Florida’s Darren Soto Easily Holds Off Alan Grayson Comeback Bid

Grayson was trying to reclaim his old 9th District seat

Florida Rep. Darren Soto easily won his Democratic primary against his predecessor Tuesday night. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Freshman Democrat Darren Soto, the first Florida congressman of Puerto Rican descent, easily beat back a comeback bid by his predecessor, former Rep. Alan Grayson.

With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Soto led Grayson 66 percent to 34 percent when The Associated Press called the race.

Grayson vacated the 9th District seat in 2016 for an ultimately unsuccessful run for the Democratic Senate nomination. He ran an aggressive campaign this year, attacking Soto for his previous support from the National Rifle Association and what Grayson described as his inadequate response to Hurricanes Irma and Maria, according to The (Lakeland) Ledger.

But Soto had endorsements from the AFL-CIO, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Organization of Women and the League of Conservation Voters PAC.

Soto next faces a rematch with Wayne Liebnitzky, who ran unopposed in the GOP primary. He defeated him by 15 points in 2016. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Solid Democratic.

5th District

Another freshman Democrat held off a primary challenge in the safe Democratic 5th District.

With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Rep. Al Lawson led former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown 60 percent to 40 percent, according to the AP.

Much of the apparent threat to Lawson had worn off by primary day, with recent polls showing the incumbent with a comfortable lead.

The candidates had similar profiles. Both are African-American men with experience in local government. Lawson, 69, was a state representative and state senator for decades.

They both supported impeachment of President Donald Trump, opposed repealing the 2010 health care law and wanted to expand health care programs.

Brown, 56, attempted to paint his opponent as insufficiently progressive, calling him, “Trump’s favorite Democrat,” for standing and applauding a line about lower unemployment rates for minorities during this year’s State of the Union address. Brown also criticized Lawson for supporting Florida’s “stand your ground” legislation in 2005. Lawson now says he supports repealing that law.

Lawson, also a longtime insurance firm owner, easily beat former Rep. Corrine Brown while she was battling federal corruption charges in the 2016 primary.

He will meet Republican Virginia Fuller, who ran unopposed, in November. Hillary Clinton easily carried the district with 61 percent in 2016, and Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Solid Democratic.

Here are a look at the other competitive primary races Tuesday in the Sunshine State.

Competitive seats

7th District 

Freshman Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy easily fended off a primary challenge from a progressive candidate backed by New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Murphy led Chardo Richardson 86 percent to 14 percent when the AP called the race.

Murphy had a massive fundraising advantage. She raised almost $2.5 million compared to Richardson’s $40,000, as of Aug. 8. She also had powerful endorsements from the Florida Education Association and the AFL-CIO.

Murphy will face state Rep. Mike Miller in November. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Miller led with 54 percent of the vote in the three-way primary, according to the AP.

Republicans have identified Murphy as a target, but Inside Elections currently rates the race Leans Democratic.

16th District 

Six-term GOP incumbent Vern Buchanan, one of the wealthiest members of the House, has coasted in his previous two re-elections, but Democrats are targeting the seat this year.

Buchanan, who ran unopposed in the GOP primary Tuesday, has a November matchup against lawyer David Shapiro, who defeated perennial candidate Jan Schneider on the Democratic side. 

With 98 percent of precincts reporting, Shapiro led with 55 percent of the vote when the AP called the race.

Shapiro had the support of the DCCC and had endorsements from former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the Democratic Environmental Caucus.

Trump carried the district by 11 points in 2016. Inside Elections rates the general election Likely Republican.

Buchanan, who had $2.2 million in receipts and $2.1 million on hand as of Aug. 8, was already targeting Shapiro in attack ads before the primary.

Democrats have pointed out that Buchanan bought a yacht the same day House Republicans passed their tax overhaul last year, trying to play that up as an example of the bill benefiting the wealthy.

18th District 

Lauren Baer easily won the Democratic nod to challenge freshman GOP Rep. Brian Mast.

With 74 percent of precincts reporting, Baer led 2016 Senate candidate Pam Keith 60 percent to 40 percent when the AP called the race.

Baer is a former senior policy adviser at the State Department and U.S. mission to the United Nations. The DCCC added her to its Red to Blue program for promising recruits in February. 

Inside Elections rates the race Likely Republican.

26th District

As expected, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell will take on GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo in one of the state’s most competitive races.

With 85 percent of precincts reporting, Mucarsel-Powell led with 64 percent of the vote when the AP called the race.

Inside Elections rates the race Tilts Republican.

27th District

Former Clinton Cabinet secretary Donna Shalala won the Democratic nomination Tuesday for the seat vacated by longtime GOP Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. She will next meet former TV news anchor Maria Elvira Salazar, who easily won the GOP nod. 

Inside Elections rates the race Leans Democratic. 

Solid Republican seats

6th District

Veteran Michael Waltz has won the GOP nomination for the seat Rep. Ron DeSantis vacated to run for governor.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Waltz led with 42 percent of the vote when The Associated Press called the race. DeSantis easily won the Republican gubernatorial nod earlier.

Waltz will next meet Democrat Nancy Soderberg, a former United Nations ambassador during the Clinton administration. With 98 percent of precincts reporting, she led a three-way Democratic field with 56 percent of the vote.

The Republican primary between Waltz, John Ward and Fred Costello was largely a competition over who would best represent President Trump’s interests in the House.

Waltz, an Afghan war veteran and onetime aide to former Vice President Dick Cheney, led in recent polls, and was also an effective fundraiser, raising over $1 million as of Aug. 8, the end of the pre-primary reporting period.

But Soderberg, who has been added to the DCCC’s Red to Blue program for promising recruits, outraised him, taking in $1.7 million through Aug. 8.

15th District

State Rep. Ross Spano won a five-way GOP primary to replace retiring Republican Rep. Dennis A. Ross.

With 98 percent of precincts reporting, he led former state Rep. Neil Combee 44 percent to 34 percent, according to the AP.

Spano, who was backed by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, was temporarily forced off the campaign trail last month after suffering what his campaign referred to a “mild cardiac event.” 

He will next meet lawyer Kristen Carlson who easily won the Democratic primary Tuesday. With 98 percent of precincts reporting, she led Navy veteran Andrew Learned 54 percent to 32 percent, according to the AP. 

Trump carried the district by 10 points in 2016, while Mitt Romney did so by 6 points four years earlier. 

17th District 

In the 17th District, vacated by GOP Rep. Tom Rooney, state Sen. Greg Steube won the Republican nomination and is likely coming to Congress next year from the safe GOP seat. 

With 80 percent of precincts reporting, Steube led with 62 percent of the vote when the AP called the race.

He ran with the support of the Club for Growth, while GOP Sen. Marco Rubio and the Conservative Leadership Alliance had backed state Rep. Julio Gonzalez.

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