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Democrat upsets DeSantis-backed Republican mayoral candidate in Jacksonville

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

In Jacksonville, Fla., a Democrat beat the mayoral candidate backed by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis this week. As Claire Heddles with member station WJCT reports, it was an upset in a city that has been a Republican stronghold.

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CLAIRE HEDDLES, BYLINE: Donna Deegan will be the first female mayor of Jacksonville.

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DONNA DEEGAN: I made a decision when I got into this race that no matter what happened, no matter what the landscape looked like, we were going to lead with love over fear.

HEDDLES: The former TV anchor beat DeSantis-backed Republican Daniel Davis by four points. She's one of just two Democrats elected mayor in the north Florida city in the past 30 years. She attributes her win to independents and voters who cross party lines.

DEEGAN: Every time a reporter would say to me, well, what do you think about Democratic turnout? I would say I want Democrats to turn out. I also want Republicans and independents to turn out and vote for me because we can't lead this city with one party. We can't.

HEDDLES: Republicans led turnout by about 7,000 votes, but Deegan still won. Davis did not expect to lose.

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DANIEL DAVIS: Obviously, we're still kind of in shock of the results and want to make sure that we understand that this doesn't define us as a family.

HEDDLES: Jacksonville University political scientist Rick Mullaney says the credit for the win may go to Deegan herself.

RICK MULLANEY: In the end, I think the outcome is more attributable to Donna Deegan's positive campaign, her energy and the homework she did in mastering a lot of different substantive policy issues.

HEDDLES: But no one contests the win was an upset. Jacksonville City Councilmember Randy DeFoor was one of a handful of prominent Republicans who crossed party lines to endorse Deegan. She says her win is a rejection of the city's longstanding Republican power players.

RANDY DEFOOR: I don't think a lot of people thought it was possible. I think people put party politics aside and said, we need to stand up and do what's right and best for our community. And that means we need to vote for Donna Deegan.

HEDDLES: Florida Democrats were quick to call it a massive victory. In a statement, they celebrated, saying flipping Florida's geographically largest and historically red district to blue challenges the growing control Republicans have over Florida politics.

For NPR News, I'm Claire Heddles in Jacksonville.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEMIAN LY AND DEMIANSAX SONG, "Y QUIZAS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Claire Heddles