In a surprise announcement, Susannah Randolph, Democrat running to replace her old boss Alan Grayson in Congressional District 9, snagged the endorsement of Viviana Janer, the first Latina on the Osceola County Commission.
Of all the endorsements Randolph has announced, none may count as much as this one in the Latino-leaning district that includes parts of Orange and Osceola counties.
However, the move is riskier for Janer, who serves as Osceola County Commission chair. She may see a backlash from the Hispanic community.
Janer was expected to endorse Randolph rival State Sen. Darren Soto (D), who has represented the district as a state representative and now state senator for about 10 years. If Soto wins the August primary, he would be a shoo-in for the seat, making Soto the first Puerto Rican to go to Congress from Florida.
If Janer is seen as thwarting that goal, she could draw the ire of the Latino community and attract a primary opponent when she is up for re-election in 2018. Osceola County District 2 is the most Hispanic district on the Osceola County Commission.
It seems then that the August primary is being set up to test Janer’s pull with Latino voters versus Soto’s. Back in 2014 Janer won her district with 51 percent of the vote, while Soto drew 76 percent support.
Osceola County is heavily Hispanic, and they generally vote Democrat. In fact, the influx of Puerto Ricans has produced one of the highest concentrations of Democrats of any Florida county.
Sources say Janer, who is Puerto Rican, was being heavily courted by Randolph and the Florida Democratic Party for some time. But her relationship with Randolph goes back several years.
When Janer ran into trouble with her employer during her 2014 campaign, she sought legal help from Grayson. At the time, Randolph was on Grayson’s staff.
Political newcomer Janer snatched the district away from incumbent Republican John Quiñones, who was accused of pressuring Janer’s employer to fire her after it was disclosed that Quiñones had received a donation from the company.
Quiñones denied the charge, which was never proven.
A record number of Latinos are running for office this year, a sign of the continuing political awakening of the group whose numbers and voters in Central Florida have grown significantly in the past several years.
At least 42 Hispanics from as far north as Volusia and south as Osceola counties have signaled their intention to run for federal, state or local office in November, though that number could change after the June 24 final qualifying period. That’s the date the candidates have to submit the requisite number of voter signatures or pay to be on the ballot.
Still, it’s an encouraging number of Hispanic candidates. Orlando Latino has conducted a Latino political candidate overview during previous major election years and the number of Latinos aspiring to political office continues to grow. In the 2012, election cycle about 33 Hispanics ran for office, while in 2010, a gubernatorial election year, the figure was about 24.
It doesn’t mean that every Latino candidate is successful – far from it – but simply that more are stepping into the political arena. As a consequence, more are getting elected, boosted in part by more favorable voter demographics and electoral redistricting in certain areas.
For 2016, supervisor of elections data in Volusia, Seminole, Orange and Osceola counties show that 42 Latinos are running for public office, some for the first time. Osceola County, alone, accounts for half the total or 21 candidates, a reflection of a much higher percentage of Latinos and Latino voters in the county.
For the first time in Osceola history, there are more Hispanic registered voters (43 percent) than non-Hispanic white registered voters (42 percent), a trend that may have an impact at the ballot box.
Here’s Part I, Hispanic candidates in congressional and state races in Central Florida. Watch for Part II, which will cover local races.
˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor
Darren Soto (D)
Wanda Rentas (R)
The real race is between State Rep. Darren Soto and former congressional staffer Susannah Randolph. Both are Democrats who seek to eliminate the other in the August primary. The district leans Democrat, so whoever wins in August likely will go on to win in November. Former Kissimmee City Commissioner Wanda Rentas is a long shot. Ricardo Rangel (D) was in this race but opted to run for his old Statehouse District 43 seat.
Fatima Rita Fahmy (D) vs. Val Demings (D), Geraldine Thompson (D)and 2 others, including Bob Poe (D), who has considerable financial resources
Fatima Rita Fahmy, a Brazilian-born lawyer who grew up in Central Florida, has made the news by loudly alleging that the Democratic National Party unfairly favors former Orlando police chief ValDemings in the race, instead of maintaining neutrality. District 10 was redrawn in the recent electoral remapping and favors Democrats; Demings is considered the favorite to win.
Senate District 15
Víctor Torres (D) vs. Peter Vivaldi (R) and 1 other
State Rep. Víctor Torres is running for Darren Soto’s old State Senate seat, potentially facing Peter Vivaldi, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2014. But for the first time Torres faces a primary opponent in Bob Healy (D), a funeral operator and a former member of the Osceola Expressway Authority. Torres twice campaigned unopposed for the Florida House; he is well known in the district and the demographics favor his move to the Senate.
