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Latino Republicans Salazar, Giménez flip House seats in Florida, unseat a Latina 'first'

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Giménez and former broadcast journalist Maria Elvira Salazar were able to recover two House seats that had long been Republican.
Image: Carlos Gimenez
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez speaks during a protest at PortMiami by workers in the cruise ship industry wanting to return to work on Oct. 21, 2020, in Miami.Lynne Sladky / AP

Latino Republicans Maria Elvira Salazar and Carlos Giménez, who were both endorsed by President Donald Trump, defeated two South Florida Democratic incumbents in the U.S. House who faced extremely competitive races.

While Democrats were able to keep control of the House, both Salazar and Giménez are among a handful of Republicans who were able to flip certain seats Democrats won in 2018.

Both Salazar and Giménez benefited from the increased support for Trump and Republicans among South Florida Latinos.

Cuban-American Salazar won her race against Democratic incumbent Rep. Donna Shalala to represent Florida's 27th Congressional District, which includes parts of Miami. The former journalist and TV host, a familiar face to many South Florida Latinos, faced Shalala in the same race in the 2018 midterms and lost by six percentage points, according to NBC News exit polls in 2018. Shalala is the former secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary under former President Bill Clinton and is also the former president of the University of Miami.

"When extraordinary people come together, they do extraordinary work, and victory is the result," Salazar said Tuesday night, surrounded by her supporters. "I feel and I felt your consistent and unwavering support."

Before Shalala's 2018 win, Florida's 27th congressional district was a Republican district. It had been represented by Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who retired from Congress after nearly three decades. Ros-Lehtinen, who is Cuban-American, was the first Latina member of Congress.

Salazar effectively recovered the formerly Republican seat with a nearly three percentage point lead over Shalala, according to NBC News' most recent exit polls.

Maria Elvira Salazar speaks to the media on Nov. 6, 2018, in Miami.Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call via AP

In Florida's 26th congressional district, which includes parts of Miami and the Florida Keys, Giménez unseated Democratic incumbent Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell with a three percent margin lead, according to NBC News' most recent exit polls.

Mucarsel-Powell had made history in 2018 as the first member of Congress of South American descent; she is Ecuadorian American.

Giménez, who is Cuban-American, has been the mayor of Miami-Dade, Florida’s most populous county, for almost a decade.

The seat has been flipping between parties. In 2018, Mucarsel-Powell unseated Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who had been elected to the seat in 2014 and lost to Mucarsel-Powell by less than two percentage points, according to an NBC News exit poll in 2018.

Though Giménez was endorsed by Trump, he was critical of Trump in 2016, publicly saying he voted for Hillary Clinton. In the last few months, during the coronavirus pandemic, Giménez has taken stricter measures against the pandemic, putting him at odds with both Republican Gov. DeSantis and Trump.

Giménez previously told NBC News that he was looking forward to working in a bipartisan way in Congress.

“We need to work together and not point fingers at one another,” he said, adding that the No. 1 issue affecting Americans is the economy. “The last thing we want to do is increase taxes. We need to incentivize businesses to come back from foreign countries, so we can restore the greatest economy of my lifetime."

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Carmen Sesin contributed.