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Janet Cruz says Democratic House Victory was a winner on Election Night in Florida

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Incoming Florida House Minority Leader Janet Cruz is in Miami, overlooking the the automatic recount expected to begin Friday between House District 118 Democrat Robert Asencio and Republican David Rivera, which ended Tuesday night with Asencio defeating Rivera by 68 votes out of nearly 63,000 cast.

If Ascencio prevails, he would give Cruz and the Florida Democratic Party’s House Victory division a net gain of three seats in this election cycle. Though not as the goal she had originally targeted to move from red to blue this fall, Cruz maintains that it’s still an impressive feat.

“If you look at what happened across the country and what happened in Florida, House Victory had a good night,” the Tampa Democrat says.

If Ascencio holds on, his win will raise the number of Democrats in the state House of Representatives to 41 to the Republicans’ 79,  just short of a veto-proof super majority.

“I think she did a good job as leader designee in raising money, and I think she did a good job of recruiting candidates,” said Democratic Party strategist Barry Edwards. “The problem for her was the state party didn’t provide an infrastructure for her with voter registration to bolster her efforts.”

As the Tampa Bay Times reported last month, Republicans registered 304,320 votes since 2012, while the Democrats only added 95,771.

Edwards says Cruz was reviewing House races on a weekly basis to shift resources to seats she though the Democrats could win. “The unfortunate thing for is her is that the playing field kept on getting reduced, because of Trump, and because quite frankly, the Hillary campaign wasn’t very good,” he says.

One major loss of a Democratic House seat occurred in Pasco County’s HD 36 race, where college student Amber Mariano edged out a razor-thin victory over Democratic incumbent Amanda Murphy. 

Another disappointment was in the House District 63 race in Hillsborough County, where former Tampa City Councilwoman Lisa Montelione lost to Republican Shawn Harrison by less than two percentage points. Harrison had lost the seat in 2012 before winning it back in 2014. “I was very disappointed in that seat, ” says Cruz. “In Lisa, we had we worked hard there; [in] Lisa we thought we had a candidate that came off the City Council with lots of name ID, but again the numbers just weren’t there. That was a close race.”

While speaking to Florida Democrats at a delegation breakfast during the Democratic National Convention in July, Cruz had aimed higher, saying that she hoped to pick off as many as six seats.

However Florida Democratic Party strategist Steve Schale disagreed with Cruz at the time, saying at the time that a pickup of three or four seats would be a good year. “They’re taking on incumbents, which is just a much harder lift, and despite the work she’s doing on fundraising, the House GOP will have a significant fundraising advantage,” Schale said at that time.

Schale added that, from his perspective, one of Cruz’ main goals was getting the Florida House Democrats above 40 seats, which has been accomplished.

Cruz says that from her perspective, House Victory was a winner on Election Night.

“Going into this election night, everyone thought that Hillary would win, and there were some people saying that we would win six or seven seats, which I knew was never a likelihood,” she now admits. “But when you sit back and and you take a look at what really happened, and you assess the landscape, it’s really remarkable that we picked up seats.”

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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