Ausley tops Preston for District 3 Senate seat
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
State Representative Loranne Ausley will assume the District 3 seat in the Senate after overcoming a strong challenge from Marva Preston on Election Day.
However, Republicans appeared to at least retain their majority in the state Senate as lawmakers head toward two years of grappling with a coronavirus-damaged budget and redrawing political boundaries.
The race between Ausley and Preston was intense, with criticism from each side. In the closing days leading up to Election Day, former FSU football coach Bobby Bowden and former FSU player Corey Simon endorsed Preston.
Both candidates spent heavily on advertising, mostly for television. Preston had a strong television campaign going through most of September before stepping it up in the last month when Ausley came on with advertising of her own and stepping up her ground game.
“No doubt this was the ugliest campaign I have ever seen, but in the end the truth won and now it is time to put it behind us and move forward,” Ausley wrote in a Facebook post Wednesday morning. “I don’t even know how to properly thank each one of you who went out on a limb for me…. ”
Ausley was accused in a Preston ad of taking Paycheck Protection Program money, which became a focal point of contention as Ausley spent time defending her fund-raising. She also called for the focus to be put back on the issues that concerned communities in the district.
“Stop with the lies and let’s have a real conversation about providing quality health care, quality child care and ending systemic racism,” she posted on social media.
Much of Preston’s advertising was through the Republican Senatorial Committee, including the one that said the Florida Democratic Party funneled PPP money through a political committee and into Ausley’s campaign.
Ausley will represent a district that includes Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Hamilton, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty, Madison, Taylor and Wakulla counties.
The seat was open because Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, is term-limited. Preston, of Crawfordville, was strongly backed by the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee as the GOP tried to flip the 11-county district.
“Having spent my life in the Big Bend, it is truly an honor that the citizens of Senate District 3 have put their trust in me to serve as their next senator,” Ausley said in a statement last Tuesday night. “Bill Montford and (former Sen.) Al Lawson leave big shoes to fill, but I am up to the task and will look forward to their guidance as we move from what has been a tough campaign trail to governing in these challenging times.”
Republicans, who have controlled the chamber since the 1994 election, went into the night with a 23-17 majority.
“Floridians cast their ballots in record numbers, making their voices heard up and down the ballot across the state,” incoming Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, said in a statement released by the Republican Party of Florida that also highlighted President Donald Trump winning the state and the GOP maintaining its control of the House. “Tonight we celebrate these tremendous victories, and tomorrow we get back to work on behalf of the hardworking people of Florida.”
The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.