What happens when redistricting produces big changes in the third- and fourth-most populous states in the country? You get a bunch of fascinating primaries. Florida and New York have a huge number on tap today, along with a couple primary runoffs of interest in Oklahoma. My colleague Nathaniel Rakich covered the Empire State’s multitude of high-profile races yesterday, so now we’ll run through the 11 primaries to watch in Florida and two runoffs in Oklahoma.
Races to watch: 1st, 4th, 7th, 10th, 11th, 13th, 15th, 20th, 23rd and 27th congressional districts; governor
Polls close: 7 p.m. Eastern
At the top of the ballot, Florida Democrats must pick their nominee in the race for governor against Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, and there are two key contenders in that race: Rep. Charlie Crist, a former Republican governor and failed 2014 Democratic gubernatorial nominee, and Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried, whose narrow 2018 win marks the only statewide victory by a Florida Democrat since 2012.
Most polls since June have put Crist ahead, including a poll released Monday from St. Pete Polls/FloridaPolitics.com that found him leading 59 percent to 30 percent, which echoed findings from earlier this month. And recent polls conducted on behalf of Crist’s campaign have shown him ahead as well, as did Fried’s latest poll, a Public Policy Polling survey conducted two weeks ago that found Crist ahead 42 percent to 35 percent. In something of an outlier, however, another recent poll from the University of North Florida found Fried narrowly ahead, 47 percent to 43 percent, so she can’t be written off.
In her efforts to overcome Crist’s edge, Fried has tried to use Crist’s past association with the GOP against him, especially on the issue of abortion. She has claimed Crist opposes abortion rights, and her political action committee has run ads criticizing Crist for appointing an anti-abortion state Supreme Court justice during his tenure as governor. Fried has also attacked Crist for his work as a state legislator in the 1990s to pass mandatory minimums for prison time, an issue that has disproportionately affected communities of color.
Crist has shot back, however, with ads highlighting his 2010 veto of Republican-backed legislation to restrict abortion rights and his high ratings from pro-abortion rights organizations. He’s also hit Fried for her past support of some GOP politicians and for her association with Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, who is under investigation for violating sex trafficking laws. Crist has had the financial upper hand, too, as he and his PAC have spent about twice as much on ads as Fried, $4.9 million to $2.4 million. He’s also received backing from major labor groups such as the AFL-CIO and Service Employees International Union.
But whoever advances out of the Democratic primary will face an uphill fight against DeSantis in November. FiveThirtyEight’s 2022 midterm election forecast gives the rumored 2024 presidential contender about a 9 in 10 chance of winning, aided by the eye-popping $135 million or so in his campaign account, a figure that dwarfs the war chests of Crist and Fried.
As for Florida’s high-profile congressional primaries, most are taking place in seats that are relatively safe for one party, as 25 of the state’s 28 districts are rated “solid Democratic” or “solid Republican,” according to our election forecast. In fact, there’s only one must-watch House primary that involves the underdog party, and that’s in the 27th District, which on paper is the most competitive seat in Florida with a FiveThirtyEight partisan lean of D+1.1 Democrats face an uphill battle against first-term Republican Rep. María Elvira Salazar, who is Cuban American, in this heavily Latino district in Miami, but state Sen. Annette Taddeo and Miami City Commissioner Ken Russell are fighting for the Democratic nomination in the hopes of springing an upset.
Taddeo dropped out of the governor’s race in early June to run for this House seat instead, but despite her late entry she appears favored over Russell. Taddeo has raised $681,000 in less than three months and had $428,000 in the bank as of Aug. 3. Meanwhile, Russell has raised $1.9 million, but he only had $245,000 remaining to fend off Taddeo. Russell has also potentially alienated some Miami liberals with his votes for projects backed by real estate developers. By comparison, Taddeo has racked up endorsements from Florida-based Democrats and labor forces as well as national groups such as EMILY’s List, the gun-safety-focused Giffords PAC and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. There haven’t been any independent primary surveys, but a poll from SEA Polling & Strategic Design on behalf of Taddeo found her up 51 percent to 15 percent over Russell in late June.
Staying in South Florida but moving a few miles north around Fort Lauderdale, Republicans could conceivably make a play for the 23rd District, which opened up after Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch announced he will resign this fall to become CEO of the American Jewish Committee. However, because the seat is D+9, it’s likely the Democratic primary between Broward County Commissioner Jared Moskowitz and Fort Lauderdale City Commissioner Ben Sorensen will determine the seat’s eventual winner.
