MIAMI – In a twist of events, Miami Republicans flipped seats in two South Florida congressional districts, an outcome neither party was expecting. Observers across the country wonder if this election could mean lasting changes in Florida — and for a Republican Party reinforced by Hispanic voters.
Former Spanish-language journalist Maria Elvira Salazar will represent Florida’s 27th congressional district after slightly outperforming Democratic Rep. Donna Shalala. Former Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who is also a Republican, will represent Florida's 26th district after defeating Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell.
“I'm a girl from the hood. So the hood voted for me,” Salazar said.
Salazar says there is one key factor that prompted Miami to give Democrats the boot this year.
“Just one word," Salazar said. "'Socialism.' You cannot be playing around with that word, you cannot be fooling around with socialism because that reminds my mom and my neighbor and the people that live on the other side of the street, of the inferno."
Gimenez agrees, adding that Trump played an undeniable role in helping Republicans succeed in Florida.
“I think that President Trump's message actually resonated, especially in congressional districts 26 and 27 where you saw myself and my Maria Elvira defeat two incumbents and Democrat incumbents. I think that it was a rejection of what they were selling. They were selling extremism. There was something, frankly, you know, socialistic kind of policies that actually did not resonate well here in Miami-Dade County at all, especially with the Hispanic community,” Gimenez said.
Trump made significant gains in Miami-Dade this election, where Biden won by about 85,000 votes. Hillary Clinton took the county in 2016 by more than 290,000 votes.
Brian Fonseca, a political professor at Florida International University, said if Democrats want to be competitive in Florida in 2022 and 2024, they need a Biden-Harris ticket that doesn't appear to push progressive, left-wing policies.
“At a statewide level, there's certainly an argument that perhaps the state is no longer a swing state, maybe it's increasingly becoming red … I don't think President Trump would have won the state by the margin he did if it weren't for the massive rallies and the Trumptillas and the Trump trains that really worked hard to mobilize and move those voters to the polls," Fonseca said. "One of the things that hurt the Biden campaign in Florida was the narrative around socialism and leaning too far to the progressive left. If that message is supported and sustained in a divided administration, that may be very difficult to pick up Florida in future elections."
“If we look closely enough as to what happened here, we can see that we can come out a much stronger party,” Gimenez added.
Republicans have a net gain of six seats so far including two in Miami, which usually votes Democratic. Right now, there are 15 seats still up for grabs.