TWO FLORIDA CONGRESSMEN LOSE TO CHALLENGERS

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TALLAHASSEE, FL — Both incumbents — one Democrat and one Republican — lost their seats Tuesday in Florida’s two most hotly-contested congressional races.

One-term Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia lost to Republican challenger Carlos Curbelo 51.56 percent to 48.44 percent in the 26th Congressional District, which includes parts of Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.

And Democratic challenger Gwen Graham — daughter of former governor and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham — ousted two-term incumbent Steve Southerland, a Panama City Republican who was elected in the tea-party wave of 2010. Graham garnered just over 50 percent of the vote to 49.4 percent for Southerland, making her the first woman to represent Northwest Florida’s 2nd Congressional District.

Garcia and Southerland had been considered two of the most vulnerable incumbents in the country — which drew national endorsements and large sums to both districts.

Southerland estimated that the 2nd Congressional District had attracted $14 million or $15 million to the two candidates and their outside allies.

The races also drew large amounts of vitriol.

Graham was elected by 2,420 votes — about 1 percent, Bob Graham told cheering supporters at the Florida State University Center Club.

And Gwen Graham said she’d spoken with Southerland, “and he was very gracious…I thanked him for his service to the district.”

Garcia, after one term that was hobbled by scandals involving two former aides, lost to Curbelo, a well-funded Miami-Dade School Board member. Garcia, who was elected to the seat on his third try, has denied knowing that his chief of staff set up a plot to make fake online requests for absentee ballots in the 2012 contest. The chief of staff wound up resigning and going to jail for 90 days.

Curbelo, 34, owns a political consulting firm called Capitol Gains. He served as state director for U.S. Sen. George LeMieux before winning his seat on the school board in 2010.

Garcia released a statement saying that he called Curbelo and conceded, adding that he hoped Curbelo ” will serve, as I have, by putting the people of South Florida over party politics.”

In another South Florida Congressional race, incumbent Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy held on to his Treasure Coast area seat, defeating Republican challenger Carl Domino, a former state House member.