Moskowitz looks favored here, although we have no public polling to go on. Moskowitz has the edge in the money race, having raised $1.3 million to Sorensen’s $606,000 while also attracting $642,000 in outside spending support, according to OpenSecrets, with about two-thirds coming from cryptocurrency-funded groups Protect Our Future and Web3 Forward. Moskowitz has also attracted a bevy of endorsements from labor unions and advocacy groups like Giffords PAC and the League of Conservation Voters in addition to major political figures like the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. However, Sorensen has tried to paint Moskowitz as too chummy with DeSantis, who is anathema to Florida Democrats, because DeSantis previously appointed Moskowitz as Florida’s state emergency management agency director and then to his current post as a Broward County commissioner.
The other notable South Florida primary is in the deep blue 20th District, a plurality-Black seat represented by Democratic Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick. She won the seat in a January special election, but the real race was in the November Democratic primary, where she defeated former Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness by just five votes in a crowded race. Now Holness is back for a rematch, and he’s cast Cherfilus-McCormick as corrupt because of the timing of contracts awarded to her company and the sizable self-funding of her own campaign. But Holness only had $79,000 in his account for the final stretch. By contrast, Cherfilus-McCormick had $1.4 million, and she has the backing of the other leading opponents in last year’s special election primary. A June poll from RMG Research/U.S. Term Limits found her leading Holness 45 percent to 21 percent in the primary.
Shifting our sights to central Florida, the GOP primary will probably pick the next representative from the Tampa Bay-area 13th District, a seat that Crist left behind to run for governor and that shifted from R+1 to R+12 in redistricting. For much of the campaign, Air Force veteran Anna Paulina Luna looked like the front-runner, as she’d given Crist a close race in 2020 and has former President Donald Trump’s endorsement. But recent polls suggest attorney Kevin Hayslett could upend Luna in the Republican primary. A mid-August survey from St. Pete Polls/FloridaPolitics.com found Luna at 37 percent and Hayslett at 34 percent, with political strategist Amanda Makki running in third with 14 percent (Luna and Makki faced off here in 2020). This result mirrored a late-July poll from American Viewpoint for Hayslett’s campaign that also gave Luna a lead that fell inside the margin of error.
Hayslett and his allies have portrayed him as the Trumpier candidate to undermine Luna’s claims to that mantle. Hayslett has raised $1.6 million, which he’s used on ads aligning himself with Trump and DeSantis on immigration, claiming he’ll “seal the border” while arguing Luna supports former President Barack Obama’s pathway to citizenship approach for undocumented immigrants. Hayslett has also highlighted his background as a prosecutor, especially his work against drug cartels, and a super PAC backing his candidacy has spent $2.4 million hitting on the same messages. But Luna has raised almost $2 million, and she’s been aided by $3.2 million in spending from groups like Club for Growth Action and Conservative Outsider PAC, which have defended Luna as an opponent of undocumented immigration, promoted Trump’s endorsement of her and attacked Hayslett for his opposition to Trump in 2016. The winner will face former Defense Department official Eric Lynn, who is unopposed in the Democratic primary.
Nearby, the newly-drawn 15th District east of Tampa is an R+7 seat that could be competitive in November, but its crowded GOP primary will probably pick the district’s next representative. It’s not clear whom Republicans will back, but former Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee, state Sen. Kelli Stargel and state Rep. Jackie Toledo have emerged as the front-runners. We have a handful of independent polls of this primary, but they differ quite a bit. An early July poll by the Tyson Group found Stargel at 13 percent, followed by Lee and Toledo at 10 percent, and was used to set a qualification threshold for debates. But more recent surveys in early August and just before the primary by St. Pete Polls/FloridaPolitics.com found Lee in the mid-to-high 40s, well ahead of Stargel at around 20 percent and Toledo, who dropped into the single-digits in the later poll.
