Democrats see promise in election gains
Florida Democrats lost three out of five statewide races, and exit polls show Republican Charlie Crist made big gains among reliably Democratic African-American voters.
But make no mistake, Tuesday was a strong night for long-suffering Democrats accustomed to painful Sunshine State trouncings.
Not only did they pick up two congressional seats and seven state House seats — the biggest gain in three decades, but they added a strong Tallahassee voice with soon-to-be Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink.
“Welcome to the resurgence of the Democratic Party of Florida. Today is the end of one-party rule in Tallahassee,” state Sen. Dave Aronberg declared at Sink’s victory party.
Democrats remain firmly planted in the minority in Florida, but winning a Cabinet seat is a key step toward rebuilding the party. They now have a statewide figure to speak up on issues and potentially a formidable fundraiser for the party that was outspent at least four to one this election.
“She’s the Democrats’ star,” said Republican consultant Bill Coletti. “The question immediately is whether the next governor’s race will be Crist vs. Sink.”
Sink, a retired banking executive and wife of a former Democratic gubernatorial candidate, showed broad appeal. She won heavily Republican counties in North Florida, for instance, and received nearly 300,000 more votes than this year’s Democratic nominee for governor, Jim Davis.
Meanwhile, Democrats picked up seven state House seats across Florida, including two in Pinellas County. They still hold just 42 of 120 House seats, but that robs the GOP of having more than two-thirds of the chamber, a threshold that has permitted the party to run the House and ignore the Democrats entirely.
“If the Democrats can block votes on some issues, it means the Republicans will have to come to them and deal with them,” noted lobbyist Ken Plante.
The Republicans keep their 26-14 state Senate majority, having won one Democratic seat in the Gainesville area and lost a Tampa Bay seat to Democrat Charlie Justice.
Republicans have reason for joy in Florida too. Against a strong Democratic current, Crist was one of the few candidates across the country to keep an open governor’s seat in the GOP column. His comfortable 7 percent margin of victory including sweeping the Interstate 4 corridor (he won his home county of Pinellas by just 6 percentage points), including Democratic-leaning counties such as Orange and Volusia.
Exit polls for CNN and other news organizations showed Crist winning nearly one in five African-American votes — a big improvement over Jeb and George Bush — and tying Davis among women and independent voters.
-- ADAM C. SMITH, Times staff writer