Results in the House District 120 Republican primary race were difficult to call Tuesday night — so close, there could be a recount.
By press time, Islamorada candidate James “Jim” Mooney appeared to be the winner. Although he trailed way behind candidates Rhonda Rebman Lopez and Alexandria Suarez in Miami-Dade County, where about half the district’s voters live, he had enough support in the Keys to pull through by about 100 votes.
Late Tuesday, Mooney, a real estate agent and elected member of the Islamorada Village Council, had 4,613 votes to Rebman Lopez’s 4,506 and Suarez’s 3,977.
All of the Keys is in the district, which includes some of South Dade, where Rebman Lopez and Suarez were in a tight battle among mailed-in, early and Election Day votes.
In Monroe County, Mooney won 3,962 votes to Rebman Lopez’s 2,801. Suarez came in third in the Keys with 2,317 votes from the island chain.
But Mooney woke up Tuesday with 520 votes in Miami-Dade County to Rebman Lopez’s 1,268 votes and Suarez’s 1,164.
In the end, he had less than 20 percent of the mainland vote.
Mooney declined to comment. Max Losner, Rebman Lopez’s spokesman, said the campaign was waiting for all the Miami-Dade votes to come in before commenting. Suarez could not immediately be reached.
If Mooney loses in a recount, it could mark the first time in decades the Keys would have no representation in the Legislature.
The winner will face Democrat Clint Barras in the general election in November. Barras is vice president of a Key West-based digital development company.
Rebman Lopez, while she owns a house in Key Largo, into which she moved after registering to run in the 2020 election, lived outside of the district in Miami-Dade until earlier this year and helps her family run its Doral-based electrical distribution business.
Suarez is a prosecutor with the Monroe County State Attorney’s Office, but lives in Homestead.
The race will be remembered locally as one of the most negative in recent memory due to a series of mailers and text messages paid for and sent by multiple political action committees.
Most of the PACs have the same Tallahassee mailing addresses, and one, South Florida First, is chaired by Rebman Lopez.
Among other accusations, the ads called Mooney a communist sympathizer, a “tax and spend liberal” and a politician who wants to “pave over farmland.”
Rebman Lopez denied funding or sending the attack ads, saying recently that as chair, she’s “just a figurehead.” But she also didn’t disavow them, calling them a response to ads targeting her that she blamed on Mooney.
“Let me tell you this, if South Florida First sent that out, they sent that out defending me against Mooney’s lies,” Rebman Lopez told Bill Becker, who hosts a local news radio show on 104.1 U.S. 1 Radio.
Rebman Lopez far outraised her opponents, with $246,007 in her war chest by the end of the campaign. Meanwhile, with $130,319, Mooney raised more cash than Suarez, whose campaign had $52,866 in donations.
Although Rebman Lopez was well-funded, Mooney had the backing of GOP heavy hitters, including the current District 120 representative, Holly Raschein.
State Sen. Anitere Flores, the term-limited representative of District 39 that includes the Keys, also endorsed Mooney.