Lee’s lead could be down to her financial edge, especially her aid from outside groups. She has brought in $663,000 on her own, but the Conservative Action Fund and Americans for Prosperity have spent $1.4 million on her behalf. Stargel hasn’t raised as much — $348,000 ($100,000 from her own pocket) — but Conservative Warriors PAC has spent $946,000 supporting her or opposing Lee or Toledo. This has included ads portraying Lee as weak on election security because she didn’t support an audit of Florida’s 2020 results (note that Trump won Florida by 3 points). But Lee and her allies have tried to portray her as close to DeSantis, who is popular with Republicans, by running ads arguing that she was DeSantis’s pick “to safeguard our elections,” a clear play to GOP primary voters’ Trump-inspired concerns about election security. Toledo is also in the mix, having raised $559,000, but she hasn’t gotten much outside backing.
Another former swing seat that redistricting shifted heavily to the right is the 7th District north of Orlando, which went from D+5 to R+14. It’s an open seat, too, with Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy having announced her retirement in December. Eight Republicans are now seeking the open seat, although the contest has largely turned into a three-man race between Army veteran and businessman Cory Mills, state Rep. Anthony Sabatini and former Navy SEAL and Christian missionary Brady Duke.
Recent surveys from St. Pete Polls/FloridaPolitics.com have found Mills and Sabatini running neck and neck in the low 20s while Duke is just behind in the low-to-mid teens. Mills has raised $1.9 million, mostly through $1.5 million in self-funding, though. But he’s still managed to attract attention with an ad showing footage of law enforcement using crowd-control munitions (such as tear gas), which his company makes, against liberal protesters. Sabatini, a far-right figure who has the backing of Gaetz and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, has raised $1.2 million and received $568,000 in outside support. But Sabatini has a terrible relationship with his party’s leadership in Florida’s legislature, and a super PAC with unknown backers, American Liberty Action, has spent $1.4 million attacking him as the only Republican to vote against DeSantis’s 2022 budget proposal in addition to his past identification as a Democrat. Duke has actually led the fundraising race with $2.9 million in contributions, thanks in part to his appeal to evangelical Christians, and he’s argued his Navy SEAL experience has prepared him to take on the Democrats, who he says are “destroying America.”
West of Orlando, the GOP primary for the R+19 11th District features a contest between Rep. Daniel Webster and far-right activist Laura Loomer, who has called herself a “proud Islamophobe” and has been banned by multiple social-media platforms. As an incumbent, Webster is favored, but we can’t rule out Loomer surprising him. After all, she’s outraised Webster $763,000 to $595,000, and voters aren’t necessarily that familiar with him as Webster currently represents only about one-third of this district following redistricting. Still, Webster did enter the home stretch of the campaign with more than three times as much money as Loomer, $378,000 to $112,000. Loomer has tried to portray Webster, who is 73, as too old to be in Congress, but that’s a questionable line of attack in a district that includes The Villages, a huge and very Republican-leaning retirement community.
There’s also a crowded Democratic primary in the Orlando-based 10th District, which is open following Rep. Val Demings’s decision to challenge Republican Sen. Marco Rubio in Florida’s U.S. Senate race.2 With the seat’s D+29 partisan lean, the primary will decide the seat’s next occupant, and 10 Democrats have piled into the contest. The leading candidates appear to be gun safety activist Maxwell Alejandro Frost and state Sen. Randolph Bracy, but the field also includes pastor Terence Gray and two controversial blasts from the past in former Reps. Alan Grayson and Corrine Brown.
Frost seems favored at this point, as a Data for Progress poll conducted over the weekend found him leading with 34 percent, followed by Bracy at 18 percent and Grayson at 14 percent. Frost has also raised the most money ($1.5 million) and has benefited from $1.4 million in outside spending, mostly from Protect Our Future. The 25-year-old has campaigned on his progressive views — Rep. Ayanna Pressley of “The Squad,” a progressive group of lawmakers, mostly made up of women of color, has endorsed him — and his multiethnic background as a Black man raised by an adoptive Latina mother and white father might play well in a district with a voting-age population that’s 39 percent non-Hispanic white, 29 percent Latino and 23 percent Black.
It’s unclear if any of the other candidates can outpace Frost. Bracy, who is Black, has run on his legislative record but has raised just $517,000. Grayson, who is white, has long had a reputation as a liberal bomb thrower, but he’s only raised $690,000, $400,000 of which is his own money. Gray, a well-known figure in Orlando’s Black community, has brought in just $317,000, while Brown’s comeback campaign — she represented a predominantly Black district that included part of Orlando from 1993 to 2017 — seems doomed. She’s raised just $90,000, and she pleaded guilty in May to a felony charge of obstructing internal revenue laws for a charity she ran.
