TALLAHASSEE — Aided by wins in Central Florida, Democrats chipped away Tuesday at Republican majorities in the state House and Senate.
Democrats picked up net increases of two Senate seats and as many as five House seats, while defeating up to five incumbent Republican lawmakers.
Much of the success came in the Tampa Bay and Orlando areas, where Democratic candidates toppled GOP Reps. Scott Plakon, Shawn Harrison and Peter Nehr, and could be on the verge of a huge upset against Rep. Chris Dorworth, who is slated to become House speaker in 2014.
"The numbers in Hillsborough and Pinellas, in particular, we did very well there,'' Scott Arceneaux, executive director of the Florida Democratic Party, said Wednesday. "We were surprised we were able to get it that high (in those two counties)."
The Democratic Party said the election also marked the first time in three decades that it has enjoyed a net increase of Senate seats.
Republican lawmakers can be assured, however, that they will remain in total control when they return to the Capitol on Nov. 20 for an organizational session that will include swearing in members. After Tuesday, the GOP will hold a 26-14 majority in the Senate, down from the current 28-12.
It also will have a 76-44 or 77-43 advantage in the House, depending on whether Democrat Mike Clelland can hold onto a 37-vote lead against Dorworth.
Republicans currently have an 81-38 majority in the House.
Democrats took perhaps the highest-profile House race of the year when Maitland teacher Karen Castor Dentel knocked off Plakon in District 30, which includes parts of Seminole and Orange counties. Dentel received heavy support from groups such as teachers unions.
Democrats also won heavily contested House races in Orlando and Miami, though the overall net increase was affected by Republicans picking up open seats.
The Democrats' two-seat pickup in the Senate stemmed, in part, from Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Boca Raton, defeating fellow Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, in a nasty campaign in District 34. The incumbents ran against each other because reapportionment changed district lines in Broward and Palm Beach counties.
Another key Senate win came in central Florida's District 14, where Rep. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, handily beat Republican attorney Will McBride.