With the votes tallied, Democrat Annette Taddeo beat out Republican Jose Felix Diaz 51-47 in the Tuesday special election for Senate District 40, despite all signs pointing toward a low-turnout Election Day and early voting numbers strongly favoring Diaz.
The win made Taddeo, 50, the ultimate victor yesterday. After a failed bid to be lieutenant governor in 2014 and two losses running for Congress, Taddeo finally showed she could pull out a “W” in a district her party desperately needed to truly earn a seat at the table in the Florida Senate.
Though Taddeo won, and “Pepi” Diaz lost, the campaigns created much more winners and losers behind the scenes. Reputations were burnished; others lost a bit of luster. Here’s a look at who’s up and who’s down the day after:
Stephen Bittel — The Florida Democratic Party Chairman gets a big notch for this win. Picking up a hotly contested district like SD 40 is something his predecessor couldn’t manage, and he’s sure to trade on it. Why, you already forgot his indiscretion of calling black lawmakers “childish” during a dispute at a fundraising event, didn’t you?
Jeff Clemens — Ditto for the Palm Beach County state Senator and Senate Democratic Leader-designate. He dumped a lot of money into the Taddeo campaign through a political committee he controls, which often doesn’t work out for Florida Dems. He also rightly put his trust in Josh Weierbach, Brian Lacey, and Matt Martz, who did a significant mail program.
Ashley Walker — She ran a massive ground operation for “For Our Future.” Almost every Democratic operative involved in this race gave Walker the lion’s share of the credit.
Christian Ulvert — Taddeo’s campaign guru was already a top campaign professional according to AAPC, but his star got a few shades brighter by playing on the winning team rather than following through on running himself.
John Brushwood — We called this one a while ago when we named Brushwood one of our “30 Under 30” rising stars in Florida politics. The behind-the-scenes ops guy for the Taddeo campaign works off-the-grid, but he’ll have a hard time holding onto it with this high-profile victory.
Josh Weierbach — Described by insiders as the “air traffic controller and always one of the coolest heads in the room.” It’s the third special election he’s helped win, after Amanda Murphy and Reggie Fullwood.
Brian Franklin, Priorities USA — Added a heavy dose of digital and helped push the internet dial-up for Taddeo.
Terrie Pickerill — She produced some killer ads and was the media consultant who also helped Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, among others.
Kevin Akins, Geoff Puryear — The Taddeo pollsters called the margin correctly when most people pegged her as a perpetual candidate destined to lose election No. 4.
Charlie Crist — He gets credit for plucking Taddeo from virtual obscurity to become his ’14 gubernatorial running mate.
Jack Latvala — Here’s the math: 16 Democrats in the 40-member state Senate, plus his coalition of moderate Republicans, equals him being a bigger dealmaker than ever before.
The Donald — Diaz — his former “Apprentice” — loses, as does his guy Luther Strange in the Alabama U.S. Senate primary to replace Jeff Sessions. If Trump were a drinking man, he’d have had a headache Wednesday morning. At least he doesn’t have any pro-Pepi tweets to delete.
GOP candidates for governor — As Adam Smith put it, “A Democrat won a low-turnout special election in a nonpresidential year, the kind of contest that Democrats normally lose … That is a very big deal.”
Bill Galvano — We won’t say the incoming Senate president for 2018-20 had a certain body part handed to him. No, somebody else will say that. Maybe.
Public Concepts/Randy Nielsen — Galvano’s consultants. ‘Nuff said.
Richard Corcoran — The House Speaker’s “bestie” Diaz won’t be in the Senate, meaning one less ally across the rotunda.
David Custin, Anthony Pedicini — Hey, you can’t win ’em all, right?
The Miami Herald — The newspaper’s editorial board had endorsed Diaz. And to think some people once said, “Yo no creo en el Herald.”
Leslie Wimes — We’re not saying the Sunshine State News columnist (and faux-Democrat) is a Republican plant or anything, but she did find herself on the opposite side of yet another winning Democrat. Eagerly waiting to see which Republican’s political career she deep-sixes next.
Manny Diaz — The Miami-Dade state Representative is still the only candidate running for Senate District 36, but Taddeo’s victory probably makes him the top GOP legislative target come 2018. Similar to SD 40, Clinton beat Trump in the district by double digits, so if the Dems get a B+ recruit, he’s in trouble.
Frank Artiles — We envision him on an evening walk along on a beach somewhere, maybe with a metal detector, wearing floppy Bermuda shorts. Every so often, he looks up at the stars, sighs and imagines what-could-have-been.