A former legislative aide seeking the Republican nomination for an upcoming House race declared victory Tuesday over a former Key West mayor attempting a political comeback. Meanwhile her former boss's bid for a state Senate seat appeared lost to another House member, according to incomplete results.
In the Republican primary for the District 120 House seat, Holly Merill Raschein bested former Key West Mayor Morgan McPherson in his public service comeback bid. Although McPherson had strong support in Key West, his popularity was less apparent in the Upper Keys.
With 80 percent of precincts reporting, Raschein polled 5,390 votes, or 67 percent, against McPherson's 2,671 votes, or 33 percent.
In the Democratic primary for the District 39 state Senate seat, Ron Saunders, who now serves as House minority leader and for whom Raschein worked as a legislative assistant, lost a tight race against state Rep. Dwight Bullard of South Miami-Dade. Bullard's mother, Larcenia Bullard, was the incumbent.
At 10 p.m., with 183 of 193 precincts reporting, or 95 percent of the vote, Bullard led with 10,016 votes, or 34 percent. Saunders had 9,088, or 30 percent.
Miami educator James Bush III; property rights advocate Sal Gutierrez, formerly of Key Largo and now living near Tampa; and John "J.J." Johnson of Miami split the remainder, with Bush making the strongest showing of the also-rans. He polled 8,219 votes, or 28 percent.
Saunders kept a close eye on results throughout the night, noting that he has 100 precincts in Miami-Dade County and only 33 in Monroe. But he also said he only needed 20 percent of the vote in Dade to win.
"Monroe County has always been my base," he said, while checking early returns that showed him way ahead in the Keys. "I am very happy about it."
Saunders could not be reached later in the evening.
In the Nov. 6 general election for the Senate district, whose boundaries include Monroe, Miami-Dade, Collier and Hendry counties, Bullard will face Republican candidate Scott Hopes of Homestead, a registered health care lobbyist and former epidemiologist. Raschein will run against Ian Whitney, Key West Democratic state committeeman and president of the Key West Innkeepers Association.
Raschein said her success was due to hard work on the campaign trail, interfacing with voters throughout the district, and widespread fundraising.
"I think I got out the vote the hardest," she said. "I truly believe in the process. I am a nerd when it comes to that and I respect the institution of the House. It is surreal for me to be in this position after always being behind a strong leader."
Raschein initially worked as an aide to Republican Rep. Ken Sorensen. When Saunders took over Sorensen's seat, he asked Raschein to stay on, even though she was not in his party. She said she regards both men as mentors. And working for Saunders, she said, taught her that she can build consensus and will be able to work across the aisle.
"I have worked for both sides and I hope the speaker will call on me to talk to the Democrats, if there is a policy issue that is not getting solved. I know the Democratic aides and the Democratic members."