- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 19, 2015

UNDATED (AP) - Former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Lenny Curry defeated Democratic incumbent Mayor Alvin Brown on Tuesday with help from powerful friends like Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Curry was able to tap into friendships he earned while leading the state GOP as well as party resources to defeat Brown, who four years ago became Jacksonville’s first black mayor and the first Democrat to win the position in 20 years.

Brown narrowly won office then by positioning himself as a conservative Democrat who tried to avoid partisan politics. He said he wanted to work with Republican Gov. Rick Scott to bring jobs to the area and upset local Democrats by not appearing with President Barack Obama at a 2012 campaign rally.

The opposite is true for Curry, who made it clear he’s a conservative Republican.

When Curry left his position with the Republican party last year while Scott was battling for re-election, Brown’s approval rating was hovering around 70 percent with crossover support from Republicans.

But Curry was able to use his experience at the party to help build his support, particularly with data-driven campaign techniques. He also repeatedly hit Brown with a message that the mayor was to blame for a spike in violent crime because of cuts at the police department and for budget problems in the city.

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry campaigned with Curry, as did Rubio. Bush taped a video for him. All three are eyeing the White House and realize Jacksonville, Florida’s largest city, will be a key area if they want to carry the state in 2016.

That point was made clear by the current state Republican Party chairman.

“This race captured the nation’s attention, and with all eyes on Jacksonville we were able to deliver an important win. This victory is a clear, strong preview of the successful community engagement and digital outreach we plan to execute across Florida for the 2016 elections,” state GOP Chairman Blaise Ingoglia said in a statement issued by the party.

Unlike four years ago, when Brown won by shunning partisan politics, his campaign found itself needing to explain to the Democratic Party base when he would associate with Scott and not Obama. Campaign volunteers were trained to answer those questions for skeptical Democrats.

Although earlier this year Brown attended a tea party luncheon, in the last few weeks of the campaign he began touting Democratic platforms like raising the minimum wage.

“You have an incumbent with a good approval rating and who cut unemployment in half in the city and he ended up losing,” said University of North Florida political science professor Matthew Corrigan. “He was caught between trying to get a liberal Democratic base out and trying to appear middle of the road or conservative. … To go from meeting with a tea party group to endorsing a minimum wage increase, that was a very inconsistent message.”

Brown led all candidates with 43 percent of the vote in a March election, but a runoff was required because no candidates earned more than 50 percent.

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