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Jacksonville, FL, used to be the largest city in the United States with a Republican mayor. Following the unexpected victory of Democrat Donna Deegan in the city’s mayoral election, that distinction will soon go to Mattie Parker (R), the mayor of Fort Worth, TX.
“Love won tonight, and we made history,” Deegan tweeted following her win. “We have a new day in Jacksonville because people chose unity over division — creating a broad coalition of people across the political spectrum that want a unified city.”
Love won tonight, and we made history. We have a new day in Jacksonville because people chose unity over division—creating a broad coalition of people across the political spectrum that want a unified city. Together, we will bring change for good to Jacksonville by making good on… pic.twitter.com/ZmV5pmV4gd
— Donna Deegan (@DonnaDeegan) May 17, 2023
Deegan’s upset victory is about much more than who controls Jacksonville. After years of stinging losses, it is a sign of hope for the state’s Democrats, who had seen their fortunes decline in recent years as Florida moved from a “purple” state to a solidly Republican one.
With regard to national implications, the main takeaway from the election is that it is a defeat for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and a blow to his presidential ambitions. When he officially announces his bid for the White House, perhaps as early as later this month, DeSantis will make the case that he should be the Republican nominee because he is a fighter and because of his electability.
Both of these selling points have now taken a hit.
So far, he has looked weak and reluctant to battle back when former President Donald Trump and his allies have attacked him.
But, until last night, his electability was undeniably an asset. In 2022, DeSantis won Florida by almost 20 percent in a shock to pundits who had predicted a much closer race. That included a 12-point margin of victory in Duval County, which is almost entirely comprised of Jacksonville.
Now, in six months, Democrats have flipped the script. Deegan beat her DeSantis-endorsed opponent Daniel Davis by 4 percent, a 16-point swing.
Fairly or not, the city’s election will also be seen as a referendum on DeSantis’s authoritarian and confrontational style of governing.
He has become known much more for punching down at his “enemies” — Disney, former felons who want to vote, the LGBTQ community, teachers, books, and women who want control over their bodies — than improving the lives of all Floridians.
In other words, he has been a great governor for his right-wing supporters but not for everybody else.
The Jacksonville election is an indication that this may come back to haunt him.
At least that is what Democrats who want to make the state more competitive again are hoping for.
“Florida voters reject the anti-freedom, repressive, book-banning DeSantis agenda,” tweeted House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D). “Congrats Donna Deegan on a stunning victory that shatters the manufactured myth of extremist invincibility. Onward!”
Florida voters reject the anti-freedom, repressive, book-banning DeSantis agenda.
Congrats @DonnaDeegan on a stunning victory that shatters the manufactured myth of extremist invincibility.
— Hakeem Jeffries (@hakeemjeffries) May 17, 2023
The Jacksonville race was not the only defeat DeSantis suffered.
In what was seen as a proxy fight between the Florida governor and Trump, DeSantis endorsed Kelly Craft in Kentucky’s Republican gubernatorial primary.
But it was the state’s attorney general, Daniel Cameron, who prevailed. He trounced Craft, who ended up in third place after garnering only 17 percent of the vote.
To add insult to injury, in his victory speech, Cameron delivered a jab against DeSantis.
On Saturday, the Florida governor had said that the GOP “must reject the culture of losing that has impacted our party in recent years,” in what was widely seen as thinly veiled criticism of Trump.
Following his win against DeSantis’s preferred candidate, Cameron hit back, saying in his victory speech that “the Trump culture of winning is alive and well.”