Byron Donalds leading in Florida GOP primary, raising party’s diversity hopes

Fall matchups also set in potentially competitive Alaska and for Orlando-area seat GOP is targeting

Florida state Rep. Byron Donalds declared victory Tuesday in the crowded and expensive Republican primary for the open 19th District.  (Steve Cannon/AP file photo)
Florida state Rep. Byron Donalds declared victory Tuesday in the crowded and expensive Republican primary for the open 19th District. (Steve Cannon/AP file photo)
Posted August 19, 2020 at 5:26pm

Byron Donalds was leading a crowded Republican primary field in Florida’s 19th District, as signs pointed Wednesday to the Black state lawmaker besting eight other contenders in the race to replace retiring GOP Rep. Francis Rooney. 

As of Wednesday afternoon, Donalds had 23 percent of the vote, just 774 votes ahead of Dane Eagle, his colleague in the Florida Statehouse, who was in second place with 22 percent. Fast food mogul Casey Askar was in third, with 20 percent.

The Associated Press had not called the race by Wednesday afternoon, citing “an unknown number of absentee ballots left to be counted.” The House GOP’s campaign arm has also not issued a news release touting Donalds, as they often do for primary winners.

But Eagle posted Wednesday afternoon on Facebook that he had conceded.

Donalds declared victory at a crowded indoor watch party after polls closed Tuesday night. 

“The principles of liberty are not just for country club Republicans, they are also for poor, Black kids who grew up in Brooklyn, New York,” said Donalds, who, like other attendees shown in a video posted on his Facebook page, was not wearing a mask.

Also on Wednesday, radiologist Leo Valentin was declared the winner of an expensive three-way Republican primary to challenge two-term Democrat Stephanie Murphy in the Orlando-area 7th District.

Alaska also had primaries Tuesday night, and Democrats picked orthopedic surgeon and commercial fisherman Al Gross and education advocate Alyse Galvin, both independents running on the Democratic ticket, as their respective Senate and House nominees. Gross next faces GOP Sen. Dan Sullivan, while Galvin will take Republican Don Young, the longest-serving member of the House. 

A more diverse GOP

Donalds’ victory is a boost to national Republicans’ efforts to promote the diversity of their recruits at a time when President Donald Trump has maligned the Black Lives Matter movement and embraced a Georgia GOP nominee with a history of expressing extremist views on race and religion. 

“The left wants you to think being Republican means being privileged, racist and out of touch,” Donalds said in a video launching his campaign. 

“I’m everything the fake news media tells you doesn’t exist: A strong, Trump-supporting, gun-owning, liberty-loving, pro-life, politically incorrect Black man,” he said.

The only current Black Republican in the House, Texas’ Will Hurd, decided not to seek reelection this year. Other Black Republicans have won House primaries, but Donalds is the first in a safe GOP seat. Only a handful of Black GOP nominees, including Burgess Owens in Utah’s 4th District and Wesley Hunt in Texas’ 7th, are in races expected to be competitive in November.

Only one Black Republican, Michigan’s John James, is expected to be in a competitive race for Senate this fall.  

Losing candidates spent millions of their own

The battle in Florida’s 19th District, which includes Fort Myers and Naples, was among the most expensive GOP House primaries of the cycle. 

Donalds raised $1.1 million through July 29 and had $300,000 on hand, but he was outspent by Askar and urologist William Figlesthaler, who financed their campaigns with $3 million and $1.9 million loans. Figlesthaler was in fourth place, with 18 points, on Wednesday afternoon. 

Donalds benefited from a flood of outside spending in the race, most of which went to boost his campaign and attack his opponents. 

The majority of that spending came from the anti-tax Club for Growth, which backed its endorsement of Donalds with $2.5 million in spending on the primary. Another group, Conservative Outsider PAC, which Florida Politics reported has financial ties to the club, spent $460,000.

Donalds received an additional $94,000 in outside support from Americans for Prosperity Action, the Koch network’s super PAC arm, and two other groups. 

Honesty America, a super PAC with ties to Askar’s campaign, spent $150,000 opposing Donalds, Figlesthaler and Eagle. 

Eagle received $200,000 in support from a group called Concerned Conservatives, which spent another $200,000 opposing Donalds and Figlesthaler. The Daily Beast reported this month that the group was funded by Eagle’s state-level PAC. 

Donalds was the subject of attacks about youthful criminal convictions for marijuana and bribery charges that he made central to a personal redemption narrative. He also sent Askar’s campaign a cease-and-desist letter for alleging that Donalds had supported Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns. 

On the Democratic side, college professor Cindy Banyai won a two-way primary with 58 percent of the vote.

The 19th District backed Trump by 22 points in 2016. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the November race Solid Republican.

Battle to challenge Murphy

The three Republicans running in the 7th District to challenge Murphy also put their own money into the race and spent big on the primary.

Valentin raised $500,000 through July 29, after loaning himself $200,000, and he had $185,000 left in the bank. 

Murphy was unopposed in the Democratic primary and had $1.4 million in the bank on July 29. 

Trump lost the district by 7 points in 2016. Inside Elections rates the race Solid Democratic

Alaska matchups set

In Alaska, Gross was leading the three-way Senate primary with 75 percent of the vote when the AP called the race. He had $2.9 million in cash on hand at July 29. Sullivan, who was unopposed in the primary, had $5.3 million.

Inside Elections rates the race Likely Republican

Galvin was leading the three-way race for the state’s at-large House seat with 81 percent when the AP called the race, earning her a rematch with Young, who defeated her by 7 points in 2018.

Young won a three-way primary of his own Tuesday night with 77 percent of the vote. Galvin starts the race with a financial edge: She had $1.4 million in the bank on July 29 to Young’s $711,000.

Inside Elections rates the race Likely Republican