Think of any major U.S. city and odds are it’s represented by a Democrat. That’s just the reality of a political system where Democrats dominate among urban voters.
There’s one city down in the Sunshine State, however, whose recent history is filled with GOP Mayors.
In fact, since 1993, Republicans have held this office for twenty-six of the last thirty years. Although with incumbent Mayor Lenny Curry term-limited, Democrats are hopeful they can finally break through. After all, while Florida is getting redder and redder, Jacksonville has been the rare blue bright spot.
While this primary is technically nonpartisan, every major candidate has a known partisan affiliation. That initial blanket primary will take place on March 21st, and if no one wins a majority of the vote, a run-off will be held between the top two primary finishers on May 16th.
So to prepare for next week’s contest, I’ve compiled a rundown of the main contenders in this race. Let’s dive in!
Cumber is currently in her first term on the Jacksonville City Council, and previously served in the Transportation Department during the George W. Bush Administration. Apparently those City Council connections are paying off, as she scored endorsements from fellow Councilor Randy DeFoor and four former Council Presidents.
While the polls currently put Cumber in fifth place, she started 2023 with the second-most money of any of the five major candidates. As a result, she produced a number of TV ads defining herself, attacking her opponents, and attaching herself to Gov. Ron DeSantis. She’ll be depending on those commercials to power her to an upset.
So far, the top Republican contender is Jacksonville’s President of the Chamber of Commerce, Daniel Davis. Before that appointment, Davis served on the Jacksonville City Council from 2003 to 2010 and in the Florida State House from 2010 to 2014. He’s used that experience to secure some significant endorsements, winning the support of Rep. John Rutherford, former Mayor John Peyton and Jacksonville’s Fraternal Order of Police.
As you might expect from a Chamber of Commerce President, Davis is the leading fundraiser in the field, coming into the year with over $4 million on hand from his campaign and an associated PAC. Polling shows that he’s also the top performing Republican, currently situated in second place overall.
Now we turn to the leading candidate in the race, Democrat Donna Deegan. Deegan was a TV anchor in the Jacksonville market for years and is actually the cousin of a former Democratic mayor. She made the transition to politics in 2019, running as the 2020 Democratic nominee in a deeply red district where she lost handily to the aforementioned John Rutherford.
For the moment, Deegan is leading in the polls, although that could just be the result of name recognition. While she’s got more money than the other Democratic hopeful, the two major Republican contenders both possess far larger warchests than her, so that front-runner status could easily be in danger. If that occurs, perhaps she can appeal to EMILY’s List, the powerful women’s organization backing her campaign.
Ferraro is serving his second term on the Jacksonville City Council, where he’s sat since 2015. Compared to fellow Councillor LeAnna Cumber, Ferraro’s got fewer endorsements and less cash on hand – yet still he’s managed to outperform her in every poll since last summer. Davis may well ultimately benefit from this split between Cumber and Ferraro, as neither City Councilor may earn enough support to make a run-off.
The second Democratic candidate in this race is former State Senator Audrey Gibson. Gibson was first elected to the Florida State House in 2002, then won a promotion to the State Senate in 2011. After serving as Minority Leader in the upper chamber, Gibson stepped down and decided to run for Mayor of Jacksonville. Despite the resume, however, Gibson struggled to bring in the endorsements or cash to compete, and remained far behind both Deegan and Davis in the polls. Barring a Deegan collapse, it’s tough to see how Gibson could make a run-off.
Stay tuned to Decision Desk HQ on March 21st for the latest results in this race, and make sure to keep an eye out for my day-after recap!