MIAMI - Democrat Donna Shalala won with nearly 52 percent of the vote, defeating her Republican opponent Maria Elvira Salazar by 6 percentage points in the race for Florida's 27th Congressional District after years of Republican control.
Shalala, 77, the longest-serving Health and Human Services Secretary in U.S. history and former University of Miami president, will be replacing Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, one of President Donald Trump's most prominent Republican critics in Congress.
Ros-Lehtinen, 66, is retiring two years after Hillary Clinton carried the district -- which includes Miami Beach, Key Biscayne and Coral Gables -- by nearly 20 points.
"We started all of this, because I just got pissed off with what was going on in Washington ... I hope that we can bring this country together. The infection that has affected all of us, the hate, is just un-American," Shalala said during her victory speech. "And we have to work forward in a positive way."
Most Democrats were confident about Shalala's victory against Salazar, 57, a retired journalist and political rookie who voted for Trump. Hillary Clinton beat Trump by nearly 20 percentage points in the district.
"I want to thank my opponents," Shalala said during her speech. "They ran a spirited campaign ... This is the year of the woman and the fact that women were willing to put themselves on the line is important whether they have been Republican or Democrats."
Although environmentalists criticized her as UM president over her decision to sell Pine Rockland property to a developer, Shalala had the endorsement of the League of Conservation Voters for her positions on protecting the environment.
"We are confident that her knowledge and experience will make her a leader in Congress on critical issues like addressing climate change and insuring that Florida’s water is free of pollution and dangerous algae blooms," Tiernan Sittenfeld, LCV Action Fund senior vice president of government affairs, said in the endorsement statement.
LCV also endorsed her position on accessibility to public healthcare. While Salazar believes capitalism is the answer when it comes to health insurance prices, Shalala has said she agrees with Sen. Bernie Sanders' "Medicare Option for All" although she believes in keeping employer coverage.
During the campaign, a Cuban-American born in Miami, criticized Shalala for not being fluent in Spanish, while representing a community with a majority of Hispanic voters. She had the endorsement of the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association and the name recognition that comes with a 35-year career in journalism that included time with MegaTV, Telemundo, CNN en Español and Univision.
During her victory speech, Shalala reminded the crowd that she understands that the district is a community of immigrants and asked for her Cuban cousins in the crowd. She also said she stands with immigrants and with the LGBTQ community.
"Until every child has a fair shot at a higher education, we’re not done. Until Medicare and Social Security are secure for every senior, we will not rest," Shalala said in a statement released after her speech. "Until this heartless administration is held accountable for their numerous injustices, we will not stop. I'm proud to know you had my back. Now, it's time to fulfill my end of the bargain."
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