TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – Republican Jose Felix Diaz and Democrat Annette Taddeo handily defeated their opponents Tuesday in a Miami-Dade County special primary election as they seek to replace a GOP senator who resigned after a profanity-laced tirade this spring.
Diaz, who stepped down from his House seat to pursue the open Senate post, cruised to victory over former state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, a member of a Miami-Dade political dynasty who once served as Senate majority leader and who spent more than 16 years as a legislator before leaving the Capitol due to term limits.
In the Democratic primary, Taddeo, who was Congressman Charlie Crist’s running mate in his unsuccessful 2014 bid for governor, defeated Ana Rivas Logan, a Republican-turned Democrat and former Miami-Dade County School Board member.
The conclusion of Tuesday’s fierce primary contests in Senate District 40 set the stage for what could be an even more brutal general election on Sept. 26.
With nearly all of the ballots tallied by 8 p.m. Tuesday, Diaz, known as “Pepi” throughout the Capitol, garnered more than 57 percent of the vote, compared to Diaz de la Portilla’s 26 percent. Republican lawyer Lorenzo Palomares finished a distant third, with less than 17 percent of the vote.
“Thank you to all my friends, family, and constituents for their support. Congrats to @AlexDLP40 and @palolaw2 on a hard fought race #SD40,” Diaz tweeted about 45 minutes after the polls closed at 7 p.m.
In a statement, Taddeo — who nailed more than 70 percent of the vote — set the stage for what will certainly be a heated general election contest against Diaz, an early supporter of President Donald Trump who appeared on Trump’s television show, “The Apprentice.”
“Our campaign is ready to take our people powered message to every voter in our district so we can bring change to Tallahassee. It’s time our community rejects the special interests and their lobbyist, Jose Felix Diaz, and elect a champion who will fight for our public schools, take on traffic gridlock and enhance our health care system,” Taddeo said. “With tonight’s decisive victory, we can, and will, send a loud message in September that the politics of division coming from President Trump and Washington, D.C. will not be tolerated in South Florida. Together, we will make history by electing the first Hispanic Democratic woman to the Florida Senate and a champion for our families.”
Republicans are seeking to hold on to a seat vacated by former Sen. Frank Artiles, who stepped down after a racially charged and expletive-tinged rant at a private club near the Capitol midway through the legislative session.
Artiles’ resignation caused a political scramble, with Democrats — outnumbered by a 24-15 margin in the Senate — hoping to recapture the seat, previously held by former state Sen. Dwight Bullard. Artiles ousted Bullard after the district’s boundaries were redrawn.
The Southwest Miami-Dade County district is one of a handful of true swing seats in the Senate. Although Democrats hold a slight edge in voter registration, the Southwest Miami-Dade County district is almost evenly split between Republicans, Democrats and voters with no party affiliation.
The district is dominated by Hispanics, who made up about 75 percent of the voting-age population in 2010. Hillary Clinton carried the district by nearly 16 percentage points over Trump in November.
Diaz, who most recently served as chairman of the House Commerce Committee, was viewed as the establishment candidate in the GOP primary, winning the endorsement and financial support of influential business-backed groups. He dramatically outspent Diaz de la Portilla and Palomares.
“Jose is a strong candidate with broad community support and the experience to best represent the values and needs of this district,” Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said in a statement Tuesday night. “The Republican majority has made tremendous gains in Tallahassee on behalf of hard-working Floridians, and Jose’s victory in September is an important step in continuing those achievements.”
Similarly, Taddeo’s fundraising outstripped that of Rivas Logan, a former Republican who ran as a Democrat in a primary for the Senate seat last year.
Sen. Jeff Clemens, a Lake Worth Democrat who will become his party’s Senate leader after the 2018 elections, sent out a fundraising email after the polls closed describing the Taddeo-Diaz general election as a “huge race” and saying Democrats “have the right candidate with the right policies at the right time.”
“If we win this election — and we certainly can — we will take an important step to securing the Senate and making sure that a Democratic agenda is represented in our state’s governing,” Clemens said in the email.
The News Service of Florida’s Dara Kam contributed to this report.