2020 is a year of surprises. Will it shake up the races in Palm Beach County?

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Palm Beach County tends to lean liberal. Voters helped deliver a win to Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. It is so dependently left-leaning that sometimes Republicans don’t even bother fielding a candidate in some congressional races.

But with 2020 being, well, 2020, will something give in the county? In Florida, the country’s biggest swing state?

All eyes, as they usually are every four years, will be on Florida this November as the masses watch to see if Florida will be repeat of the famous, contested 2000 election that ultimately went in favor of George W. Bush.

When Obama won Florida by less than 3% of the vote in 2008, it was a the first time the state had supported the top person on the Democratic ticket since 1996. But much has changed since the nation elected its first Black president.

The backlash and bitter divisiveness is the likes of what many say they have never seen before: Enter Donald Trump, currently Palm Beach’s most newsworthy resident.

It’s gotten to the point where Utah’s Republican Sen. Mitt Romney on Tuesday broke his silence and castigated Trump, and to a lesser extent the Democratic party and the media, saying the world is watching and very concerned.

“I’m troubled by our politics as it has moved from spirited debate to a vile vituperative hate-filled morass that is unbecoming of any nation,” Romney said in a post that went viral on Twitter.

Though Trump lost the 21st Congressional District — where his Mar-a-Lago club is — by 21 points to Hillary Clinton, he did manage to pull off a Florida win and snag its coveted 29 electoral votes in 2016.

Will Trump’s decision last year to call South Florid home allow him to pull off what he was unable to do before at the polls?

Will Trump’s momentum be enough for the Republican down-ballot races? Or will Palm Beach County’s most notable resident energize his detractors to flock to the polls and vote him out?

The Trump Effect could go either way.

The Trump effect

Laura Loomer, the hard right-leaning, 27-year-old, political neophyte who has been banned from most social media accounts as well as ride-sharing and reportedly even some food-delivery apps because of her no-holds-barred, inflammatory statements about Muslims is going up against a South Florida political maven in November.

Loomer bested five other Republican candidates during the primary for the 21st Congressional District race, winning 43% of the Republican votes.

A conspiracy theorist, Loomer was congratulated after her win by the head of the Republic National Committee and Trump, who had this to say: “Great going Laura. You have a great chance against a Pelosi puppet.”

That so-called puppet is none other than incumbent U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel. Frankel has been in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2013, served in the Florida House of Representatives for 14 years, and served two terms as the mayor of West Palm Beach.

After Loomer’s win, a former Trump campaign adviser reportedly said the race between Loomer and Frankel will be the most-watched congressional race in the country.

Frankel bested her next-best opponent by some 27%. Because Frankel earned 86% of the Democratic vote in the primary, strategists don’t seem that worried.

Omari Hardy

While Loomer may have been the darling for a chunk of South Florida Republicans in August, Lake Worth Beach commissioner Omari Hardy, a progressive, soundly defeated the Democratic incumbent for the party’s win for the State House District 88 seat in August.

Though the former occupant of the Florida House seat had his well-documented faults, those not paying attention to news accounts would have been hard-pressed not to follow social media, which overnight turned Hardy into cause celebre.

During a March commission meeting in Lake Worth Beach, Hardy called out the mayor and city manager because the city-owned utility department had cut electric water and sewer services to residents late on payments as the pandemic and lockdown had just set in.

Hardy rose from this seat and loudly pronounced the city was a banana republic.

“We cut off people utilities last week and then made them pay what could have been their last check to us to turn on their lights on during a global health pandemic,” he roared.

A recording of the meeting went viral with some 6.4 million viewers. And Hardy is now approaching 200,000 followers on Twitter.

Hardy, who faces Republican Danielle Madsen and non-party-affiliate Rubin Anderson, supports legalizing recreation marijuana, wants all police officers wearing body-worn cameras, and called the state’s response to COVID-19 disastrous.


To help readers make informed decisions, the South Florida Sun Sentinel sent surveys to all candidates for races in Palm Beach and Broward counties for its voter guide.

Candidates were asked to list their top three priorities if elected to their desired office. And with very few exceptions the candidates for the Palm Beach County Board of County Commissioner and state and U.S. seats listed COVID-19 as their No. 1 answer.

“Resolving the pandemic,” answered Saulis Banionis, a medical doctor hoping to snag the western Palm Beach County State House District 81. “I am a doctor, not a politician but I am a medial expert and have worked to improve healthcare in Florida by working as a medical expert for the Medicaid Board. I am the only candidate that can provide a level of expertise with the current crisis and that can have an immediate impact on our community and bring that experience to the Florida Legislature. We need and expert to solve problems, not politicians.”

Speaking of experts and politicians, a Palm Beach County position that is typical thought of as ceremonial was anything but that for Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner.

Kerner, who is running to retain his District 3 seat of the Palm Beach County Board of County Commissioners, came across as an expert and experienced mayor right out of the gate when the pandemic took hold in Palm Beach County.

In the questionaire, Kerner said he’d continue focusing on combating the virus and all its aspects — health, education, financial and homelessness.

“I am proud of our county’s response to COVID-19, but I am even more proud of how our residents and collectively participated in our assault on the virus,” Kerner wrote on the questionnaire.

Even Sheriff Ric Bradshaw who is anticipated to handily win a fifth term, gave COVID-19 top billing in his list of priorities.

Bradshaw has worked hard to make sure those impacted by COVID-19 are taken care of, and that’s not just first responders. He’s expanded the Sheriff’s Senior Program to assist the county’s elderly who are unable to get out of their homes and go to the grocery stores or to the pharmacies. He’s also delivered food to front-line workers and helped to provide essential needs to residents who have lost their jobs.

The economy

Millions of Floridians know about job loss. The impact of the pandemic was so crushing that when 6 million Floridians filed for unemployment benefits this spring, the system couldn’t handle influx and crashed, leaving people without any safety net for weeks on end.

A broken system tops the list of priorities for Tina Polsky, a mediator, who is hoping after November to be going to Tallahassee as state senator representing southern Palm Beach County’s 29th District. She is finishing her first term as a Florida House representative.

“We have a broken system that was designed to fail and it needs to be overhauled,” Polsky said in her South Florida Sun Sentinel Voter Guide questionnaire.

Poslky said the state needs to increase the maximum $275 in weekly benefits, a sum she calls paltry, as well as lengthen the time that someone may receive unemployment benefits.

Also hoping to be able to increase the amount of money in one’s pocket is James “Jim” Pruden, an attorney hoping to head to Washington as a U.S. congressman.

Pruden said he’d like to give Floridians a larger paycheck without what he calls wasteful government involvement. For workers who make less than $100, 000 a year, Pruden supports eliminating income tax on overtime wages.

Such would be a “direct benefit on their paychecks without the need for wasteful government spending,” Pruden said in his survey.

But first, Pruden will have to beat a South Florida and Palm Beach favorite, Democrat and six-time incumbent Ted Deutch.

Eileen Kelley can be reached at 772-925-9193 or ekelley@sunsentinel.com. Follow on Twitter @reporterkell.


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