Mayoral losses deal blow to GOP in conservative strongholds (2023)


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Republicans suffered surprising losses Tuesday in mayoral races in Jacksonville, Fla., and Colorado Springs, dealing a blow to the GOP in two longtime conservative strongholds and highlighting the limits of waging hyperpartisan campaign battles in local races.

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In Jacksonville, Florida’s most populous city, Democrat Donna Deegan upset Republican Daniel Davis by about 4 percentage points to win the mayor’s race. Deegan’s victory flips the mayoral seat of the largest city in the United States that was held by a Republican, in a state in which the Republican governor won reelection by a landslide less than six months ago.

And in Colorado Springs, political newcomer and business executive Yemi Mobolade, an independent, defeated Republican Wayne Williams by a decisive margin Tuesday night, surprising many in the conservative-leaning city that President Donald Trump won handily in 2020.

The wins offered a glimmer of hope for Democrats, especially in Florida, where less than six months ago Republicans swept statewide offices and called into question whether it could still be considered a swing state.

Deegan, 62, and Mobolade, 44, leaned into a message of unity throughout their campaigns, largely ignoring national partisan politics and successfully dodging attacks from their opponents, who tried to paint them as too extreme for their communities.

Mobolade released campaign ads with a longtime Republican sheriff who had endorsed him. Deegan, a former local news anchor turned breast cancer awareness advocate, said hyperpartisan attacks didn’t work against her because people in Jacksonville knew who she was.

“I very intentionally steered away from having a national food fight,” Deegan told The Washington Post on Wednesday. “I really wanted to get back to a day in Jacksonville where we just weren’t focused on anything besides Jacksonville issues and the mayor’s office.”


Deegan ran what could almost be called a “post-partisan” campaign, said Democratic strategist Steve Schale, a former Jacksonville resident.

“I grew up with Donna Deegan on my television,” Schale said. “You forget how much goodwill was built up over those years. … When Republicans ran ads to try to paint her as an absurd extremist, it just didn’t really fit her.”

Love won tonight, and we made history. We have a new day in Jacksonville because people chose unity over division—creating a broad coalition of people across the political spectrum that want a unified city. Together, we will bring change for good to Jacksonville by making good on…

— Donna Deegan (@DonnaDeegan) May 17, 2023

Part of Deegan’s unity-based approach was out of necessity. Though Duval County — which consolidated with Jacksonville in 1968 — had been trending slowly in favor of Democrats in recent elections, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) had also just won the county by more than 10 percentage points in his November reelection campaign. President Biden narrowly won Duval County in 2020, becoming the first Democrat to do so in more than four decades, but registered Republicans and voters with no party affiliation, together, outnumber registered Democrats.


“More Republicans voted in Jacksonville than Democrats,” Schale said. “You had to have a message that created a bridge for Republicans to cross over and vote for Deegan. The critical swing voters in Jacksonville tend to be college-educated White women and … [Deegan] had this unique appeal that was almost sort of nonpartisan, post-partisan.”

Still, the defeat of the Republican candidate in Jacksonville prompted some within the GOP to point fingers at DeSantis, who had endorsed Davis. Alex Bruesewitz, a Trump-aligned GOP strategist, was among those who blamed DeSantis for not making any local campaign appearances with Davis.

“Gov. DeSantis is the governor of the state of Florida. Jacksonville is the biggest city in Florida,” Bruesewitz said. “The governor endorsed Davis and then did nothing to help him get across the finish line.”


In El Paso County, Colo., which includes Colorado Springs, Republicans still hold a strong advantage. In 2020, Biden closed some of the gap — becoming the first Democrat to get more than 40 percent of the vote in the county since 1964 — but Trump still won the county by more than 10 percentage points.

Mobolade, a Nigerian immigrant and restaurateur, played up his past work on economic development, casting himself as “the unifying leader Colorado Springs needs in these uncertain times” while his opponent sent mailers warning that voters needed to “protect” their city from “liberal” Mobolade.

“To me, that felt like desperation,” Mobolade said Wednesday in an interview with The Post. “Perhaps that works on a federal level, but on a local level it’s a little bit of a different story … I know fear is a powerful motivator and what [Williams] was trying to do was take a nonpartisan election and make it very partisan, make me the boogeyman.”

I AM because WE ARE.

— Yemi Mobolade | Mayor-Elect (@yemiformayor) May 17, 2023

Asked if he thought he could have won the race if he had campaigned as a Democrat rather than an independent, Mobolade said he did not know. During his campaign, he said, he sensed a “deep hunger” from voters in Colorado Springs for optimism and pragmatic solutions.


“I ran truthfully to who I’ve been, who I am,” Mobolade said. “I represent 48 percent of us in this city who live in a tension of these two political parties that don’t have a home. We are called in the state of Colorado ‘unaffiliated’ but it’s not that we don’t affiliate to anything. We affiliate to values. We just don’t affiliate to parties, fighting and madness.”

Mobolade and Deegan each focused on local issues including bolstering public safety and addressing housing and infrastructure needs.

“We have just crumbling infrastructure here that we’ve kicked the can down the road on forever and ever, especially in our older, neglected communities,” Deegan said. “I made it about health care … and I put together a plan for small business development, which is of course 80 percent of our economy. So those are the three things that I talked about more than anything else in the campaign.”

Mobolade is the first Black person elected mayor of Colorado Springs. He is set to take office on June 6 and will succeed Republican John Suthers, who was term-limited.

When she takes office on July 1, Deegan will become the first woman to serve as mayor of Jacksonville, succeeding Republican Lenny Curry, who also was term-limited.

2024 presidential candidates

Several major Republican candidates and three Democrats have officially declared they are running for their party’s 2024 presidential nomination, and plenty of others are making moves. We’re tracking 2024 presidential candidates here.

Republicans: Larry Elder, Nikki Haley, Asa Hutchinson, Vivek Ramaswamy, Tim Scott and Donald Trump, have announced they are running for president in 2024. Here is The Post’s ranking of the top 10 Republican presidential candidates for 2024.

Democrats: President Biden has officially announced he is running for reelection in 2024. Author Marianne Williamson and anti-vaccine advocate Robert Kennedy Jr., both long-shot candidates, are also seeking the Democratic nomination. Here is The Post’s ranking of the top 10 Democratic presidential candidates for 2024.

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