What We Learned From Frederica Wilson: People Love Silly Hats

Prediction: Next election, silly hats are in. Rival school board candidates will rock diamond-studded mitres and Budweiser-stocked beer helmets. Marco Rubio will demolish Charlie Crist after finding a totally sweet plaid Tam O'Shanter at a garage sale and wearing it on Fox. The arms race is on!

All because of Frederica Wilson, who proved last night that a little name recognition and a powerful image -- for instance, a blinged-out cowboy hat on every campaign sign -- is all it takes to demolish an insane nine-candidate field running for Congress. Respect. The. Hat.

OK, we might be oversimplifying. But we've spent the past few weeks covering the race to succeed Kendrick Meek because it was far and away the most fascinating primary in Miami. There were nine candidates jostling to win a district that covers most of African-American Miami and almost all of the Magic City's Haitian community.

Toss in the fact that the seat had never been contested before (Meek and his mom have held it since it was created in '92) and a spate of bizarro candidates such as Rudy Moise -- who spent $1 million of his own cash, released Auto-Tuned campaign monstrosities, and enjoyed the year's most entertaining personal scandals -- and you had a seriously interesting race.

We heard two things over and over again out on the trail: Rudy Moise was spending enough money to "buy the seat," and "People really love that damn hat."

And in the end, the power of the milliner outweighed even the might of the dollar.

Moise, at last count, had more than ten times the cash of any other candidate in the race ($1.45 million) and was ubiquitous on radio and television. Wilson, with a respectable $205,000 in the bank, relied on the name recognition she'd built over the years as a school principal, state rep, and state senator -- and on her priceless cowboy hat.

The results weren't close. Wilson nabbed more than 16,000 votes and took home 35 percent; Moise was second with 7,700, a full 20 percentage points back.

There's one other big narrative worth tying up in this race: Haitian-Americans' chance to elect their first island-born congressperson. Many were convinced this was the year, and after the devastating earthquakes, they believed they needed the heft of a Haitian rep more than ever.

So why didn't it happen?

The obvious reason: no single Haitian-American candidate could unite the community. Four ran -- Moise, Marleine Bastien, Phil Brutus, and Yolly Roberson -- and between the four, they picked up almost 19,000 votes. Put that force behind one candidate, and you've got a winner.

Moise had the money, but not enough to pull all of Little Haiti behind him. Bastien had the good will of years of work in the nonprofit sector, but was undoubtedly hurt by leaving the campaign trail for three months to work on earthquake relief projects. And Brutus and Roberson had name recognition from their time in Tallahassee, but not nearly enough cash.

But more important: none of the four had a cool hat. Coincidence?

The final tally:

Wilson, Frederica 16,653 35%
Moise, Rudolph 7,769 16%
Gibson, Shirley 5,777 12%
Roberson, Yolly 4,921 10%
Brutus, Phillip 4,068 8%
Bastien, Marleine 2,889 6%
Galvin, Scott 2,653 6%
Bush, James 2,630 5%
Williams, Andre 842 2%

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