Can Florida Democrats Actually Win Back a State Senate Seat Today? UPDATED

Diaz scrubbed this photo from his Twitter page.
Diaz scrubbed this photo from his Twitter page.
Rep. Jose Felix Diaz
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Update 10 p.m. Annette Taddeo and the Democrats have picked up a seat in Tallahassee in a fairly convincing fashion. Taddeo beat Jose Felix Diaz by a 51-47 margin, with independent Christian "He-Man" Schlaerth taking two percent. Taddeo's win gives the Democrats some much needed momentum in Florida and suggests the Trump Slump might just be a real concern for down-ticket GOP candidates. 

The Florida Democrats are the Washington Generals. They're the 1962 Mets. They're Mike Dukakis, Steve Urkel, and pre-time-travel George McFly rolled into one. Yes, they've been steamrolled by gerrymandering and voter suppression, but they also rarely miss a chance to blast off their own feet en route to their latest, all-too-predictable loss.

So if the Dems somehow snag back a state Senate seat in a Miami special election today, it will be big news for a party hoping against hope it can capitalize on Donald Trump's abysmal polling to swing momentum back their way in the Sunshine State.

Today's election is happening only because of a colossal GOP screwup. State Sen. Frank Artiles — a hard-right politico who tried to enact a North Carolina-style transgender bathroom ban — had to resign his seat after getting caught dropping an N-bomb and acting like a Twitter egg avatar toward several black legislators at a Tallahassee bar. He still wanted to keep his seat until the Miami Herald revealed he had also hired a former Hooters waitress as a "consultant."

Voters in District 40, which covers parts of Southwest Miami-Dade, will have to choose today between Trump-friendly state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz and Annette Taddeo, a Democrat who — true to state party form — has lost a bunch of recent elections. There's also Christian "He-Man" Schlaerth, an independent who in a just world would get as much attention as the main-line candidates.

The race looks to be razor-tight going into Election Day. Politico reports that 500 more GOP ballots have been cast so far among more than 23,000 party-affiliated early votes; another 5,000 nonaffiliated ballots have also been cast.

Here's what you need to know about the candidates:

Diaz scrubbed this photo from his Twitter page.
Diaz scrubbed this photo from his Twitter page.
Rep. Jose Felix Diaz

Jose "Pepi" Felix Diaz
Diaz might not want voters to know it, but his first claim to fame was as a contestant on Season 5 of The Apprentice, where he wore a bathrobe, failed at a marketing challenge, and was promptly fired by Trump. As the president's popularity has tanked, Diaz has tried to separate himself from 45, even removing Twitter pics of himself and the Don at an inauguration party.

Trump love aside, Diaz is your run-of-the-mill Miami Republican. He wants to work on "tax relief" and "job creation," according to his site. He has chaired the powerful Dade delegation, appointed his cash-donating lobbyist pals to state boards, and alienated Miami-Dade's mayor with a mudslinging campaign against his primary opponent. He will probably win today.

Annette Taddeo
On paper, Taddeo has an impressive resumé: a statewide slot as Charlie Crist's running mate in 2014, a compelling narrative of immigrating from Colombia and starting a successful business, a bilingual appeal on the stump. But she also has an abysmal record as a candidate. So far, she's lost four elections in the past eight years, including Crist's challenge of Rick Scott, a Miami-Dade commission run, and a fight against Carlos Curbelo for Congress.

Can she finally cross the finish line this year? She has chosen the right issues — promising to fight the state's move toward charter schools, working for better mass transit and roadway investment in Miami, and banning fracking statewide. And she's running in a competitive district against a guy closely tied to the most unpopular president in modern U.S. history, so she has a fighting chance.

Christian "He-Man" Schlaerth
Yes, the name is a lot to deal with. But Schlaerth has a perfectly sound explanation. As he told the Herald , his nickname came when he joined the University of Miami rugby team in 2005: “I showed up to practice, and I was the biggest, strongest guy on the team at the time,” he said.

These days, Schlaerth is an adjunct sociology professor at the University of Miami, Barry University, and Miami Dade College. At a forum last month moderated by a New Times writer, he explained that — horrified by Trump's win last November — he began preaching to his students to get more involved in local politics. Then he decided to walk the walk.

Schlaerth's policies are dope: He's running without corporate contributions and wants to ban dark money from politics. He wants to legalize recreational pot and use the proceeds to make the first two years of college free statewide. He proposes halting toll increases, restoring felons' voting rights, and upping environmental protections.

In a just world, a policy platform like his should mean a chance at electoral victory. Go, He-Man.

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