Democrat Keene wins a special election for the state’s 35th House of Representatives on the GOP booth
Democrat Tom Kean flipped what had been a Republican seat in Central Florida in a special election held Tuesday for the state’s 35th House District.
Kane, who works in the flight training and simulation industry, defeated Republican Erika Booth, an educator and Osceola School Board member. Unofficial totals had 51.3% of the vote to Booth’s 48.7%.
The special election for the district in eastern Orange and Osceola counties was called when former Republican state Rep. Fred Hawkins resigned last year to become president of South Florida State College in Highlands County.
The district has an almost even split between Democrats, Republicans and independents.
The election was considered an indicator of whether Florida Democrats will be more competitive in 2024 after their significant loss to the governor. Ron DeSantis In 2022, which swept the Republican Party overwhelmingly in both chambers of the Legislature.
Kaine polled local Democratic stars, U.S. Rep. Maxwell Frost and state Rep. Anna Eskamani, and launched an ad targeting the GOP on abortion rights.
Booth was backed by a state Republican Party campaign criticizing Kane as a “radical,” including a website and television ads. Booth did not respond to repeated requests for interviews.
Democrats were also sent cryptic text messages earlier this month from a supposed progressive group claiming Kaine agreed with DeSantis on the controversial Parental Rights in Education Act, which his opponents called “Don’t Call Gay.” Keane has been an outspoken critic of the law.
The Florida Progressive Values Commission lists Austin Hurst of Riverlake Boulevard in Bartow, Polk County, as its registered agent, president and treasurer. According to election records, Michael Austin Hurst is registered at that address as a Republican.
Kaine’s campaign compared the texts to the 2020 “ghost candidate” scandal, which involved three independent candidates running for competitive state Senate seats.
The candidates, including Justine Iannotti, who is running for Senate in Seminole County, did not campaign, but were promoted through a deluge of ads coordinated by GOP operatives, in an apparent attempt to siphon votes away from Democrats in each race.
Candidates from both parties criticized Gov. Ron DeSantis for scheduling the special election 10 days after the 2024 legislative session, preventing the winner from attending key meetings and hearings and from introducing new bills. Another open seat in South Florida was filled in a special election in December.
Democrats claimed that DeSantis scheduled the election after the Iowa GOP presidential caucuses on Monday so that Democrats flipping the seat wouldn’t embarrass him during the campaign.
DeSantis came in a distant second to former President Donald Trump in Iowa, where he lost by nearly 30 points, and trails both Trump and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley in the polls for the January 23 New Hampshire primary.
The seat will be filled again in November for a full two-year term.