The 2016 Miami-Dade County Mayoral race proved that non-partisan races can result in some interesting findings and produce strange results. The first round of the mayoral race resulted in incumbent Carlos Gimenez barely missing an outright win by less than two percentage points. This meant that he would have to go into a runoff with runner-up Raquel Regalado, who is a member of the Miami-Dade County School Board, where he prevailed by a 12 point margin. This continued the Republican Party’s hold of this non-partisan office for 16 years.
Now Carlos Gimenez is running for Congress in Florida’s 26th Congressional district against incumbent Debbie Murcarsel-Powell in what many have predicted to be one of the most competitive races for Congress from the state of Florida. However, does that mean Gimenez would be the right fit for the district, or would he be a better candidate taking on Rep. Donna Shalala in the neighboring 27th District? Considering the results from his most recent election, it is shocking that he considered running in the 26th Congressional District when he performed considerably better in the 27th District.
The 2016 Mayoral Race
Let’s first begin by taking a closer look into the Miami-Dade County Mayoral race from 2016. In the first round of the mayoral race, Gimenez was able to win 47.6%, or 121,891 votes, which is roughly 6,000 votes short of claiming an outright victory. So what areas were his strongest in Miami-Dade County? Some of his strongest cities in this race were Pinecrest and Coral Gables, while the only two cities he lost in the first round were Sweetwater and Hialeah Gardens. What is interesting about these results is that the first two cities are both located in Florida’s 27th Congressional District whereas the latter two cities are both located in Florida’s 25th Congressional District.
Diving further into these cities shows that there is a huge income disparity between these two cities. Pinecrest has an average household income of $152,000 and Coral Gables has an average household income of $97,000 which is much higher than Hialeah Garden average of $47,000 and Sweetwater’s average of only $36,000 according to Data USA. This would fall into line as Gimenez’s base tends to be higher-income whereas the base of opposition was the working class and union households (the AFL-CIO endorsed Regalado for example).
Another problem for Gimenez is that he performed worse in areas that are dominated by Latino voters. Pinecrest is 47% Latino, Coral Gables is 59%, Hialeah Gardens 96%, and Sweetwater 95% Latino. These weaknesses wouldn’t necessarily hurt Gimenez in FL-26 (which has majority-white Monroe County), but his strength with non-Latino voters in Miami-Dade County (which are far more Democratic leaning than Monroe County) would make him a much stronger candidate in FL-27.
Higher-income cities backed Giminez
So while the first round of the primary was a multi-candidate race, Gimenez only faced School Boardmember Regalado in the runoff held in conjunction with the presidential election in 2016. This election produced a 12-point margin of victory for Giminez and showed that he had more support in some areas over other areas. By far Gimenez was strongest in the more affluent areas of Miami-Dade county and was the weakest in the working class areas, with similar results to the first round of the primary.
The main thing that seemed to determine where Giminez performed the best was income levels. Gimenez performed strongest in FL-27, which has a median income that is roughly similar to the FL-26. However, Gimenez benefitted from the fact that cities with higher incomes tend to have higher turnout. The correlation between voter turnout in a given city (where at least 1,000 voters cast a ballot) and its median household income was 0.74. This would favor Gimenez because he was more popular among affluent voters rather than the working class.
Regalado was able to keep Gimenez to low double-digits because she performed strongly in the working class parts of Miami-Dade like the FL-25 portion of Miami-Dade (where 179,000 voters cast a ballot). However Gimenez was able to offset a close race in the county by winning the more affluent FL-27 (where 305,000 voters cast a ballot) by crushing margins. Another thing that benefitted Gimenez was that turnout was highest in FL-27 and the FL-25 District was in the middle of the pack in terms of turnout. FL-27 had three percent more of their voters (76% compared to 73%) turn out to vote than FL-25. This is in contrast to the first round, where the gap was only four points (24% for the 27th to 20% for the 25th). While the gap turnout rate shrunk a little between the first round and the second round, remember that there are more voters in the 27th Congressional District (around eligible 400,000 voters) than in the 25th Congressional District (250,000 eligible voters).
Carlos Gimenez is a formidable opponent for Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, but based on his last election in 2016, he may not be the right fit for FL-26. The data shows that he didn’t overperform in the district and that his base does not live in this district. Gimenez was strongest with affluent voters who turn out to vote. He may not even be a strong candidate at all considering he is the first incumbent mayor to have to race in a runoff election rather than coast to victory (like he did in 2012). Gimenez will have his work cut out for him in FL-26 but did potentially picking the wrong district to run in cost him a chance in Congress? Not likely, as Debbie Murcarsel-Powell is not the strongest candidate and the next article in this short mini-series will be focused on her past two races.