Florida is posed in the center of the national political spotlight once again this election, and Osceola County will contribute some exciting races of its own to keep an eye out for heading into the general midterm election.
Tuesday night decided two local races – one for Kissimmee City Commission and one for the Osceola School Board – but here’s a look at which campaigns are likely to heat up in the next six weeks as the Nov. 6 general election nears.
County Commission district 2: Janer vs. Rentas
Well-funded County Commission incumbent Viviana Janer won a solid 60 percent victory against her two Democratic opponents during the Tuesday night primary, and celebrated with supporters at an election party in downtown Kissimmee.
But Janer will face a formidable opponent come November as current Kissimmee City Commissioner Wanda Rentas vies for Janer’s district 2 chair.
Both women are Hispanic in a largely Latino district that includes the working-class neighborhood of Buenaventura Lakes. Rentas is a Republican, and her voting record at the city paints her as a strong fiscal conservative. But her recent stance on some moral issues – such as her support of County Commissioner Peggy Choudhry’s one-stop homeless crisis center earlier this summer – may help her establish common ground across party lines.
Meanwhile, Janer has collected a trophy case of campaign endorsements heading into the primaries from groups such as the Central Florida Hotel & Lodging Association, the county tax collector, the Osceola County Realtors’ Association and others.
It’s already been an expensive race for Janer, who spent $86,903 heading into the primaries, outpacing Rentas’ spending 17-to-1.
County Commission district 4: Grieb v. Michelin
Incumbent Democrat Cheryl Grieb will face off against Republican Adam Michelin in November.
Grieb grew up in Osceola County, and formerly served on the Kissimmee City Commission, giving her a clear hometown advantage against Michelin. She has adopted the slogan “Going Grieb,” a nod to her involvement in conservation and environmental issues and projects.
As a Realtor and Osceola County’s first openly gay politician, she helped welcome a new LGBT resource center to downtown Kissimmee in August alongside other officials like U.S. Congressman Darren Soto and State Rep. John Cortes.
Michelin, a relatively new name in the area’s political scene, stands in contrast as a Navy veteran, Republican, member of the National Rifle Association and CEO of an acquisition firm. He’s been a vocal opponent of county spending, particularly NeoCity, a $130 million private-public project spearheaded over the last two years by Grieb and her fellow county commissioners. At a debate hosted in Kissimmee City Hall last month, Michelin referred to it as “a field of dreams” where “they think if they build it, the businesses will come.”
Grieb, who brings the political experience and community connections, has said she feels confident about her chances in November.
Kissimmee City Commission Seat 2: Ortiz v. Jeng
Local businessowner Felix Ortiz pulled away from a pack of four candidates vying for Rentas’ open seat on the City Commission Tuesday night, collecting just over 45 percent of the primary vote.
Ortiz, owner of 3 Sisters Speakeasy in downtown Kissimmee, stayed busy Tuesday night as he helped carry hot trays of appetizers and hors d’oeuvres from the kitchen alongside wait staff. Supporters and other downtown merchants squeezed in to the Red Shoe Martini Bar adjoining 3 Sisters as local election results poured in on a nearby widescreen TV.
In the next room, U.S. House of Rep. 9th District Democrat candidate Alan Grayson mingled with an affluent crowd of allies amid TV reporters under bright camera lights at his own watch party.
“I don’t think they realize I’m the owner yet. They may think I’m just another waiter,” Ortiz said as he straightened a serving platter on a folding table across from the bar. “But that’s OK with me. It can be good to surprise people sometimes.”
Ortiz’s rise from political novice to front runner of a sought-after city seat isn’t surprising to those who have watched his campaign unfold this season. He’s been active in local candidate meet-and-greets and debates, running on a platform of growing economic development for Kissimmee residents and fostering opportunities for small business owners.
Still, his popularity wasn’t enough to cinch the race for good Tuesday night where he needed 50 percent or the vote to avoid a November run-off. He will now face challenger Horng “Andrew” Jeng, another businessman, Nov. 6.
Jeng, a Chinese immigrant and owner of a Central Florida tech company, is also a political newcomer. He’s spent just under $29,000 on his campaign so far, about four times as much as Ortiz. Jeng came away with 19.5 percent of the vote Tuesday night.
The governor’s race: Gillum v. DeSantis
The gubernatorial race garnered national attention Tuesday as Tallahassee Mayor and anticipated underdog Andrew Gillum defeated opponent Gwen Graham by a 3 percent margin during the Democrat primaries. Pollsters may have counted him out, but after months of grassroots campaigning on a progressive liberal ticket and a major endorsement by Sen. Bernie Sanders four weeks prior to the election, Gillum mobilized a following large enough to defeat favored Graham, who carried Osceola County at the local level.
Gillum wasn’t called as the winner until about 9:15 p.m., while U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis snagged the Republican primary ticket just minutes after panhandle polls closed at 8 p.m.
DeSantis has enjoyed pure momentum from a conservative and Trump-centered Republican base energized by President Donald Trump’s vocal endorsements and vocal rallies. He pulled ahead relatively early from Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a more “establishment” Republican who stymied his chances by referring to himself as “an NRA sellout” amid corruption and sexual misconduct allegations.
A Trump-backed politician will face-off against a Sanders-endorsed candidate for Florida’s highest executive office this November.
The winner will either make history as the state’s first Black governor or continue a Republican-dominated legacy of 20 years.
Editor’s note: There were no primary elections in St. Cloud for City Council. Those races will be featured at a later date.