Ex-Cabinet secretary Shalala wins Florida House race

MIAMI (AP) — Former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala on Tuesday won a Florida U.S. House seat long in Republican hands, switching the district to the Democrats.

Shalala, running for elective office for the first time at age 77, won the 27th District over former television journalist Maria Elvira Salazar. The district was represented for decades by GOP Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who is retiring.

Without mentioning President Donald Trump by name, Shalala had a clear message for the White House in her victory speech.

“Mr. President, here we come,” she said to loud cheers. “Bringing us together is absolutely crucial. Some people would like to divide us. We just can’t let that happen, because it’s un-American.”

Shalala was HHS secretary under President Bill Clinton. She also was president of the universities of Miami and Wisconsin and of the Clinton foundation.

Next door, in the 26th District, Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo was struggling Tuesday to hold on to a seat that has switched back and forth between the GOP and Democrats in recent years. The Cuban-American lawmaker faced Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who has worked for several nonprofit organizations in the Miami area and is originally from Ecuador.

Those two seats were the most hotly contested of Florida’s 27 House races. The majority of districts were represented by incumbents who won re-election relatively easily. Four Democrats ran unopposed.

Tim King, of Gainesville, Florida, voted Tuesday with hopes of “getting more Democratic seats” in the House and Senate.

“That was the biggest thing,” said King, a 63-year-old middle school custodian who voted at Trinity United Methodist Church.

“I’m not a fan of Trump,” he added. “I just don’t like the way he operates. … I think he’s a bully. I think he’s a gangster. I think he’s a playboy. He’s turning the White House into a joke.

That’s my opinion.”

Robert Major, 51, a registered Republican from Fort Lauderdale, said there is too much fighting among those with different political affiliations and opinions.

“I honestly believe that people need to learn to get along,” said the electrician, while working at a construction site in Coral Gables, an affluent suburb of Miami. “It’s that simple. … It’s childish to me.”

Automatically re-elected to the U.S. House with no GOP or write-in opponents were Reps. Frederica Wilson of Miami-based District 24; Val Demings of the Orlando area’s District 10; Lois Frankel of Palm Beach County’s District 21; and Kathy Castor of District 14, in the Tampa area.

A fifth incumbent Democrat, Rep. Alcee Hastings, easily won in South Florida’s District 20 after facing only token write-in opposition.

Some other competitive House races bear watching.

In the Daytona Beach area, the 6th District seat formerly represented by Republican Ron DeSantis was won by Republican Michael Waltz, a former Army Green Beret who served in Afghanistan. He defeated Democrat Nancy Soderberg, a college administrator and former National Security Council and United Nations official.

DeSantis resigned to run for Florida governor.

Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy, who toppled longtime GOP Rep. John Mica in 2016, won re-election against Republican state Rep. Mike Miller in the Orlando area’s 7th District. And in Sarasota, veteran GOP Rep. Vern Buchanan fended off Democratic attorney David Shapiro to keep his 16th District seat in the Sarasota area.

One other competitive seat was the Lakeland-based 15th District, where Republican Dennis Ross decided to retire this year. Democrat Kristen Carlson, an attorney who has worked as a prosecutor and also as general counsel to the Florida Department of Citrus, was battling Republican state Rep. Ross Spano for the seat.

Two other incumbent Republicans, Mario Diaz-Balart in the 25th District and Brian Mast in the 18th District, had appeared on national upset-watch lists, but both won re-election.

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