Florida primary roundup: GOP gets preferred challenger to Mucarsel-Powell, Posey survives

Seven House seats in Sunshine State are party targets this year

Florida Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell will face Republican Carlos Gimenez in what is expected to be a hotly contested battle for the 26th District. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Florida Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell will face Republican Carlos Gimenez in what is expected to be a hotly contested battle for the 26th District. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted August 18, 2020 at 11:55pm

Florida voters can expect a marquee presidential battle between President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden this fall. But both parties are also targeting House seats in the perennial swing state, and Tuesday night’s primaries set the matchups in a handful of races expected to be competitive.

Republicans are most bullish about their prospects in the 26th District in South Florida, where Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez won his primary to take on freshman Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell.

GOP efforts to increase their female ranks in the House got another boost Tuesday, with voters picking women as their nominees in the Democratic-held 13th and 27th districts. In the open 3rd District, former Capitol Hill aide Kat Cammack is likely coming to Congress after winning a crowded GOP primary to succeed her onetime boss, Rep. Ted Yoho. Cammack’s win continues a recent streak of sorts for the GOP after female candidates won competitive open-seat primaries in Michigan and Tennessee earlier this month.

Democrats picked Navy veteran Pam Keith to take on two-term Republican Brian Mast in the 18th District. The party is also targeting the 15th District, where freshman incumbent Ross Spano was upset in a GOP primary Tuesday night.

Meanwhile, the GOP race to succeed retiring Republican Francis Rooney in the deep-red 19th District remained uncalled at press time, though state Rep. Byron Donalds, who was narrowly leading a nine-way field, had declared victory. If elected, Donalds is likely to be the only Black Republican in Florida’s congressional delegation. 

GOP targets

In the Miami-area 26th District, Gimenez was leading firefighter Omar Blanco 60 percent to 40 percent when The Associated Press called the race at 8:47 p.m. Eastern time.

Republicans have rallied around Gimenez, who they see as ideally positioned to flip the seat Mucarsel-Powell won by just 2 points in 2018.

But Mucarsel-Powell, who was unopposed in the Democratic primary, starts the race with a financial advantage: She had $2.8 million in the bank to Gimenez’s $882,000 on July 29.

Trump lost the district by 16 points in 2016, though Republicans have done better here in down-ballot races. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Tilt Democratic.

The neighboring 27th District will see a rematch between freshman Democrat Donna E. Shalala and Republican Maria Elvira Salazar. Shalala flipped the longtime GOP seat in 2018, defeating the former TV anchor by 6 points.

Salazar was leading a three-way GOP field with 79 percent of the vote when the AP called the race just before 8:30 p.m. Eastern time.

Both Shalala, who ran unopposed in the Democratic primary, and Salazar have been strong fundraisers. Shalala raised $2.6 million through July 29, and had $1.8 million in the bank. Salazar took in $1.9 million, including a $120,000 loan to her campaign, and had $1.2 million on hand. 

Trump lost the district by 20 points in 2016. Inside Elections rates the race Solid Democratic.

In the 13th District in the Tampa Bay area, Air Force veteran and conservative media personality Anna Paulina Luna won a five-way GOP race with 36 percent of the vote to challenge two-term Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist. 

Luna raised $998,000 though July 29 and had $319,000 left in the bank. She was endorsed by Rep. Matt Gaetz, whose proximity to President Donald Trump has made him a powerful force in the Florida GOP. 

Crist, who was unopposed in the Democratic primary, has raised $2.2 million and had banked $3.1 million on July 29. 

Trump lost the 13th District by 3 points in 2016. Inside Elections rates the race Solid Democratic.

The GOP contest for the 7th District in the Orlando area remained uncalled at press time. Radiologist Leo Valentin, the top Republican fundraiser, was leading businessman Richard Goble 39 percent to 37 percent. Two-term Rep. Stephanie Murphy was unopposed in the Democratic primary.

Democratic targets

In the 18th District along Florida’s Treasure Coast, Keith, a lawyer who also ran for the seat two years ago, easily won the Democratic nomination to challenge Mast.

She was leading lawyer Oz Vazquez 80 percent to 20 percent when the AP called the race just before 9 p.m. Eastern time. 

On the GOP side, Mast easily defeated retired New York City police officer Nick Vessio, who had questioned the incumbent’s loyalty to Trump. 

Mast raised $3.9 million through July 29 and had $1.8 million in the bank. EDF Action Votes, a super PAC promoting the Environmental Defense Fund, spent $100,000 on TV ads during the primary to promote his work to protect the Florida coast. 

Trump won the district by 9 points in 2016. Inside Elections rates the general election Solid Republican. 

Democrats’ hopes of flipping the 15th District, which stretches from the Tampa suburbs to Lakeland, got more difficult Tuesday night after Spano was upset in a Republican primary by Navy veteran and Lakeland City Commissioner Scott Franklin. Democrats saw the incumbent who is under federal investigation and could lose his law license for alleged campaign finance violations over loans he gave his 2018 campaign as the easier target.

Former TV anchor Alan Cohn won a three-way Democratic primary Tuesday with 41 percent of the vote. State. Rep. Adam Hattersley was in second place with 33 percent. 

Trump carried the district by 10 points in 2016. Inside Elections rates the general election Lean Republican.

Democrats are also targeting seven-term GOP Rep. Vern Buchanan in the 16th District, which includes Sarasota and Bradenton and backed Trump by 11 points. Buchanan and Democrat Margaret Good were unopposed in their primaries Tuesday. Inside Elections rates the race Likely Republican.

Safe GOP seats

In the 3rd District in North Central Florida, Cammack won a 10-person GOP primary for the seat Yoho is vacating after four terms. 

She was leading with 25 percent of the vote when the AP called the race just after 9 p.m. Eastern time. Businessman Judson Sapp was in second with 20 percent.

Cammack, a longtime aide to Yoho whose ads have compared D.C. lawmakers to chickens on her farm, was the top fundraiser in the field, bringing in $492,000 through July 29, and had $98,000 on hand. 

The libertarian Protect Freedom PAC has spent $320,000 on direct mail and media placement supporting Cammack.

The Democratic primary remained uncalled at press time, but Cammack starts the general election as the favorite in a seat that Trump won by 16 points in 2016. Inside Elections rates the race Solid Republican.

In the 8th District, Republican incumbent Bill Posey fended off a challenge from retired Air Force veteran Scott Caine. The six-term lawmaker was leading 63 percent to 38 percent when the AP called the race at 8:08 p.m. Eastern time. 

Posey, a member of the hard-line conservative House Freedom Caucus, had Trump’s endorsement. But Caine argued that Posey had committed an unforgivable act of disloyalty as the lone Republican co-sponsor of a resolution this spring “condemning all forms of anti-Asian sentiment as related to COVID-19.” 

Caine, who raised $201,000 to Posey’s $727,000 through July 29, highlighted that legislation in a 30-second television ad that declared the incumbent had “turned his back” on the president. 

A member of the House Financial Services and Science, Space and Technology committees, Posey has been a fervent advocate of the air and space industry, a crucial employer in the “Space Coast” district that includes the Kennedy Space Center.

Caine was his first serious challenger since he was first elected to the House in 2008.

Posey will face Navy veteran Jim Kennedy, who was unopposed in the Democratic primary. 

Trump won the 8th District by 21 points in 2016. Inside Elections rates the race Solid Republican.

Andrew Menezes contributed to this report.