District 27 – Volusia
Zenaida Denizac (R) vs. “Abogado William” McBride (R)
Zenaida Denizac is a school teacher and a former Deltona city commissioner who is running for David Santiago’s old Statehouse seat as Santiago attempts to move up to Congress. In the August primary, she faces William McBride, a well-funded and well-known personal injury lawyer of Hispanic descent who is a heavy advertiser in Spanish-language media. (Denizac is Puerto Rican.) McBride has been shopping for a seat for several years, running unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate in 2006 and also unsuccessfully for Florida Senate in 2012. District 27, which includes Deltona, has more Democrats than Republicans but there’s no foretelling the outcome with McBride in the race.
District 28 – Seminole
Franklin Pérez (Lib.)
Franklin Pérez is a perennial candidate, popping up nearly each election cycle with unsuccessful results. Jason Brodeur (R) is the incumbent in this Seminole County district and soon will be term limited out of his seat. A Democrat and NPA candidates also are running, which means all four will be on the November ballot – unless some of the opposition doesn’t qualify.
District 30 – Orange and Seminole
Bob Cortés (R)
Bob Cortés won this tight race in 2014 against teacher and Democrat incumbent Karen Castor Dentel. It’s a battleground Statehouse seat that includes parts of Seminole and Orange counties. In 2014 Castor Dentel won Orange County 52 percent to 48 percent, but Longwood-based Cortés pulled through in heavily Republican Seminole. In addition, state GOP backers strongly supported Cortés. This year he faces Democrat Ryan Yadav, a criminal defense attorney.
District 43 – Osceola
John Cortés (D) vs. Ricardo Rangel (D)
John Cortés looked as if he would cruise to re-election until Ricardo Rangel, who Cortés soundly defeated in 2014 despite Rangel’s incumbent big-money advantage, transferred from the Congressional District 9 race. Rangel is looking for a do-over, while Cortés also faces another Democrat primary opponent, Sara Shaw, who is mayor pro team of Kissimmee. The real race is between Cortés and Shaw, with the voter demographics favoring Cortés.
District 48 – Orange
Amy Mercado (D) vs. Alex Barrio (D)
Amy Mercado is campaigning for her stepdad Víctor Torres’ old Statehouse seat as Torres runs for State Senate District 15. If each wins, they likely would be the first father-daughter duo in the Florida Legislature. But first Mercado has to beat Alex Barrio, a lawyer and former legislative analyst, in the August primary. Gus Martínez (NPA), a homeless advocate and the faith representative on the Orange County Commission on Aging, is also running. The real race is between Mercado and Barrio, with odds on Mercado, an experienced campaigner (she ran Torres’ campaigns and knows the district).
District 49 – Orange
Carlos Guillermo Smith (D)
Carlos Guillermo Smith, who is of Hispanic descent, has no Democratic opponent in this district race, which sweeps east Orange County including the University of Central Florida and was Republican René “Coach” Plasencia’s old seat until he chose to run in District 50. Smith has been politically active for years, serving as former chair of the Orange Democratic Executive Committee and senior advisor to Joe Saunders, who lost the seat in 2014. Smith’s Republican opponents Amber Mariano and Martin Collins face off in the August primary. Shea Silverman (NPA) is also in the race, but Smith is the odds-on favorite.
District 50 – Orange and Brevard
René “Coach” Plasencia (R)
René “Coach” Plasencia currently is the representative of District 49, but as the district has become more Democrat he decided to chase more favorable demographics in adjacent District 50, which includes southeast Orange and Brevard. He faces Republican George Collins, a college professor, in the August primary. In 2014, state Republicans bet heavily on Plasencia in District 49; he went on to beat incumbent Joe Saunders in a close race. The GOP groups are likely to back Plasencia again this year, making him the favorite in the race.
The dramatic increase in the Hispanic population in Central Florida is significantly impacting voter registration, with Latinos now accounting for the largest group of voters in Osceola County.
That would mean Osceola is behind only Miami-Dade in percentage of Hispanic voters in Florida, which is a major feat.
Hispanics total about 75,000 or 43 percent of Osceola voters, while non Hispanic whites comprise 72,000 or 41 percent as of February, according to the state Division of Elections. As recently as 2012, non Hispanic white voters outnumbered Hispanics in Osceola by about 10,000.
The flip in numbers is very likely due to the accelerated migration of Puerto Ricans to Osceola from the island and other states. Hispanic registered voters jumped 27 percent in the county from 2012 to 2016.
Between 2005 and 2014, the Puerto Rican population zoomed more than 82 percent to nearly 92,000 in Osceola. The county has the highest concentration of Puerto Ricans in the state as well.
Orange and Seminole also experienced dramatic boosts in Latino voters. Orange has seen its Hispanic voter numbers increase 21.5 percent, compared with 2012 while Seminole experienced a 17.6 percent expansion.
All of which is to say that the Hispanic boom is going to have an effect on the outcome of the November elections because Latinos make up a greater share of all Central Florida voters and they nearly always turn out in larger numbers during presidential election years, compared with nonresidential or midterm elections.