Frankel's election is sweet for Democrats, who saw one of their own ousted from the same seat two years ago in the tea party-fueled wave of voter discontent that swept the country.
"I'm excited. I'm humbled. I'm honored. It's an honor of a lifetime to me, especially to be going to Washington when we have just such formidable challenges ahead of us," she said.
Frankel said she hopes the atmosphere in Washington will be different when the new Congress takes office. "I hope that everybody has learned their lesson now after this very bitter campaign season. The American people want their congresspeople to work together."
The faceoff between Frankel and Republican Adam Hasner was one of the most contentious races in Broward and Palm Beach counties. Fueled by truckloads of campaign cash — each candidate raked in more than $3.2 million — the rival campaigns barraged voters with negative ads designed to tear down the opposition.
Richard Petronio, of Pompano Beach, hated the fliers that flooded his mailbox. "We could have saved a lot of trees. I've never seen so much campaign literature in mailboxes — all the pamphlets, all the fliers. They're all politicians. I'm not swayed or happy with any." He voted for Frankel.
Frankel, 64, and Hasner, 42, are both lawyers who rose to leadership positions in the Florida House of Representatives. Frankel served as minority party leader from 2000 to 2002 before going on to serve as West Palm Beach mayor. Hasner, of Boca Raton, rose to majority party leader from 2007 to 2010.
And both had previously sought higher office. Frankel lost a Democratic congressional primary in 1992 and explored a run for governor in 2002 but opted not to run. Hasner sought his party's 2012 nomination for U.S. Senate, but dropped out when polling showed him in the single digits.
Though their resumes had parallels, the candidates saw eye-to-eye on virtually nothing. They disagreed on the federal health care law known to many as Obamacare (Frankel in favor, Hasner opposed), whether to consider higher taxes on the wealthy (Frankel in favor, Hasner opposed), abortion rights (Frankel in favor, Hasner opposed except in cases of rape, incest or to protect the life of the pregnant woman.)
Theirs has long been a swing district. In 2006, Democrat Ron Klein defeated Republican incumbent Clay Shaw here. In 2010, Republican Allen West ousted Klein.
The latest voter registration figures show the 22nd District, which runs along most of the coast in Broward and Palm Beach counties and juts inland to take in part of south-central Broward, is 41 percent Democratic, 32 percent Republican, and 27 percent no party affiliation/independent voters — a higher share of independent voters than other Florida congressional districts.
All the big independent national ratings listed the district as tilting toward Frankel for months. As Democrats and Republicans played political chess over districts that could determine which party controls the House, the fate of Florida's 22nd was discussed in national circles.
Many residents had a simple way of deciding how to vote. James Geiger, of Wilton Manors, said the main reason he chose Frankel is he's a lifelong Democrat from a family of lifelong Democrats. Bill Carroll, also of Wilton Manors, said he's a lifelong Republican. So he voted for Hasner.
The same was true for many voters interviewed at the polls Tuesday, who said their decision on who to send to Congress was largely determined by who they liked on the top of the ticket. For the most part, they said, if they went for President Barack Obama they voted for Frankel. If they voted for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, they picked Hasner.
When the Republican-controlled state Legislature redrew congressional districts to reflect the population changes of the 2010 Census, it made the district more Democratic. So freshman U.S. Rep. Allen West abandoned it and sought a second term from a district in northern Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties.
West became one of the best-known members of the tea party influenced freshman class, thanks to his penchant for controversial rhetoric and his frequent presence as a talking head on Fox News. Both he and his Democratic businessman opponent, Patrick Murphy, also ran expensive, highly negative campaigns.
William Beaver, a tea party activist in Broward, said he was hoping Tuesday for the best of all worlds: Hasner representing part of Broward and Palm Beach counties, and West returning to Congress in the district to the north.
But Nicole Ramirez, of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, who voted straight Democratic except in the race for Broward sheriff, said she won't miss West. "Thank God he's gone. I feel sorry for whoever's going to get him in Martin County."s
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