How Donna Deegan helped Democrats pull off a giant upset in Jacksonville, Florida

This week, Democrats bought a uncommon bit of excellent information in Florida: For the primary time in years, they flipped the mayoral seat in Jacksonville, the most populous Republican-led metropolis within the nation. The win, pushed by former information anchor Donna Deegan, was extensively seen as a significant upset for the GOP, which elevated its dominance within the state throughout the 2022 midterm elections.

Deegan’s win is a major victory for Democrats, however might not be an indication of a sea change in Florida politics. She received pretty narrowly, bringing in 52 % of the vote to Republican Chamber of Commerce chief Daniel Davis’s 48 %. And although Jacksonville is a part of Duval County, Florida, which is traditionally Republican, the realm is taken into account extra of a swing district than different elements of the state. Jacksonville has elected mayors of each events within the final 20 years, whereas Duval County’s supported each Democratic and Republican presidential candidates in latest years. In 2016, former President Donald Trump received the realm, and in 2020, President Joe Biden did.

Deegan was additionally uniquely bolstered by the energy of her candidacy and an inclusive message about change that introduced in Democrats, independents, and an honest variety of crossover Republicans. A nightly regional information anchor for 25 years who went on to have a public struggle with breast most cancers, Deegan had deep ties to the Jacksonville space and powerful voter recognition. She was additionally capable of capitalize on a voter base disillusioned with present Republican management as crime within the metropolis has stayed excessive, and as a latest bid to denationalise Jacksonville’s public utility has been mired in scandal.

“She had two issues going for her,” Florida Democratic strategist Steve Schale informed Vox. “One is she is an outstanding candidate. In the event you grew up in Jacksonville, you grew up with Donna Deegan. I’ve recognized who Donna Deegan was since I used to be 11 years outdated. [Plus,] the outgoing administration additionally had some points and also you noticed loads of dissatisfaction with the route of town and an actual need for change.”

Deegan ran a broadly optimistic marketing campaign, with a deal with bringing folks of various events collectively and making Jacksonville authorities extra inclusive and consultant of town’s inhabitants. Deegan additionally spoke about altering the tradition of metropolis authorities and making it extra clear. Among the high points she has mentioned she would deal with as mayor embody addressing ageing infrastructure, bettering town’s well being outcomes, and boosting help for small companies. At the same time as Deegan sought to be extra inclusive in her messaging, Davis tacked sharper to the appropriate in his marketing campaign, a transfer that will have harm him.

“As a lot as I wished to win this race for the folks of Jacksonville, I wished like to win,” Deegan mentioned in her victory speech on Tuesday. “I informed you it felt like the place we had been, that we had been getting loads of crossovers, that we had been getting loads of people who simply wished desperately that change in Jacksonville.”

The elements behind Deegan’s win

Maybe the most important takeaway for Democrats hoping to make positive factors in Florida in 2024 is the significance of operating a candidate with sturdy connections to the group.

Along with being a recognizable information anchor for many years, Deegan was well-known in Jacksonville for having began a basis to assist underserved ladies combating breast most cancers and holding common occasions and runs within the metropolis. Deegan pursued this work after getting identified with breast most cancers thrice herself.

“Folks know me. We’ve lived a shared life in Jacksonville,” Deegan mentioned in an MSNBC interview.

The ties she’s established over time had been invaluable, mentioned Schale. “She’s lived this very public life that’s allowed her to construct a really resilient and, in some methods, nonpartisan model,” he informed Vox. “There’s residual belief in who she is as a human.”

The identify recognition meant Deegan didn’t need to spend time or cash introducing herself to voters. Deegan didn’t simply depend on that, nevertheless, College of Northern Florida political scientist Georgette Dumont informed Vox. Deegan expanded on current consciousness by mounting a powerful floor recreation, with a sturdy door-knocking marketing campaign and city halls, and he or she participated in a public debate, which Davis opted to skip.

In her messaging, Deegan additionally targeted on hyperlocal points, positioning herself as a brand new voice within the mayor’s workplace that would push again on issues voters could have had with how Republicans had been operating town — together with with regards to crime and infrastructure. The town noticed a spike in homicides in 2022 and has gotten scrutiny for being Florida’s purported homicide capital. Davis, the Republican candidate, had responded by calling for extra police on the road, one thing Deegan backed as properly, although she additionally known as for extra investments in social packages that addressed poverty and meals insecurity.

Voters who’re upset concerning the conservative agenda that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has pushed by means of the state legislature additionally noticed Deegan as an opposition candidate. DeSantis endorsed Davis, although he didn’t make investments vital power boosting his marketing campaign.

Deegan additionally targeted her messaging on inclusive management that disregarded partisanship, emphasizing her willingness to spice up a metropolis authorities that takes in voices of all events. She pledged to incorporate extra range on necessary boards to higher replicate Jacksonville’s demographics. Based on the US Census Bureau, town is roughly 55 % white, 31 % Black, 11 % Latino, and 5 % Asian American. That sort of framing finally might show interesting to voters in equally swingy areas who could also be extra open to much less partisan rhetoric.

“It is a closely Republican district that’s turning extra blue through the years as folks transfer in,” mentioned Dumont. Jacksonville has turn into more and more numerous, youthful, and extra metropolitan in recent times, added Schale. He additionally famous that the Obama marketing campaign, which he labored on, invested closely in turning out extra Black voters within the area, an effort candidates can proceed to construct on.

With Democrats making ready to make investments in Florida forward of the 2024 elections, Deegan’s win might be instructive. As she confirmed, with the appropriate candidate, messaging, and floor recreation, Democrats can carry on making positive factors in Florida.

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