Democrat wins Jacksonville mayoral election: Major blow to DeSantis, Florida GOP

Democrat Donna Deegan won 52 percent of the vote in the largest U.S. city currently led by GOP mayor

By Gabriella Ferrigine

Staff Writer

Published May 17, 2023 1:32PM (EDT)

Downtown Jacksonville, Florida (Getty Images/Dan Reynolds Photography)
Downtown Jacksonville, Florida (Getty Images/Dan Reynolds Photography)

Democrat Donna Deegan was elected mayor of Jacksonville on Tuesday, a surprising result in increasingly Republican Florida. Jacksonville is the largest U.S. city currently governed by an elected Republican mayor, and Deegan's opponent, Daniel Davis, had the support of Gov. Ron DeSantis, an increasingly important figure in national conservative politics.

Deegan, a former television news anchor, will becomes the first female mayor in the history of Jacksonville, a rapidly growing metropolis on Florida's Atlantic coast that is now the largest city in the southeastern U.S. She received about 52 percent of the vote, defeating David by around 9,000 votes, according to The New York Times. 

"We made history tonight," Deegan told supporters on Tuesday night. "I made a decision when we got into this race that, no matter what happened, no matter what the landscape was like, we were going to lead with love over fear," she said. "We would not go with division. We would go with unity."

Davis, the chief executive of a local chamber of commerce, attacked Deegan for her participation in Black Lives Matter rallies, while a local sheriff claimed she would enact "radical policies" if voted into office, according to Politico.

The New York Times reported that Davis was viewed as a moderate as a Florida state legislator, even supporting protections for the LGBTQ community while leading the JAX Chamber. As a mayoral candidate, he increasingly aligned himself with the Republican right, pledging to be tough on crime and embracing Moms for Liberty, a national conservative group that has led the battle on "critical race theory" and LGBTQ representation in public schools.

Davis conceded defeat late on Tuesday night, saying, "I'm going to do everything I can to make sure Mayor-elect Deegan is successful in making Jacksonville the best Jacksonville it can be."

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The Times has characterized DeSantis' support of Davis as "lukewarm," as evidenced by a pro forma gubernatorial endorsement that Davis shared on Twitter by Davis.

Davis' defeat cements a disappointing political week for DeSantis, who also made a last-minute endorsement in the Republican gubernatorial primary in Kentucky, backing Kelly Craft, a former UN ambassador under the Trump administration. "Kelly shares the same vision we do in Florida," DeSantis said in a robocall recording sent to Kentucky Republican voters the night before the primary.

That wasn't nearly enough for Craft, who got only 17 percent of the vote, coming in a distant third. The winner was Kentucky's current attorney general, Daniel Cameron, who was endorsed by Donald Trump. Cameron will take on incumbent Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear this fall.

By Gabriella Ferrigine

Gabriella Ferrigine is a staff writer at Salon. Originally from the Jersey Shore, she moved to New York City in 2016 to attend Columbia University, where she received her B.A. in English and M.A. in American Studies. Formerly a staff writer at NowThis News, she has an M.A. in Magazine Journalism from NYU and was previously a news fellow at Salon.

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Brief Democrats Donald Trump Donna Deegan Florida Jacksonville Kelly Craft Kentucky Republicans Ron Desantis