TALLAHASSEE — Florida’s Legislature continued to shift to the right Tuesday night, with Republican candidates for the House and Senate dominating Tampa Bay races.
Republicans won 15 out of 21 bay area seats, including easily unseating Democratic Sen. Janet Cruz of Tampa and Democratic Rep. Andrew Learned — hotly contested races that were closely watched by party leaders.
Cruz lost to veteran Jay Collins, a Republican who was backed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, for a Senate seat representing western parts of Hillsborough County. Returns showed her losing 54% to 45%.
“I look forward to immediately getting to work to fight for the forgotten working class who is finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet,” Collins said in a statement.
Learned, a Navy veteran and moderate Democrat, lost to Republican Danny Alvarez, general counsel to the Tampa Police Benevolent Association. With nearly all precincts reporting, Learned was behind 56% to 43%.
The night was a disaster for Democrats. Republicans appeared to pick up enough seats in the House and Senate across the state to give them two-thirds supermajorities, allowing them to override chamber rules and further neutralize Democratic debate in Tallahassee.
Republicans had a 23-16 edge in the Senate and a 76-42 advantage in the House of Representatives, and they needed to pick up four seats in each chamber to have supermajorities. With Tuesday’s results, Republicans appeared to hold at least 84 seats in the House and 28 in the Senate.
“Tonight was historic,” incoming House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, said. “Voters elected the largest Republican majority in history. This shows a decisive wave of support for our leadership. This election sent a clear signal to keep Florida on its path for success.”
Because of redistricting, all 120 House seats and all 40 Senate seats were redrawn and up for grabs this year.
Most of Tuesday’s races were predictable, with nearly all current lawmakers returning to Tallahassee, including:
- Democratic Sen. Darryl Rouson continuing to represent downtown St. Petersburg and parts of Hillsborough County.
- Republican Sen. Danny Burgess representing Pasco County and parts of Hillsborough County.
- Republican Clearwater Sen. Ed Hooper representing northern Pinellas and parts of western Pasco counties.
- Democratic Rep. Fentrice Driskell, the Democrats’ House leader, representing north-central Hillsborough County.
- St. Pete Beach Republican Rep. Linda Chaney covering southwestern Pinellas County.
- Republican incumbent Rep. Mike Beltran representing northwest Manatee and southwest Hillsborough counties.
- Democratic Rep. Michele Rayner covering southern St. Petersburg and the eastern Hillsborough communities of Riverview and Gibsonton.
- Republican Rep. Traci Koster held off Democratic challenger David Tillery to represent northwest Hillsborough.
- Democratic Rep. Susan Valdes will continue to represent northwest Hillsborough County to Florida Avenue on the east.
- Republican Rep. Lawrence McClure representing the northeastern-most corner of Hillsborough County, including Plant City.
- Republican Rep. Randy Maggard held off Democratic challenger Brian Staver for this eastern Pasco County district.
Two current Republican lawmakers — Rep. Blaise Ingoglia and Rep. Nick DiCeglie — are moving to the Senate. DiCeglie is replacing St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes, who left because of term limits. Ingoglia’s new Senate district includes portions of Pasco, Hernando, Citrus and Sumter counties.
“Tonight is a victory for Florida’s families, for our children and for freedom,” DiCeglie said in a statement. “I am incredibly honored to join the fight to protect the American Dream in the Florida Senate.”
Tuesday night also saw the election of several new faces to Tallahassee — and one returning one.
Republican Berny Jacques, a former prosecutor and conservative TV analyst, easily defeated Democrat Dawn Douglas for the House seat representing Largo, Seminole and Pinellas Park. Republican businessperson Kevin Steele easily defeated a Constitution Party candidate to win a House seat representing part of Pasco County.
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Democrat Lindsay Cross, an environmental scientist who works at the nonprofit Florida Conservation Voters, was on track to defeat Republican Audrey Henson to represent the north and east neighborhoods of St. Petersburg in the House.
Republican Hernando County Commissioner Jeff Holcomb easily defeated Democrat Keith G. Laufenberg for a House seat covering the west side of Hernando County and the northwestern part of Pasco County.
Republican businessperson Karen Gonzalez Pittman will replace Rep. Jackie Toledo covering South Tampa and parts of Westchase after defeating Democratic business owner Jen McDonald.
And Republican Kimberly “Kim” Berfield beat Democrat Bernard “Bernie” Fensterwald. Berfield served in the House from 2000 to 2006 and will now replace outgoing state Rep. Chris Latvala for the House seat covering Clearwater, Indian Rocks Beach and Belleair Beach.
Times reporters Bernadette Berdychowski, Olivia George and Sam Ogozalek contributed to this report.
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