TALLAHASSEE — A crowded Democratic primary for Rep. Alcee Hastings’ former seat appears headed to an automatic recount as the top two candidates were separated by fewer than 40 votes.
With just about all ballots counted, South Florida health care CEO Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick was barely ahead of Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness in the Democratic primary for Florida’s 20th congressional district.
Cherfilus-McCormick and Holness each had just under 24 percent of the vote late Tuesday night in a contest that attracted 11 candidates. It could be days before the election result is final.
Florida law requires an automatic machine recount if the margin is one-half of one percent or less. Some more votes could wind up being added to the total since military and overseas ballots are allowed to be counted for another 10 days. Voters whose mail-in ballot may have been rejected because of a missing or mismatched signature also have two days to fix the problem.
Voter turnout in the special off-year election was light. But the winner of the primary is all but guaranteed to win the seat given the heavy Democratic tilt of the district, which connects several Black cities and neighborhoods in Palm Beach and Broward counties as well as farming communities near Lake Okeechobee.
The primary winner will square off against Republican Jason Mariner, who won the GOP primary on Tuesday, and three other independent and minor party candidates during the Jan. 11 general election.
The primary election did not receive a tremendous amount of attention, but drew a wide field, including three state legislators as well as current and former local elected officials. But the result of Tuesday’s race showed that having money and name recognition helped while being a member of the Florida Legislature didn’t guarantee success.
Cherfilus-McCormick, who owns her own health care company and mounted an unsuccessful primary challenge to Hastings two years ago, put roughly $4 million of her own money into her campaign, allowing her ads to air before her competitors. Holness is a county commissioner and former Broward County mayor who is well-known in the county.
Several of the candidates expressed frustration with the Biden administration’s decision to deport Haitians who tried to enter the country at the Texas border, but most of those running backed Medicare for All and were on board with passing Biden’s social spending legislation.
The seat came open after the 84-year-old Hastings died following a bout with pancreatic cancer. But Gov. Ron DeSantis’ handling of this special election drew suspicion — and briefly a lawsuit — when he delayed setting a date to pick Hastings successor.
The Republican governor waited 30 days before announcing the timing of the special election, a move that one candidate — Sen. Perry Thurston (D-Fort Lauderdale) — claimed DeSantis did “intentionally” to “deprive Nancy Pelosi” of another vote in Congress.