel that we did the best we could. We ran the best campaign we were able to run. We were outspent, and we didn’t have all the resources that Mrs. Shalala had, but nonetheless we feel very proud that for the first time, we ran a very good campaign."
The campaign watch party on Tuesday never felt resigned and defeated. It was a tough battle, and the crowd erupted into cheers for what Salazar was able to accomplish.
At the beginning of the 2018 cycle, the New York Times selected the district as the best opportunity for Democrats to flip a seat in the entire country. Retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen -- an increasingly moderate Republican -- had been elected for nearly three decades in the district that turned more Democratic with every cycle. Ros-Lehtinen was able to cement a final victory as a Republican in a district Hillary Clinton won by a large margin. But she announced her retirement shortly afterwards, and became critical of the Trump Administration.
The writing was on the wall for Republicans, or at least that's how it seemed.
Salazar changed political calculations on the district when she walloped her Republican opponents in a crowded primary election. Hers was a household name, thanks to years spent as a Spanish-language television anchor, covering Cuban-American issues and speaking directly to would-be voters in the heavily Latino and specifically Cuban-American district.
Every single debate that was conducted in the run-up to Tuesday was conducted in Spanish. Shalala, a former Secretary of Health and Human Resources, spoke through interpreters and couldn’t plead her case directly to voters.
Shalala had name recognition for her time spent as president of the University of Miami, but Salazar’s uphill campaign soon bore down on the Democratic feeling that this race was in their pocket. Analysts reevaluated the race, changing it from ‘Lean Democratic’ to ‘Toss Up.’
In the end, Shalala won with nearly 52 percent of the vote, and Salazar wished her the best.
"I will stay committed to this community and pushing the ideas that will improve the quality of life in South Florida," Salazar said in her concession speech. "I thank every voter who gave me his trust, his vote and his love. And may the Lord protect this country and its future."