Florida Democrats have flipped a state House seat in a special election, a sign that the party may be more competitive than previously thought come November.
Tom Keen defeated his Republican challenger, Erika Booth, on Tuesday night, with a decisive 51.3 percent of the vote. The special election had been prompted after former Republican state Representative Fred Hawkins resigned last year to become a state college president.
Orange and Osceola counties, which Keen now represents, are almost evenly split among Democratic, Republican, and independent voters. Keen won between 65 and 70 percent of independent voters, a crucial demographic.
“What actually clinched the win for Democrats was this massive margin with [nonpartisan voters] and perhaps some Republican moderates, as well,” Democratic elections analyst Matt Isbell told the Orlando Sentinel. “If anything, this should be concerning for the GOP because it indicates a voter anger that maybe they have not understood.”
Florida Republicans swept to power in 2022, winning the governor’s office and supermajorities in both chambers of the state legislature. Since then, they have dedicated themselves to passing unpopular and expensive laws targeting some of the national GOP’s favorite culture wars, including gutting abortion access and LGBTQ rights.
Booth ran on many of these issues. Her campaign website said she wanted to fight wokeness, as well as “trans-education” and the “indoctrination” of children in schools. She also promised to crack down on undocumented immigrants, despite the Florida GOP having to walk back a measure it passed targeting migrants.
Keen, on the other hand, ran primarily on increasing abortion access and decreasing property insurance rates. Insurance rates have skyrocketed in Florida as a result of climate change and Governor Ron DeSantis’s refusal to address environmental issues.
State House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell hailed Keen’s victory and said it was a sign that her party shouldn’t be counted out.
“This proves that Democrats can win close races in the Sunshine State,” she said in a statement to the Sentinel. “Florida is worth fighting for.”
Separately, on X (formerly Twitter), Driskell said there “is still hope for Florida.”
“With hard work and coordination, FL Dems can do great things,” she wrote.