Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick wins Florida's 20th Congressional District

Democrat wins special election to fill seat once held by Alcee Hastings
Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick smiles at election night party, Jan. 11, 2022
Posted at 7:21 PM, Jan 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-11 22:40:32-05

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick is headed to Congress.

The Democrat defeated Republican challenger Jason Mariner during a special election Tuesday.

She'll occupy the congressional seat formerly held by the late U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla.

Hastings, who was the longest-serving member of the Florida delegation, died of pancreatic cancer in April 2021. He had served in the U.S. House since 1993.

The Associated Press declared Cherfilus-McCormick the winner eight minutes after polling locations in Broward and Palm Beach counties closed.

Mariner didn't stand much of a chance in a district that skews heavily Democratic.

"A lot of people don't know that this election's going on, which is why we're calling them," Mariner told WPTV earlier in the day. "This has been, you know, grass roots from the beginning."

WATCH: Jason Mariner: 'A lot of people don't know that this election's going on

Jason Mariner: 'A lot of people don't know that this election's going on'

Mariner said the campaign was contentious, claiming he's faced threats and had issues with the wording of the ballot.

During her victory speech Tuesday night, Cherfilus-McCormick touted bringing economic stability to the district, which was the impetus behind her controversial People's Prosperity Plan. The plan calls for providing permanent $1,000 stimulus checks for all adults earning less than $75,000 annually.

"As your next congresswoman, I promise -- I vow -- to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to live in this great country, to pursue their dreams free of any kind of persecution, free of any kind of misunderstandings and to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to live and to pursue for more," a teary-eyed Cherfilus-McCormick said.

She also praised her predecessor in Congress and said there is no way that she could ever fill his shoes.

WATCH: Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick's complete election night speech

Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick praises supporters, Alcee Hastings during victory speech

"But I promise you that I'll wear my pumps happily and I'll fight day and night with my heels, because I'm a short woman anyhow, and I'll ensure that our district and our voice is heard," she said.

The supervisor of elections offices reported a turnout of 11.81% in Broward County and 12.3% in Palm Beach County as of 9:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Despite low voter turnout, Cherfilus-McCormick applauded those voters who helped lead her to a lopsided victory over her opponent.

"It just goes to show you that our district is committed towards being Democratic, that we're still committed towards moving forward and making sure that everyone is equal and equitable and that they're standing on fundamental principles of the Democratic Party, which is health care, which is access to voting, voting rights and anti-voting suppression," she said.

The 41-year-old CEO of Trinity Health Care Services has never held elected office before. She tried and failed to unseat Hastings in the 2018 and 2020 Democratic primaries.

Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick with husband and children at election night party, Jan. 11, 2022
Democrat Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick is flanked by her husband Corlie McCormick, right, and her two children as she speaks to the media and supporters at an election night party after winning a special election, Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Cherfilus-McCormick poured plenty of money into her election campaign, spending heavily on television advertising and signage to emerge victorious in what was a crowded Democratic primary. Most of the campaign dollars were spent before the primary.

"The people have spoken, and the people have spoken very loudly," she said of the election.

While her victory was resounding, Cherfilus-McCormick won't have much time to celebrate. Because the special election was to fill the remainder of Hastings' term, Cherfilus-McCormick will have to compete in another primary in August if she wants a shot at a full term.

Former Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness, who lost the special primary election to Cherfilus-McCormick by five votes, has already filed paperwork to run again in 2022.

WPTV DMA Congressional District Map