Decision 2021

Democratic Primary Too Close to Call in South Florida's District 20 Race

11 Democrats and 2 Republicans were on the ballot in Tuesday's special election

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The Democratic primary to replace late Democratic U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings was too close to call Tuesday night and into Wednesday after most of the votes had been counted in the South Florida district.

Less than a dozen votes separated the two leaders in a field of 11 Democrats. Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness and health care company CEO Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick led the crowded primary, each with nearly 24% of the vote.

Broward County Elections officials said the race is headed for a recount, possibly as early as Friday, with the canvassing board expected to meet Thursday to discuss the details.

"We believe that once we go through the recount that the numbers are going to more or less hold," Broward Supervisor of Elections Joe Scott said. "It is so close that I would say it is a tossup, it’s too close to call, but the numbers won’t change very much but they don’t need to change much because it’s only nine votes separating the two candidates."

Holness admitted Wednesday that things are "a little tense" while he awaits the official results.

"You get used to a lot of things in politics but I've never been in as close an election as this," Holness said.

A spokesperson for Cherfilus-McCormick said they didn't want to speak while they await the confirmation of the election results following the recount.

Businessman Jason Mariner won the Republican primary, defeating Greg Musselwhite, but is considered a longshot to win the general election in the overwhelmingly Democratic district that includes parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties.

Hastings was first elected in 1992. The other nine Democrats seeking the nomination were state House Democratic Leader Bobby DuBose, state Rep. Omari Hardy, state Sen. Perry Thurston, Broward County Commissioner Barbara Sharief, author and former National Urban League chief of staff Elvin Dowling, retired Navy petty officer Phil Jackson, business consulting firm founder Emmanuel Morel and physician Dr. Imran Uddin Siddiqui.

Democrat Patricia Robinson of Miramar said with such a large field, it was a difficult choice. She voted for Holness because she felt he will be more pragmatic in what he can achieve in a divided Congress.

“We really need true servants with realistic goals for the people to make things better for this country,” she said.

Turnout was about 16%. The district is more than 61% Democratic and about 13% Republican. In the 2020 election, Hastings earned 78.7% of the vote to defeat Musselwhite, whom Mariner defeated in this year's primary.

Greg Musselwhite and Jason Mariner

Cherfilus-McCormick loaned her campaign more than $3.7 million and had far outspent the other Democrats in the race. Sharief was the second-highest spender as of mid-October, with about $700,000 in expenditures.

Heading into Election Day, out of the more than 345,000 eligible primary voters, nearly 33,000 Democrats and more than 4,000 Republicans had already cast votes.

The Democratic primary to replace late Democratic U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings was too close to call Tuesday night. NBC 6's Steve Litz reports

Republican Kevin Cerino, who voted for the GOP's Mariner, readily acknowledged that the seat will “absolutely” go to the Democratic winner.

“It is what it is,” said Cerino, who didn't sound enthusiastic about his choice. "Mariner seems to be slightly less of a clown than the other guy running. This kind of district that's so overwhelmingly Democratic, you're not going to get a quality candidate.”

The district is nearly 54% Black. Every Democrat on the ballot was a person of color, while the two Republicans are white.

AP and NBC 6
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