TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida voters cast ballots in a primary Tuesday featuring two politicians hoping to hold onto their seats after this year’s bruising presidential contest, Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
The primary also sets the field for a race that could determine whether Democrats regain control of the U.S. Senate.
Secretary of State Ken Detzner said there were slight delays in opening some polling places, but described no other glitches. More than 1.75 million Floridians have already cast ballots by mail or at early-voting stations.
“Things have been running very, very smoothly,” said Detzner, an appointee of Republican Gov. Rick Scott.
This year’s primary turnout could top ones held in 2012 and 2014— a sign that competitive races for Congress and the Florida Legislature could be driving up turnout this time around.
But few people were casting ballots in the late morning at Mainlands, a Pinellas Park retirement community where weekly bingo is a highlight at centers surrounded by white stucco homes and a golf course.
“I voted for Marco only because I’ve been a longstanding supporter,” said Diane Martin-Johnson, 66. “It’s unfortunate he didn’t do his job fully in Washington this term. I do think he deserves another chance. He thought he was doing the right thing (by running for president). That’s my only complaint against him. He’s a good man.”
Rubio is seeking to secure the Republican nomination for a second term, despite declaring during his failed presidential campaign that he would not run again for Senate. As an incumbent, he cleared what had been a crowded GOP field with his last-minute turnabout.
Millionaire homebuilder Carlos Beruff had rolled the dice to see if the anti-establishment mood powering Donald Trump’s presidential campaign could send him to Washington as well. But after spending $8 million of his own money and going nowhere in the polls in a head-to-head matchup with Rubio, Beruff essentially shut down his campaign ahead of the primary.
On the Democratic side, Reps. Patrick Murphy has the party’s support over Alan Grayson. Murphy, a former Republican, raised significantly more money and earned the backing of President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. Grayson, a fiery liberal known for brash comments and hamstrung by a difficult divorce, relied mostly on small donors and feuded with party leaders.
And Wasserman Schultz, the former Democratic National Committee chairwoman, was defending her seat against Tim Canova, a Bernie Sanders-backed law professor, in a primary colored by leaked e-mails revealing that DNC officials had worked against Sanders to favor Hillary Clinton in the presidential race.
Democrats also hope to gain seats in Florida’s heavily Republican House delegation after court-mandated redistricting chipped away the advantages of some incumbents.
Florida had to rip up and redraw its congressional maps after they were found to violate the state constitution’s provision requiring compact districts that don’t favor incumbents or political parties. That spurred one of the state’s most heavily contested congressional election years. Several races will essentially be decided in the primary and Florida will eventually send at least seven new House members to Washington.
Republicans now outnumber Democrats 17-10 in the state’s congressional delegation. If Democrats sweep all four seats seen as competitive in November, that Republican advantage could be reduced to 14-13.
One of those is now held by U.S. Rep. David Jolly, a Republican who was expected to win Tuesday, but who would then have to beat former Gov. Charlie Crist, who used to be a Republican but is now a Democrat.
Detzner said the more than 1.75 million ballots cast by mail or at early voting sites exceeds that of the two previous primary elections, but it’s premature to say if turnout will end up higher this year.
The minor Election Day problems he cited include polling places that failed to open right on time in Lee County and Flagler County; he said firefighters at the station across the street from the Flagler precinct helped a poll worker open that site. Detzner also noted that a polling place at the Miami Beach Botanical Gardens was switched to City Hall because of spraying for mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus.