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Florida’s Most Expensive Race Was Also One of the Closest

November 24, 2018 - 6:00am
Janet Cruz and Dana Young
Janet Cruz and Dana Young

With all of the drama, turmoil, embarrassment and legal wrangling surrounding the recounting of ballots in South Florida, a far more dramatic race on Florida’s other coast was easily overlooked. 

The U.S. senatorial, agriculture commissioner and gubernatorial races were close enough that they hinged on the exploits of Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes. But in the Tampa region, the Janet Cruz-Dana Young seat was the hands-down hottest contest for a state Senate seat at least in the 2018 election. 

And closest.

And most fiercely spent.

Although exact numbers are not yet available, most following the cash are convinced the contest between term-limited Democratic House Leader Janet Cruz and standing Republican Sen. Dana Young was the most expensive in Florida-elections history. The reasons were notable, but the result was unknown until last weekend’s recount was finalized.

At one time thought to be a walkover contest for Cruz, the race became a true toss-up in the months leading up to November’s vote. The incumbent Young had some initial traction, but Democrat Cruz had upset Florida Democratic Party plans by injecting herself in the Senate contest. The leap -- and other questionable allegiances during her time in the House -- saw Cruz distance herself from various liberal groups.

But, because the polling in this largely urban region reflected a close race, the cash rolled in on both sides -- and the need to spend big. The district includes the northwest corner of Hillsborough County, Town n' Country, West Tampa and South Tampa. This large television market meant greater ad rates. 

Each candidate spent in ranges that initially would not drop jaws; going into November, Young’s campaign had spent $1 million, and Cruz $500,000. But the statewide parties, and some outside donors begun funneling more cash toward the effort. Senatorial campaign committees ramped up the spending for TV ads and mailers once the seat truly looked contested.

Outside interest groups and PACs also joined in. And each candidate attracted vested interests. Estimates are that an additional $5 million went into the Cruz effort, with more being poured into the Young campaign. In the end, as much as $13 million had been expended to win the seat -- and it was not until Sunday that anything was settled.

Cruz managed to lose endorsements from various Democratic backers and the Republican Party of Florida sensed blood in the water. The heavily blue district was in the the grasp of centrist Young, or so it appeared -- hence, the money tug-of-war. The initial result tilted toward Cruz but was essentially a tie.

After more than a dozen million dollars spent, the women were separated by a few dozen votes.

The mail-in and provisional ballots delivered nothing conclusive, and so going into overtime, the hand count would decide it all. In the end, after all of the yelling and checks cleared, Cruz came out with barely 400 votes ahead. 

The only mystery now remaining is whether the allegiances Janet Cruz built up in two terms in the House will aid her in the Senate, or if the bad blood she simmered within her own party will stonewall her going forward.

Brad Slager, a Fort Lauderdale freelance writer, wrote this story exclusively for Sunshine State News. He writes on politics and the entertainment industry and his stories appear in such publications as RedState and The Federalist.


You are apparently clueless or are writing under the influence. Cruz had the full support of local Dems and also Bob Buesing. He donated, walked almost all of Davis islands, Janet also integrated the South Tampa Democratic moms group into her campaign- sat with them and asked what they were most concerned about which ended up being school funding, lack of AC, molded classrooms and lead filler water. I’m a very much a part of the local party and happen to live in south Tampa. So I don’t know who you are referring to when you make false blanket statements about her losing endorsements. And her alligences in the House were to the people of her district. She is one of the Most respected legislators- who works harder for her district than anyone I’ve seen in recent office- so the blood bath you are referring to is a joke of a statement. What kind of journalist are you? Oh wait- you are paid for by the republicans! Sunshine State News is a joke.

Much of the anti-Cruz hit pieces before the election were the epitome of what Trump the Chump calls "fake news". I have no doubt the Dems will take over the Florida Senate next time out.

This article is about the state Senate race, in the Tampa area. You do realize Trump was not on the ballot this election?

There is a link in my piece to a SSN article listing various traditionally left-leaning organizations that did not endorse Cruz. I did not make this up out of whole cloth, as you imply.

Tampa Bay Times Recommends Janet Cruz District 18 Rep. Janet Cruz is a sensible lawmaker whose focus on schools and jobs reflects the priorities she would bring to the Senate. Cruz, 62, the state House Democratic leader, has been a workhorse in Tallahassee and her Tampa district since first being elected in 2010. She is by far the strongest advocate for public schools in this race. She supports expanding Medicaid, restoring cuts to community health centers and common-sense gun controls. Cruz is the rare state lawmaker her constituents actually see; she is readily accessible, and her annual job fairs have connected thousands in Tampa with potential employers. Incumbent Sen. Dana Young, 53, is undergoing an election-year conversion in this swing district. The Republican touts her opposition to fracking, an oil-blasting technique that is highly controversial, but voted for a bill in 2016 (that Cruz opposed) that would have cleared the way for the dangerous practice. She voted for a bill in 2015 (that Cruz opposed) that imposed a 24-hour waiting period for abortions -- a bill Gov. Rick Scott signed into law and the courts ruled unconstitutional. (The state is continuing that legal fight.) Young also voted for a bill last year that provided more power and tax money to privately run charter schools, even as local school systems in Hillsborough and elsewhere struggled to make ends meet. She has had the wrong priorities at almost every turn. Cruz hasn’t wavered in her defense of public schools, privacy rights and the environment. This urbanized, diverse and growing Tampa district needs a senator who will work to improve public services, create jobs and put her constituents’ interests ahead of special interests. For Florida Senate District 18, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Janet Cruz.

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