Conservative Republican Mike Hogan was expected to walk away with the Jacksonville Mayoral race. He comes from a family so entrenched in the area, there's several streets that bare the Hogan name. He ran on a campaign promising no new taxes, smaller government, support for small businesses, and solid conservative social values. He held off more moderate Republicans to make it to a runoff. In Florida's most solidly Republican large city, he should have won. Instead, in a political shocker, Democrat Alvin Brown will be Jacksonville's next mayor, making him the city's first African-American mayor and first Democratic mayor since 1991. Was it a weird fluke, or does it have deeper significance for Florida politics?
The City of Jacksonville and Duval County are politically synonymous. While Jacksonville is Florida's largest city, it's only the state's sixth largest county. It's not politically insignificant, and maybe you'd hear more about it if it wasn't considered a Republican stronghold.
Marco Rubio and Rick Scott won there in 2010. John McCain did in 2008. In fact, in many statewide elections it's often the biggest county that a Republican wins. To put it in prospective, even Katherine Harris, Florida's proto-Sarah Palin 2006 Republican senate candidate, won there, and she only won nine counties overall.
So Brown's win, though by a small margin, is certainly a huge upset. The Florida Times-Union points out how he did it. See, Hogan managed to push out a more moderate Republican, Audrey Moran, in the initial election but didn't win big enough to avoid a run-off. That system is slightly different than a primary, but it echoes recent Republican efforts to rally around the most conservative candidate in their recent primaries. See Marco Rubio and Rick Scott (that strategy probably doesn't seem quite as sweet now that Scott is wildly unpopular).
Instead, in the run-off Brown managed to make significant inroads with voters who initially preferred the moderate Moran. He managed to transform his campaign from one that targeted inner-city voters to one that also reached out to suburban voters.
Though Hogan won 2-to-1 in early and absentee voting, Brown also managed to pull off a huge election day surge which helped erase that early advantage.
So what does it mean for Florida politics at large as we head in to 2012? Well, it means that even a county that usually veers right isn't totally against voting for someone with a (D) next to their name, especially when they put in a lot of work on the ground.
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It also means that a guy running on a vaguely Tea Party-esque platform of no-new-taxes and small government isn't guaranteed a win. Jacksonville, like most of Florida's cities, is facing economic turmoil and budget disaster. Though, voters didn't turn to the right this time to solve those problems.
Coincidentally, Howard Dean and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz came out today to announce that they feel Florida is "very winnable" for President Obama in 2012.
As for Florida's next big mayoral election, the one right here in Miami-Dade, the message is a bit murkier. Our politics aren't partisan. Though, if the polling holds true and Julio Robaina (who seems to have more support among Republican voters) leads Carlos Gimenez (who has more support amongst Democrats and independents than Robaina, though perhaps no more "liberal" than Robaina) it's still quite possible that Gimenez could pull off the win in a run-off.