In Florida’s panhandle, Gaetz faces meaningful opposition in the deep-red 1st District’s GOP primary in the wake of an ongoing federal investigation into whether he engaged in sexual activities with a 17-year old girl and paid for women to cross state lines to have sex. Former FedEx executive Mark Lombardo has tried to use the scandal against Gaetz, running ads tying Gaetz’s investigation to his lone dissenting vote on a 2017 human trafficking bill signed into law by Trump. Lombardo has also made unsubstantiated claims that Gaetz was an informant against Trump who tipped off the FBI to classified documents that it recently seized at Mar-a-Lago. It’s difficult to know just how much trouble Gaetz is in, though, as we have no polling to rely on. Moreover, Gaetz maintains a huge financial edge over Lombardo: The incumbent had spent $6.5 million as of Aug. 3 to Lombardo’s $515,000, and most of Lombardo’s money is self-funded.
Lastly, redistricting in northern Florida did away with the plurality-Black district running from Tallahassee to Jacksonville, and the new R+15 4th District will almost certainly elect a Republican in the fall. The GOP primary has developed into a two-man race between state Senate President Pro Tempore Aaron Bean and Navy veteran Erick Aguilar. Bean looks favored, though, based on the little polling we’ve seen. An early August survey from St. Pete Polls/FloridaPolitics.com found Bean well ahead with 59 percent to Aguilar’s 16 percent. Bean also enjoys endorsements from heavy hitters such as Rubio. And while DeSantis has not endorsed here, he’s been an ally of Bean, too. Still, Aguilar has outraised Bean, $1.3 million to $511,000, thanks in part to $450,000 in self-funding, so he can’t be written off. However, Bean has received $1.3 million in outside support to offset Aguilar’s edge while Aguilar has earned no outside backing.
Races to watch: U.S. Senate; 2nd Congressional District
Polls close: 8 p.m. Eastern
In the aftermath of its June 28 primary, the Sooner State has two notable GOP runoffs. Republican Rep. Markwayne Mullin and former state House Speaker T.W. Shannon will meet in a runoff in the special election for Senate to succeed Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe, who announced earlier this year that he would resign at the end of the current Congress. Mullin looks like the favorite. He handily led in the first round of voting with about 44 percent of the vote, while Shannon had around 18 percent in the 13-candidate primary field. Moreover, Trump has since endorsed Mullin, and polls and money give Mullin an edge, too.
Most polls have Mullin sitting right near the 50 percent mark, but the extent of Mullin’s lead has varied. A poll released on Friday by SoonerPoll/News 9/News On 6 gave Mullin a 10-point edge, 49 percent to 39 percent, which was closer than Mullin’s 49 percent to 31 percent advantage in a poll conducted a couple of days earlier by Amber Integrated. But Mullin has also heavily outspent Shannon since the primary, $634,000 to $92,000 as of Aug. 3. Shannon has struggled to outflank Mullin on the right, as their lone debate showed they largely agree on most issues, including support for abortion bans and Trump’s false claim that the 2020 election was rigged.
Meanwhile, a huge list of candidates jumped into the GOP primary to succeed Mullin in the dark-red 2nd District in eastern Oklahoma, and the outcome was much closer as state Rep. Avery Frix and former state Sen. Josh Brecheen advanced to a runoff with only 15 and 14 percent of the vote, respectively. It looks like the runoff is going to be extremely competitive, too, as two surveys, one released in early August and one just before the primary by SoonerPoll/News 9/News On 6, found the two running close together. Frix led by 6 points in the most recent poll, but 42 percent of primary voters were still undecided, which could make for an unpredictable outcome.
Both candidates have played up their pro-Trump positions, yet spending by outside groups questioning those conservative bona fides has turned this into an expensive contest. The pro-Brecheen School Freedom Fund (backed by the Club for Growth) has spent $1.8 million on mail pieces and TV ads that have claimed Frix supported tax hikes as a state legislator. But the pro-Frix Fund for a Working Congress has countered with $1.3 million in ads, which have claimed that Brecheen wants to do away with the Electoral College or that if Brecheen “had his way Hillary Clinton would be President.” This outside influx in spending has far outpaced candidate spending in what looks to be anyone’s race.
We’ll be discussing what all the results mean on our live blog tonight, so please make sure to join us at 7 p.m. Eastern.
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