Florida Democrats have secured their second special election win of the 2017-2018 election cycle. Democrat Margaret Good defeated Republican James Buchanan to win House District 72; a white, suburban seat based out of Sarasota. This win marks a continued trend of Democrats outperforming Clinton’s margins from the 2016 elections. Trump won this district by 5%, yet Good secured a 7% victory tonight.
House district 72 is a suburban, heavily white, seat based out of Sarasota County, Florida. The district includes part of the City of Sarasota itself as well as the many suburban, unincorporated communities and retirement areas that dot the county’s landscape.
The Politics of HD72
House District 72 can definitely be classified as a Lean Republican seat. The district is consistently Republican, but rarely by blowout margins. Democrats have been shown to have a basement of 40% support, with the path to 50% often hard to reach. In recent election cycles, the only Democrat to win over 50% in the district is Bill Nelson during his 2012 re-election. That same night Obama lost the district, but managed 47% of the vote.
Hillary Clinton lost the district by 5 points. Both she and Trump did worse than their 2012 counterparts thanks to higher 3rd party votes. However, the margin for the GOP improved compared to 2012.
In addition to these races, 2014 Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Charlie Crist won the district with a 47.9% plurality. Democratic candidates for the cabinet offices (Attorney General, CFO, Agriculture Commission) all managed at least 40%. The Democratic candidate for the seat in 2016 saw his election campaign fall apart due to personal scandal, yet he too managed 41%. For Democrats, the struggle has always been filling in the gap to 50%. The district has proven to be modestly but stubbornly GOP. A reverse of this district is HD9, which is likewise modestly but stubbornly Democratic.
2018 Special Election
A special election was trigger for the seat when the incumbent resigned to pursue other opportunities. Both parties aimed for the seat. Republicans were eager to hold the district while Democrats were hoping a growing anti-Trump sentiment would help them snatch the seat away. Democratic groups recruited Margaret Good, a local lawyer and former non-profit head, to run for the seat. Another Democrat, liberal activist Ruta Jouniari, also filed. The primary took on a modest establishment vs liberal revolt feel to it, as Sanders groups backed Ruta. However, the seat had been solid for Hillary Clinton over Sanders in the Democratic primaries (being based out of suburbia after all). Good won her primary easily.
Once the primaries were over, she went on to face Republican James Buchanan, son of Congressman Vern Buchanan.
The election campaign was very heated. Both sides worked hard to turn out their voters with a flurry of mail, absentee chases, and canvassing. Hundreds of thousands were spent by the candidate and the political parties. The race took on a national feel as out-of-state figures came in to support both candidates. All the interest generated the highest turnout for any special election of the cycle in Florida. Before election day, the district already had a higher turnout % than the four 2017 special elections that had already taken place.
Turnout reports didn’t bode well for Good in the final hours of the campaign. Absentee and early voting had resulted in Democrats and Republicans being on near-equal footing heading into election day. Indeed election day proved far more Republican than the other voting methods had.
Final turnout gave the GOP a 6% advantage. This was actually an improvement for Democrats from their registration disadvantage. Democrats actually managed to turn out a larger % of their people. However, the GOP registration advantage was so large it still lead to an electorate that was more Republican overall.
However, despite the Republican electorate, Good managed to pull off not only a win, but a solid 7% win at that!
Good won a vast majority of the district’s precincts – racking up modest wins in most of them. Buchanan only managed to carry the Venice portion of the district.
The voting-method results point to cross-over votes from Republicans. Good only lost election day by around 100 votes, yet Republicans outpaced Democrats by 16 points on election day. Its is likely GOP women were the source of these defections. What is clear is Democrats held united around Good. Republicans, meanwhile, were slightly fractured.
Compared with the other special elections from Florida in the 2017-2018 cycle, the HD72 results clearly mark the highest turnout by a mile. Turnout came to 36%. The next highest turnout was 15%! (In SD40, where Democrats won that special election as well).
The table above also breaks down the registration and votes cast for those districts. HD72 was the ONLY SPECIAL where the Democrat – Republican gap was better for the Dems on turnout than registration. The GOPs 9 point registration edge was cut to 6 points in turnout.
For Democrats the question is this: can they keep up good turnout in the midterms when more votes overall are being cast? Democrats can create a bluer electorate when fewer votes are being cast; such as in special elections. However, in November, tens of thousands of voters will show up at the polls. Democrats will need to continue to push their voters to the polls as well as make inroads with the large numbers of independents who didn’t show up in the special election.
The victory in HD72 for Democrats, especially the margin of victory, is further evidence we are heading into a favorable midterm for the Democratic Party. The win here represents the suburban communities Democrats have been hoping to make inroads with as Trump continues to languish in high unfavorables. The win tonight begs the obvious question for both parties: what other seats once thought of as likely/lean GOP are now up for grabs?