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Mail-In Ballots Could Determine Winner Of Florida Senate Seat

TALLAHASSEE --- A single-seat expansion of the Republican majority in the Florida Senate hinges on several hundred uncounted vote-by-mail ballots in Miami-Dade County.

Meanwhile, the GOP’s hold in the House grew in Tuesday’s election to 78, just below the super-majority mark in the 120-member chamber.

Incoming House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, called the election results, which included picking up five House seats, “overwhelming support” for Republican governance.

A recount is expected for the Senate District 37 seat, held since 2016 by Democrat Jose Javier Rodriguez. He trailed Republican challenger Ileana Garcia by a margin of 104,533 votes to 104,512 as of Wednesday afternoon.

“There's a process there, but I think we would rather be in our position than in the other position,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said of the district contest Wednesday during a news conference in which he praised the work of state and local elections officials and Republican leaders.

A victory by Garcia, a former deputy press secretary at the Department of Homeland Security in the Trump administration who founded Latinas for Trump, would boost the GOP majority in the Senate from 23-17 to a slightly more comfortable 24-16.

With Garcia ahead 48.53 percent to 48.52 percent --- independent Alex Rodriguez received 2.96 percent of the vote --- the district was the last undeclared race among Senate seats on Tuesday’s ballot.

Neither camp was conceding as signatures on the remaining vote-by-mail ballots have until 5 p.m. Thursday to be verified.

“Overnight, Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez has gained nearly 100 votes in this race with over 400 vote-by-mail ballots to still be reviewed,” Christian Ulvert of the Democrat’s campaign said in a statement released Wednesday morning. “It is important for everyone who may have had an issue with their ballot to quickly contact the Miami-Dade County supervisor of elections to complete the cure process.”

Ulvert added that “the final vote total will send Senator Rodriguez back to Tallahassee to continue fighting for the people of District 37.”

Meanwhile, the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, chaired by incoming Senate President Wilton Simpson, indicated any final counting or recount won’t change Garcia’s lead.

“Ileana Garcia has run a spectacular campaign and made the case for hard work and the American Dream,” committee spokeswoman Erin Isaac said in a statement Wednesday. “The people of Senate District 37 turned out in record numbers and deserve to be heard. We want every legal ballot cast to be counted and have no reason to believe they won’t.”

Machine recounts are required when contests are within a margin of 0.5 percentage points or less when the unofficial results are posted. Races with margins of 0.25 percentage points or less go to manual, or hand, recounts.

In the House, where all incumbent Republicans running for re-election held their seats, the GOP knocked out three Democratic members and grabbed two other seats vacated by Democrats who unsuccessfully ran for higher office.

Republican Fiona McFarland picked up an open seat in Sarasota County’s House District 72 that opened when Rep. Margaret Good, D-Sarasota, ran against GOP Congressman Vern Buchanan. Buchanan retained his seat by more than 10 percentage points.

Republican Demi Busatta Cabrera in Miami-Dade County’s House District 114, grabbed the seat that became open when Rep. Javier Fernandez, D-South Miami, decided to run for the Senate. Fernandez lost by nearly 13 percentage points in his contest with Rep. Ana Maria Rodriguez, R-Doral, for the Senate District 39 seat.

Meanwhile Tuesday, Republican Linda Chaney defeated Rep. Jennifer Webb, D-Gulfport, in Pinellas County’s House District 69. Republican Dana Trabulsy unseated Rep. Delores Hogan Johnson, D-Fort Pierce, in St. Lucie County’s House District 84. And Republican Tom Fabricio toppled Rep. Cindy Polo, D-Miramar, in House District 103 in Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

Jim Turner / News Service of Florida
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