Democrat Donna Deegan won Jacksonville’s mayoral race Tuesday night, a shocking upset that gives Florida Democrats a major boost of energy less than six months after they were defeated in the 2022 midterm elections and considered presumed dead by the national party.
Deegan entered Election Day as the decided underdog against Republican Daniel Davis, who is the head of the city’s Chamber of Commerce and had a significant fundraising lead. He was endorsed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, but that support was lukewarm. DeSantis did not hold events with Davis or put his political muscle behind his candidacy.
With all of the city’s 186 constituencies reporting, Deegan had a 52% to 48% lead over Davis, who was running to replace incumbent Republican mayor Lenny Curry, who was term-limited.
“Everyone said it couldn’t be done in Jacksonville, Florida,” Deegan said, according to video of his victory speech. “We did it because we brought people inside.”
the city of jacksonville official Twitter account sent a tweet congratulating Deegan Tuesday night, writing, “We look forward to his leadership and vision as he helps guide our city into the future.”
In its concession speechDavis called on everyone to “come together now and move our city forward,” according to Florida Politics.
Deegan is a former TV host in town with significant name recognition. After leaving television, he founded a non-profit group that focuses on breast cancer research. She will be the city’s first female mayor.
The victory in Jacksonville, once the country’s most populous city with a Republican mayor, is a huge morale boost for Florida Democrats, who have faced a series of stinging defeats in recent years. More recently, they were bumped up and down the ballot in a midterm election cycle in 2022, when DeSantis won re-election by nearly 20 percentage points. He also captured Duval County, which is mostly made up of the city of Jacksonville, by 12 percentage points.
“Just when people thought they had discovered Jacksonville, voters have mixed up expectations,” said Chris Hand, a government attorney who served as chief of staff to former Democratic Jacksonville mayor Alvin Brown. “Donna Deegan’s victory is historic, not only because of who she is, but also because of how she won: running a positive campaign and building a coalition of Democrats, non-partisan voters and even some Republicans.”
Duval County’s political trajectory has been a roller coaster in recent election cycles.
It was won in 2018 by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum, who lost the election to DeSantis as Republican voters moved from the city to suburban counties with a strong Republican leaning. Two years later, Joe Biden became the first Democratic presidential nominee to carry the county since Jimmy Carter in 1976.
Yet last year, DeSantis and the Republicans dominated the county as they did the rest of the state. Duval was named one of the seven landmark counties as part of NBC News’ “county to county” as a result of the swinging nature of his politics.
The early-cycle victory is certainly a significant start to the 2024 election cycle for the Democrats, but the party will still face strategic downsides as it tries to regain its footing in a state where its recent political history has been defined by stinging defeats. Notably, Republican registered voters now outnumber Democrats in the state by more than 400,000.
Still, the victory is both an injection of momentum and a major victory to kick off the term of new State Democratic Chairperson Nikki Fried, who was elected to office in February and given the arduous task of rebuilding the party on what what had been it has long been known as the largest swing state in the country.
“For too long, Jacksonville has been run by Republicans who are hell-bent on taking away our rights, and it’s time the city was run by leaders with fresh, new ideas who have a plan for Jacksonville,” Fried said.