In Florida politics, upset elections are common. From the close presidential elections of 2000 and 2016, to the razor thin margins of Gov. Rick Scott, many elections are hard to predict. However, one Miami area State Senate election has sent shock waves through Florida Democrats and Miamians alike. The State Senate District 38, located in one of the most liberal areas of Florida, elected anti-abortion, anti-LGBT and socially conservative Democrat, Daphne Campbell.
Campbell was not expected to win the primary of the district and avoided forums and events featuring most of the other candidates during the primary, and yet won by eight points and went on to dominate on Nov. 8.
Daphne Campbell has been the State Rep. for Florida’s district 108 in the State House since 2010, and has toed the party line on issues such as social security and the environment. Despite this, she holds staunchly conservative policies, and associated heavily with the religious right in Florida’s State House. During a debate on the State House floor on parental notifications for abortions, she quoted directly from the bible and said later that “bible principles” were guiding her.
In response to a threat that one Democratic State Representative would fund a primary challenger against her, Campbell replied “God put me here.” Campbell’s ringing 0 percent rating from Planned Parenthood does not provide much confidence either in her stance on abortion. Her socially conservative streak does not end at abortion either, as many have criticized her for anti-LGBT sentiments, most recently co-sponsoring HB 583, a clone of the infamous North Carolinian HB 2, which discriminates against transgender individuals using a bathroom different from their birth sex.
Although she has remained quiet on her conservative stances on other issues, Campbell has voted against bills pertaining to union rights and opposed increased state intervention into assisted living facilities.
Campbell has also been investigated by the IRS because of business dealings with her medical practice and her son, Gregory Campbell, was convicted on multiple charges of Medicaid fraud in 2013 (Campbell had a long outburst on the floor of the State House when her son’s conviction was headed for a retrial and had to be escorted out of the chamber earlier in 2016) which weighed heavily against her during the primary.
Campbell’s victory against five other candidates on the ballot in the primary then seems odd. Former state prosecutor Jason Pizzo and former Miami Beach city commissioner Michael Góngora both took Campbell’s defeat for granted, believing that the liberals of this heavily Democratic area would never vote for a conservative like her. In fact, they were right in a way, as 79.9 percent of the 29,078 votes cast were for Democrats that expressed themselves as liberals or even progressives.
Campbell’s victory was due to two main reasons. The first was Campbell winning over many Haitian-Americans in the district. Their involvement in the race increased significantly when the incumbent State Sen. Gwen Margolis made a series of derogatory comments towards the three Haitian-American candidates in the race and subsequently dropped out after the controversy. Neither Góngora or Pizzo made a large enough effort to attract Haitian-Americans to their campaigns, either. Campbell’s district and main body of support was also located in an area of Miami that contained many Haitian-Americans, and thus already had connections to the community.
The other main factor might as well prove Campbell’s claims of divine intervention in her political career. The heavy rains resulting from Hurricane Hermine brushing by Miami on the Aug. 30, primary election day, depressed turnout in the coastal areas of District 38, those areas being mainly Hispanic and White. This lower turnout in much of Miami, a mere 20.4 percent in Miami-Dade County, helped Campbell out as her Haitian-American base mainly did not live on the ocean.
All of this allowed Campbell to squeak through the primary and gain the Democratic nomination. Since the Republican Party of Florida declined to field a candidate in District 38, Campbell’s opponent on Nov. 8 was former State Rep. Phillip Brutus running as an Independent. Brutus was a Democratic candidate, but dropped out of the primary after State Sen. Gwen Margolis declined to continue her candidacy. Brutus presented himself as a liberal alternative to Campbell and scored himself endorsements from unions, including the Florida AFL-CIO and LGBT advocacy groups. His ties to the Haitian-American community were also seen as pluses for him. Brutus even promised to rejoin the Democratic Party after the election.
However, the leadership of the Florida Democratic Party was not against Campbell, despite, in his slew of state legislative endorsements, President Barack Obama not endorsing Campbell. Brutus also had less money than Campbell, and as Campbell ran TV ads and put up signs across the district, Brutus had a much smaller presence, although his large signs were rather obvious to passing drivers. With almost no help, Brutus never had a chance against Campbell’s campaign and the “D” next to Campbell’s name. He lost 25 percent to her 75 percent in November.
Daphne Campbell’s election punches a lot of holes in the vaunted liberalism of Miami. With such a diverse district, they elected a politician one would likely find in North Florida and the Panhandle. It seems as though the Democratic label was more than enough to win Campbell the election. It is a stark wake up call for liberals in Miami, and proof to LGBT Miamians that the struggle for equality is not won yet.
Regardless, State Senate Democrats now have to reconcile themselves to being in the same caucus as Campbell and her lack of party loyalty as well as conservatism. Campbell does not have much higher to go for her political career, as statewide office would attract far more attention towards her record and her policies than on a smaller level. That is, however, what Democrats said about her State Senate run. The lesson for Democratic liberals certainly is that they should not be too confident of their dominance within the party, lest another “Campbell miracle” occur again.