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GOP flips 2 Dem House seats in Florida, including Shalala

November 4, 2020 GMT
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A workers scans and tabulate ballots, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, at the Miami-Dade County Elections Department in Doral, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
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A workers scans and tabulate ballots, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, at the Miami-Dade County Elections Department in Doral, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Republicans flipped a pair of Democratic U.S. House seats in Florida on Tuesday, with Maria Elvira Salazar defeating Rep. Donna Shalala and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez ousting Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell.

The GOP will have a 16-11 edge in Florida’s House delegation in the next Congress.

Salazar, a Spanish-language television newscaster, won in her second try for the office after Shalala prevailed in 2018.

District 27 covers much of the central Miami area and has generally been considered Democratic. Salazar sharply criticized Shalala for failing to report several stock sales in a timely fashion, as required.

Shalala previously served as President Bill Clinton’s secretary of Health and Human Services. Shalala also is a former president of the University of Miami and chancellor at the University of Wisconsin.

In neighboring District 26, Gimenez won a seat that has frequently shifted between the two parties. Gimenez, a former firefighter and mayor since 2011, prevailed over Mucarsel-Powell in a district that stretches from the Miami suburbs to Key West.

Gimenez made restoring the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic one of his top campaign issues. Mucarsel-Powell also stressed recovery from the pandemic as a major priority.

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“I promise you I’ll be a much more effective congressperson and reach across the aisle,” Gimenez said in a statement. “I won’t be as partisan as my predecessor.”

Mucarsel-Powell initially refused to conceded, saying all votes should first be counted. Mucarsel-Powell, the first person from Ecuador to serve in the U.S. Congress, won the seat two years ago over then-incumbent GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo.

Shalala defeated Salazar by about 6 percentage points two years ago in District 27 but was defeated handily this time.

In the Tampa Bay area, Republican Scott Franklin won Rep. Ross Spano’s seat in the U.S. House, keeping the district in the GOP column.

Franklin defeated Democrat Alan Cohn in Tuesday’s election, ensuring that Spano’s seat stays in Republican hands. Franklin defeated Spano in the Republican primary.

Spano was dogged by ethics investigations over alleged campaign finance violations. Franklin decided to challenge Spano in the August primary, fearing that the cloud over him might make the seat vulnerable.

Franklin is a Lakeland city commissioner, former Navy pilot and owns a small business. Cohn is a former television journalist. The district runs from just east of Tampa to just west of Orlando.

In a nearby race, Rep. Vern Buchanan won reelection for an eighth term representing parts of Florida’s Tampa Bay area. The Republican defeated state legislator Margaret Good, a Democrat.

Buchanan, one of the wealthiest members of Congress, campaigned on his business acumen and support for lower taxes.

Good campaigned on strengthening environmental safeguards and preserving the health care law put into effect by former President Barack Obama.

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Also Tuesday, Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist, once a Republican Florida governor, won reelection to Congress for a third term representing parts of Florida’s Tampa Bay area.

Crist defeated Republican Anna Paulina Luna, who was seeking office for the first time.

A longtime fixture in Florida politics, Crist served as a state legislator, education commissioner and attorney general before being elected governor of the country’s third-most populous state in 2006.

Crist was a Republican until his final year as governor, but left the party in 2010 as an independent before becoming a Democrat in 2012. He also unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate.

Luna, an Air Force veteran, emerged from a crowded Republican primary that included better-financed opponents.

In the Naples area, Republican state Rep. Byron Donalds won the House seat now held by Florida Republican Francis Rooney.

Donalds defeated Democrat Cindy Lyn Banyai in the heavily Republican southwest Florida district. He will become only the third Black Republican to represent the state in the U.S. House. The first was Josiah Walls, elected in 1870 when Florida had only one House seat. The other was Allen West, who served from 2011-2013.

Rooney is retiring from the House after two terms.

Donalds, a financial adviser, was first elected to the state House in 2016 and served as chairman of the Insurance and Banking Subcommittee.

Banyai is a former professional boxer who runs a community development consulting firm.

GOP conservative star Rep. Matt Gaetz held off a challenge in his Panhandle District 1 from Democrat Phil Ehr. Although it is a GOP stronghold — Gaetz won last time with two-thirds of the vote — Ehr had a long military career in an area where that is highly valued.

Most incumbents, including Democrats Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Kathy Castor, Val Demings and Alcee Hastings, and Republicans John Rutherford, Brian Mast, Daniel Webster and Bill Posey, won reelection handily.

In West Palm Beach’s District 21, Democrat Lois Frankel defeated conservative favorite Laura Loomer. The district is firmly Democratic and Frankel is well-known in the area as a former West Palm Beach mayor and state legislator.

GOP Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart won another term because he had no Democratic or write-in opposition in the Miami-area District 25.

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Find AP’s full election coverage at APNews.com/Election2020.