Democrats flip GOP state House seat in Central Florida
Florida Democrats won a narrow victory Tuesday in a hotly contested state House race in Central Florida, replacing a GOP incumbent who had resigned and overcoming a large gap in campaign spending by Republicans in the election.
Rep. Tom Keen, D-Lake Nona, won with 51.3% of the vote, a margin of 590 votes. Keen, 67, is a manager at Collins Aerospace and a former U.S. Navy flight officer. He becomes the 36th Democrat in the Florida House, which remains solidly in GOP control with 84 Republicans.
Keen had campaigned on issues of high property insurance premiums, unaffordable rent and abortion rights. His opponent was Republican Erika Booth, a conservative school board member in Osceola County whose campaign outraised Keen’s campaign and spent more than twice as much as Keen in the race.
“This journey was about bringing positive change to our community, and together, we've made a clear statement about the future we want to see,” Keen said in a statement Tuesday night. “Now, the real work begins, and I am more committed than ever to serve and represent each one of you with integrity, passion, and dedication.”
Turnout was about 20% of registered voters in the district, which includes parts of Orange and Osceola counties near Orlando.
“We saw unprecedented enthusiasm and investment in this special election from all corners of the state, as well as many of our national partners,” Nikki Fried, the chair of the Florida Democratic Party, said in a statement. “We proved that Florida is still worth fighting for, and that a well-organized, well-funded Democratic campaign can still win a swing seat in this state.”
Booth had avoided media interviews but campaigned with slogans that included “stop the woke mob,” “cancel the woke agenda,” “stop the brainwashing” and “free and fair elections,” along with embracing former President Donald Trump’s “America First” platform.
The election represents a 15 ½-point swing toward Democrats from Gov. Ron DeSantis’ reelection performance in the district in 2022.
The spending disparities mean Keen won the election by spending about $9 per vote – compared to Booth, who spent $24 for every vote she won.
Booth had declined earlier Tuesday through her campaign consultant, Anthony Pedecini of SimWins LLC in Tampa, to be interviewed about the election. Her campaign paid $224,787 to the company.
The seat was previously held by Republican Fred Hawkins, who resigned to become president of South Florida State College. He won the district by a margin of 10.8%.
Democrats narrowly lost another House race last month in South Florida but performed better than expected there in what had been a solidly conservative district. After that election, Fried wrote on social media, “We smell blood in the water.”
This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporter can be reached at email@example.com. You can donate to support our students here.