The Puerto Rican population in Central Florida continues to grow and the main beneficiary at the state level has been Darren Soto.
While he’s far from being right of center, Soto is about as good as conservatives can hope for from his liberal Democratic district. Soto has gotten the backing of business groups over the years. The Florida Chamber of Commerce endorsed him for an open Senate seat in 2012 over Republican lawyer Will McBride. The Associated Industries of Florida (AIF) is backing Soto this year. Soto doesn’t always vote with Republicans but he’s generally gotten high enough marks from AIF and the Florida Chamber to be an ally on economic and fiscal issues more often than not.
Like other Democrats before him in recent years, including Joe Abruzzo who has a similar record, Soto has found life much easier in the Senate than in the House. Soto, who studied law at George Washington University, is currently the vice chairman of the Judiciary Committee and is the minority whip. Back in the House, Soto’s attempts to move up the leadership ladder failed, especially when he hitched his wagon to Joe Gibbons.
Soto is not leaving Tallahassee anytime soon. After he crushed McBride at the polls, Republicans decided not to challenge Soto this time out. He’s not the most impressive of fundraisers but he doesn’t need to be this time out. By July 18, he had raised $62,500 and spent $15,500 of it.
Standing in Soto’s way is small-business owner Devin Norton who is running with no party affiliation. Norton has raised $3,050 since getting in back in June and he spent almost $1,200 of it. That won’t be enough to make him competitive in Central Florida.
Democrats have a thin bench in Florida which gives Soto more room to make his mark. It’s not unreasonable to see Soto moving up the ladder and leading his party in the Florida Senate. That would put him in a strong position for the future. With a growing Puerto Rican population in Central Florida, Soto could be in good shape to head to Congress if redistricting goes his way. He also has the credentials to be a solid attorney general candidate, at least on paper, and he does have youth on his side.
Regardless of where he goes, Soto is well-positioned to be a factor in the Senate for years to come. With Democrats looking for young stars, Soto could be a bright one for them, representing an expanding constituency in a key part of the state.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.