Republican Maria Elvira Salazar defeated incumbent Democratic Rep. Donna Shalala in Florida’s 27th Congressional District in an upset that neither party anticipated heading into Election Day.
Salazar, a former TV journalist, won her race against one of Miami’s most well-known politicians by successfully tying Shalala to left-leaning Democrats like Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist. She also hit Shalala repeatedly for failing to disclose stock trades while in office and characterized her as an out-of-touch millionaire who couldn’t connect with working class voters in the district.
Like other Republicans in Miami-Dade County, she also likely benefited from President Donald Trump’s improved performance with Latino voters in a majority Latino district.
“I will not be silenced,” Salazar said in a speech declaring victory. “I will not cower to the mob and when faced with the so-called democratic socialists. I will tell them that we have seen the dogma in action already and it doesn’t work.”
Salazar will represent one of the most diverse districts in the country and will have a number of big policy challenges to address. Unlike many Republicans, she said she does not support repealing Obamacare without a replacement ready to go. Ongoing efforts to repeal Obamacare through the courts will be a major issue for her constituents, over 100,000 of whom obtain their insurance through the Affordable Care Act.
But her victory is also a sign that Miami’s Cuban-American Republican community remains a political force. Shalala, who doesn’t speak Spanish, couldn’t connect with the same voters that Salazar spoke with many times during her campaign on Spanish-language radio and TV, along with social media. Salazar also campaigned with Colombian politicians, earning criticism from Democrats but tapping into a slice of the non-Cuban Latino electorate that helped her win a narrow victory.
Shalala did not concede defeat before Salazar declared victory, even though she was trailing. The Associated Press called the race for Salazar at 10:55 PM.
At 11:35 PM, Shalala conceded.
“I want to congratulate my opponent. It has been a spirited campaign. It has been a great honor to represent the people of Miami-Dade,” Shalala said in a statement. “I have fought for issues that matter most to our families, from access to affordable healthcare, to tackling climate change, to justice for all and a better future for our children.”
The 2020 election was Salazar’s second run for the seat that Shalala won in 2018.
Salazar’s win is also a major embarrassment for Florida Democrats, who let Shalala run her own race without significant outside help, believing that she was relatively safe heading into Election Day. Salazar did out-raise Shalala in the race’s final months, but Shalala had more resources on hand overall for her reelection campaign than Salazar.
Shalala, 79, is a former secretary of Health and Human Services and former University of Miami president. She was favored to win reelection, considering the district’s Democratic lean and her high name recognition from leading UM.
While Shalala and Salazar spent millions attacking each other in TV ads and in televised debates, neither party considered the race to be a top priority nationally heading into Election Day. But Salazar campaigned heavily on Spanish-language radio and labeled Shalala a “socialist,” repeating a line of attack used by Trump and his supporters on many Democrats. She also hit Shalala for failing to disclose stock sales as a member of Congress within 45 days as required by law.
“We voted for María Elvira because we don’t like socialism, and Shalala is a socialist,” said Yamilet García, 53, who went to vote with her husband, Eduardo García, 61, at the Miami-Dade County Auditorium on Tuesday.
Shalala isn’t a socialist and disavowed socialism during her campaign.
But the socialism attacks apparently stuck. And Shalala’s ethical missteps when it came to reporting her stock sales helped Salazar in an upset in a district where Democrats have the advantage in registered voters. She also defeated write-in candidate Frank Polo Sr.
“I am honored to officially accept the position as your congresswoman in District 27,” Salazar said. “I will be the one going to Washington but your goals are my mission and the future of your kids is my fight.”
DEMOCRATS EASILY WIN OTHER SOUTH FLORIDA RACES
Miami-Dade and Broward’s other U.S. House races, with the exception of the race between Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Republican Mayor Carlos Gimenez, were not competitive. Gimenez was victorious in his race against Mucarsel-Powell.
In Florida’s 24th Congressional District, longtime Miami Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson easily won reelection against GOP candidate Lavern Spicer, a Trump supporter who runs a food bank, and independent candidate Christine Alexandria Olivo along with write-in candidates Howard Knepper and Hector Rivera. Wilson’s majority Black district includes northern Miami-Dade County and southern Broward County.
In Florida’s 23rd Congressional District, Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz won reelection against Republican and registered nurse Carla Spalding and write-in candidates Demetrius “DB” Fugate and Jeff Olson. Wasserman Schulz’s district, which stretches across central Broward County and a small piece of northeast Miami-Dade County, is reliably Democratic.
Wasserman Schultz, who led the Democratic National Committee from 2011 to 2016, intends to run for the House Appropriations Committee chairmanship in 2021, potentially putting a South Florida lawmaker in charge of the federal funding process if Democrats maintain their advantage in the House of Representatives.
In Florida’s 22nd Congressional District, incumbent Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch defeated Republican challenger James “Jim” Pruden. Deutch’s Broward-based seat favors Democrats.
In Florida’s 20th Congressional District, Rep. Alcee Hastings, the state’s longest-serving Democrat, easily won a 14th term over Republican challenger Greg Musselwhite. Hastings was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in January 2019, but he’s continued to travel to Washington for votes while representing a district that includes majority-Black portions of Broward and Palm Beach Counties.
Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who represents most of northwestern Miami-Dade County in Florida’s 25th Congressional District, did not have a Democratic opponent so he was automatically reelected.