Politics

GOP Rep. Brian Mast Gets Pro-Gun Primary Challenger

Florida congressman flipped on firearms after Parkland shooting, defying GOP and gun lobby

Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., got a pro-gun primary challenger Wednesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rep. Brian Mast will face off against a pro-gun primary challenger in November, just months after the first-term congressman flipped to support a host of gun control measures after the February school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Physician Mark Freeman is re-upping his 2016 campaign this November with a pledge to “defend the Second Amendment” and be an “unwavering partner” to President Donald Trump, he said Wednesday in a press release to the Broward County Sun-Sentinel.

Mast, a Republican from Florida’s 18th District, received an A rating and financial support from the National Rifle Association during his 2016 campaign, when he defeated the mostly self-funded Freeman by 23 points in the GOP primary. Freeman placed third in that race.

But after an AR-15-wielding gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Valentine’s Day, Mast announced that he would support, among other measures, an assault weapons ban, more extensive background checks for gun buyers, and raising the minimum age for purchasing certain guns.

“I respect Brian Mast. I have met him and sincerely appreciate his military sacrifice,” Freeman said of the former U.S. Army explosives technician, who lost both his legs in 2010 in Afghanistan after he stepped on an improvised bomb.

“However, as much as we all admire his military career, his political career and record is an entirely different matter,” Freeman said. “We absolutely need a representative with true conservative values, a representative who speaks, represents and legislates without regard for personal political ambition.”

Freeman believes he is that candidate.

“As a successful businessman and professional, I have the background and the skills,” he said. “My values stem from my Christian faith. And not being an ‘establishment candidate’ will ensure that I always maintain the proper perspective.”

Freeman did not come close to defeating Mast in 2016 despite deep pockets on the campaign trail.

His campaign spent nearly $2 million just in the primary after he wrote it a loan worth more than $1.6 million, per Federal Elections Commission data.

If he launches a similar effort for this year’s August 28 primary, that could force Mast to spend more than he wants to before the general election campaign.

Mast, no fundraising slouch, had $1.5 million cash on hand at the end of the first filing quarter.

Florida’s 18th District is expected to remain in GOP hands after Trump carried it by 9 points in 2016.

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Solid Republican.

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