In a race that many are calling the first round in the 2016 election cycle battles, Republicans in Florida scored a significant victory on Tuesday night, when Republican Lenny Curry defeated the incumbent Democrat Mayor of Jackonsville Alvin Brown.
Curry, the former Chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, defeated Brown 51 percent to 48 percent. While the Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville’s hometown paper, was quick to point out the influence of local issues on the race — the city is facing serious funding issues, especially regarding police and fire pensions, and violent crime is a top concern — the election still has major implications for 2016.
Perhaps most importantly, Curry’s victory was driven by a stronger Republican ground game than in the past. When Brown was first elected in May 2011, turnout among Democrats was 92,214, Republicans 81,547, and Independents 19,832. This time around, Republican sharply increased their numbers to 87,752, while Democrat turnout fell slightly to 91,508. Independent turnout also rose, to 23,793, a figure that seems likely to have included more Republican-leaning voters than Democrats, based on the final election results.
As RPOF Chairman Blaise Ingoglia told Breitbart News last week, the party has increased its investment in grassroots campaigning, with a special emphasis on digital communications and ground game. In his speech at Curry’s victory party, Ingoglia called the election “the first win of many more in the state of Florida culminating in taking back the White House in 2016.”
— Florida GOP (@FloridaGOP) May 20, 2015
In a statement provided to Breitbart News, Ingoglia added, “This race captured the nation’s attention, and with all eyes on Jacksonville we were able to deliver an important win. This victory is a clear, strong preview of the successful community engagement and digital outreach we plan to execute across Florida for the 2016 elections.”
Several of the current and presumed Republican 2016 candidates had lent their support to Curry’s campaign, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who is running for president, former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL), currently considering such a run, former Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX), who will launch his presidential campaign June 4th, and Lieutenant Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera (R-FL), considering a run for Senate. Jacksonville, Florida’s largest city geographically and one of the state’s major media markets, will be critical for the 2016 candidates, and they all posted congratulatory messages shortly after the results were finalized.
Congratulations on your victory @lennycurry! Jacksonville will benefit from your leadership.
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) May 20, 2015
Congrats to my friend @lennycurry on becoming the next mayor of Jacksonville! Proof Republicans can win in cities with the right message.
— Jeb Bush (@JebBush) May 20, 2015
— Rick Perry (@GovernorPerry) May 20, 2015
Congratulations to my friend and new Mayor of Jacksonville @lennycurry. He is going to take the city to new heights.
— Carlos Lopez-Cantera (@LopezCantera) May 20, 2015
Brown had his own help from national Democrats, filling his campaign staff roster with many Obama alumni. Former President Bill Clinton also hosted a fundraiser for Brown, who served in the Clinton administration, earlier this year. Like Curry, Brown had the support of his state party, although the candidate also had to work to smooth ruffled Democrat feathers, annoyed at some of the more moderate stances Brown had taken over the years to get elected.
As can be expected, Florida Democrats are now trying to downplay the importance of this race. They posted only one tweet after the election results were in, to congratulate a Democrat named Tommy Hazouri who won a city council seat, and then on Wednesday morning returning to posting tweets attacking Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) and promoting President Barack Obama.
Still, the importance of this election cannot be denied. Marc Caputo, Politico’s Florida reporter, called the election “a political party warm-up act to the 2016 elections” and noted that “this race was, in many respects, all about bragging rights for the political parties. The Florida Democratic Party essentially ran the campaign for Brown, and obviously came up short. Still, in a conservative-leaning county, Democrats showed they can still get voters out. Republicans, however, just did a better job.”
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter @rumpfshaker.