Less than a year after gaining seats and ending the Republican's supermajoirty in the state house, Florida Democrats picked up another seat last night in a bit of a special election upset. Despite being out-funded by a near 3-to-1 ratio, first time candidate Amanda Murphy beat Republican Bill Gunter in a race to replace Republican Bill Fasano.
Is this a sign Democrats finally have a bit of mojo back in state politics?
It's hard to tell.
Bill Fasano had been serving in the Florida legislature since 1994 with stints in both the House and Senate, and mostly served as a good Republican solider, even serving for terms as the House Majority Leader and the Senate President Pro Tempor. Then, in 2012 he pretty much single handily derailed Rick Scott's prison privatization plan.
Despite this in August Scott picked Fasano for the job of Pasco County Tax Collector which left his HD36 seat open. Though, Gunter came in with a big war chest and Tallahassee backing in the swing district race, Fasano then broke again with his party to officially endorse Murphy the democrat.
That seemed to make all the difference, as Murphy won by less than 300 votes.
Steve Schale, former state director for President Obama's 2008 campaign, published his thoughts on the take away from the special election:
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"Just by turnout alone, Gunter should have won. But the atmospherics for the GOP are not good. When the voting happened, soft Republicans bolted to the Democrat, as did Independents -- and that is why the numbers worked for Murphy in this special election. Moderate Republicans are clearly not comfortable with where the party is today, and more than likely, the shibacle in DC contributed. But typically Republicans are more loyal to their party than Democrats, at least in Florida, which is why my GOP friends need to pay attention to this: this time their frustration led them to vote for a a centrist Democrat. My party saw some of the same issues in 2009 and it didn't work out well for us in 2010. The moderates in the GOP don't want the same thing as their base, and they showed it in HD 36."
"Every election means something. In this one, a well qualified centrist Democrat backed by several key moderate Republicans overcame a massive money advantage and turnout disadvantage to beat a Republican who ran a fairly typical partisan message. Swing voters in this district in the data I saw liked Crist and liked Fasano, both seen as more independent minded. Does that alone mean Charlie Crist beats Rick Scott? No. Does it mean something? Well, you do the math."
So basically as long as Florida Democrats act like moderate Republicans, the party may actually emerge from its non-factor status in the state someday.