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University of Florida

2023 Florida Special House District 35 Primary: Democratic Party

November 8, 2023

On Tuesday, November 7, 2023, Democrat Tom Keen narrowly won the FL House District 35 Special Democratic Primary. He won by 141 votes, a 2-point victory. He will face Republican Erika Booth in the General Election on January 16, 2024.

While this race was extremely close, Keen won because of several factors. First, Bagga’s margin in urban Orange County was kept down by a strong performance by Guzmán, with a few precincts flipping from 2022. Second, Keen’s strong showing in some areas of rural and suburban Orange County, combined with his victory in Osceola County, allowed him to take the lead.

Guzmán was widely expected to be the front-runner in the race, with talks of support from the FDP and being seen as the only non-progressive candidate. She consistently placed second or third in each precinct, but without many first-place finishes, she lost the night in third place. Rishi Bagga had a strong showing, but narrowly lost Orange County to Keen and finished third in Osceola. This close race echoes 2022, where Bagga beat Keen by 57 votes, and went on to lose the general election by 10.8%.

Out of the three candidates, Keen raised the least amount of money, raising under $70k while Bagga raised $100k and Guzmán $135k. Despite this, Keen came first, and the biggest fundraiser, Guzmán, came last,

Turnout was 18.14%, and Republican turnout was 2.24% higher than the Democrats. Considering the primary was more competitive on the Democratic side, and HD35 was the prime target for the FDP for pick-up, this does not bode well for the general election on January 16, 2024. The general election is being seen as a test of Nikki Fried’s FDP Chairmanship.

While the primary isn’t clear evidence of Democratic enthusiasm leading up to the general election, there are still 70 days for the Florida Democrats to organize, donate, and vote for a chance to flip this seat needed to break the Republican supermajority.

– Evan Smith, Election Lab Contributor (@evansmith2020)

Candidate Information

  • Rishi Bagga
    • Summary: main progressive challenger to Guzmán
    • Endorsements: former Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, Orange County Progressive Caucus
    • Job: attorney, former prosecutor, VP of Skyline Hotels
    • Democratic Candidate in 2022 for HD35
    • Top issues: flexibility for local governments in spending tourist tax revenue, expanding Medicaid, more transparent policing policies, increasing mental health access and funding, strengthening gun laws, pro-choice
    • Raised $134,728.87
  • Marucci Guzmán
    • Summary: FDP-backed, more establishment candidate, frontrunner
    • Endorsements: EMILYs List, Ruth’s List Florida, Florida Leadership Council, various state and local politicians (including Shevrin Jones, Allison Tant, and two OCPS school board members)
    • Job: Nonprofit executive working with Latino, Autism groups
    • Married to Former State Rep Rene “Coach P” Plasencia (R), who is also the brother of current State Representative Susan Plasencia (R)
    • Angie Gallo works on her campaign & endorsed (R School Board member, but more moderate) 
    • Top issues: making health care and insurance more affordable, funding education, strengthening gun laws, abortion rights
    • Raised $101,670.79
  • Tom Keen
    • Summary: progressive, underdog in the race
    • Job: tech businessmen, veteran
    • Endorsements: major unions (e.g., Orange County Classroom Teachers Association), Veteran’s Groups, Osceola Politicians, Rainbow Democrats of Orange County, Suncoast NORML (pro-cannabis group)
    • Top issues: funding for affordable housing, fighting restrictions on books and free speech, protecting the environment, expanding access to abortion
    • Raised $68,359.86

Past Election Results

2022 HD35 General Election

Hawkins + 10.8 (55.4 R – 44.6 D)

Turnout: 55.24% (with a GOP turnout advantage of 14% – 65.2% R turnout vs. 51.2% D turnout).

2022 Florida House District 35 Primary: Democratic Party

Turnout: 22.3%
Green – Bagga | Purple – Keen | Blue – Muñoz-Chaffin

Bagga + 0.6% (38.7 Bagga – 38.1 Keen – 23.2 Muñoz-Chaffin)

2020 Presidential Election in HD35

Biden +5% (51.8 Biden – 46.8 Trump)