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Democrats hit the road in tight senate races

Florida Senator Lauren Book on the campaign trail.
Florida Senator Lauren Book on the campaign trail.

As Democrats feel heat from Republicans in state Senate races, including in a historically safe North Florida district, leaders on Monday announced a bus tour to reach voters in battleground areas.

The bus tour, slated to launch Wednesday, is the first such effort by the Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, which heads efforts to win Senate seats, according to Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, D-Plantation.

“We will be launching … a Senate Victory bus tour, the ‘Florida Freedom’ tour, to highlight the incredible work of our top-five candidates throughout the state of Florida and a get-out-the-vote campaign making sure that people understand that our freedoms are at stake and we have everything to lose,” Book told reporters, alluding to a “Senate Victory” name that the committee commonly uses.

The tour will focus on trying to boost Democratic Senate candidates Loranne Ausley, Janet Cruz, Joy Goff-Marcil, Raquel Pacheco and Janelle Perez. Cruz and Ausley are incumbents, but their districts were redrawn this spring as part of the once-a-decade reapportionment process.

Ausley, of Tallahassee, is fighting to keep the Senate District 3 seat as she faces Republican challenger Corey Simon, who is a political newcomer but has high visibility as a former Florida State University and NFL football star. The bus tour is scheduled to include stops in all 13 North Florida counties that make up the district.

Cruz is trying to fend off a challenge from Republican Jay Collins, who, like Simon, has been endorsed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, in Hillsborough County’s Senate District 14.

Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-North Miami Beach, pointed to Ausley’s race in what has traditionally been a Democratic district as one that could be up for grabs. Republicans have poured money into the race, including on a torrent of television ads and mail pieces supporting Simon and criticizing Ausley.

“We would not be on a 10-day bus tour if we thought we were going to be winning all of these races by double-digit margins, not the case at all,” Pizzo said. “In fact, I don’t think Leader Book would disagree with me if I said we think Loranne’s race is going to be within a few hundred votes. We think it’s going to be very tight.”

Going into the Nov. 8 election, Republicans hold a 23-16 majority in the Senate, which has one vacant seat.

If Democrats lose seats next month, Republicans could gain a supermajority that is important procedurally. For example, a supermajority would allow Republicans to pass public-records exemptions — which require two-thirds votes — without having to contend with Democrats’ opposition.

“This is a critical time, because if the Republicans get to a supermajority, there are so many things in the rules, in the procedure in the Legislature, that don’t allow us to even engage procedurally in a number of things. Whether it’s amendments, arguments, limiting debate on critical issues,” Pizzo said.

Republicans, however, controlled the reapportionment process, which could put Democrats at more of a disadvantage, Pizzo said.

“Because of the map-drawing, we’re at 25 (to) 15, obviously, if we hold our … three seats that we have to hold,” Pizzo said, alluding to Ausley, Cruz and Perez.

Perez is running against Republican Alexis Calatayud for the revamped Senate District 38, which is an open seat. While district numbers and boundaries changed because of reapportionment, District 38 is open, at least in part, because Sen. Annette Taddeo, D-Miami, is running for Congress.

Democrats also are looking to gain seats in South Florida and Central Florida.

Pacheco is running against Sen. Ileana Garcia, R-Miami, in Senate District 36. Goff-Marcil, a second-term House member from Maitland, is challenging Sen. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, in Senate District 10.

The tour is scheduled to start in North Florida, before going to Orange, Seminole, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties and ending up Nov. 4 after stops in Miami-Dade County.

Ryan Dailey - News Service of Florida