Florida Democrats picked Rep. Charlie Crist to be their nominee to face off against GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has become a national Republican star and will head into the general election as a favorite — and as a potential 2024 presidential candidate.
And in Manhattan, Rep. Jerry Nadler defeated fellow Rep. Carolyn Maloney in a heated primary, after the two long-serving and powerful Democratic committee chairs were jammed together during redistricting.
Further upstate, a swing district that President Joe Biden won by fewer than two points in 2020 has a special election for the right to represent a vacant House seat for a few months. The short-term result could have broader implications: Both parties have been competing in the race that will give a late temperature check of the political environment before November.
Early returns in the special election have Pat Ryan, the Democrat, up big. But it is still too early to draw any conclusions, with the Democratic-leaning early vote tallied so far but Election Day votes trickling in more slowly.
Another Democratic member of Congress, Rep. Mondaire Jones, also looks set to lose in New York City on a busy primary night. But DCCC chair Sean Patrick Maloney was able to hold off a progressive challenger, as was GOP Rep. Dan Webster, who also faced a closer than expected primary in his Florida seat.
New Yorkers are also nominating candidates in up to a half-dozen November battleground seats, while Republicans are deciding primaries in a slew of open, safe House seats that will remake the Florida congressional delegation. And Oklahoma is holding primary runoffs, with Republicans selecting their nominee to replace the retiring GOP Sen. Jim Inhofe.
Here is the latest on Tuesday’s primaries:
Squaring off against DeSantis
Crist trounced Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried in Florida’s Democratic primary for governor, successfully brushing off her barrage of attacks that focused on abortion rights and Crist’s record when he was the state’s Republican governor.
This is the third time Crist is running for governor. He was initially elected as a Republican in 2006, and was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2014 before losing to now-Sen. Rick Scott. (In 2010, he also lost an independent Senate run to Republican Marco Rubio.) The affable 66-year-old congressman outflanked Fried on endorsements and was able to continually outraise her.
Crist spent most of his more than year-long campaign directing his ire at DeSantis, the ascendant Republican governor, and continually criticizing the incumbent for focusing on what he called culture wars instead of pocketbook issues, such as the state’s affordable housing crisis or rising insurance rates. But he did go negative against Fried in the closing weeks as well.
Crist, however, heads straight into an uphill battle against incumbent DeSantis, who is sitting on more than $130 million in his campaign account. DeSantis and Republicans have already ramped up their ad buys in anticipation of a sustained on-air presence between now and November, and his every move is watched closely as a potential candidate for president in 2024.
In his victory speech in St. Petersburg, Crist focused squarely on DeSantis and the looming battle ahead.
“So tonight the people of Florida clearly sent a message,” Crist said. “They want a governor who cares about them, to solve real problems, who preserves our freedom. Not a bully who divides us and takes our freedom away.”
A special election pulse check
In upstate New York, a special election in a battleground House seat will see voters deliver the last pulse check before November on the national political environment since the Supreme Court eliminated nationwide protection for abortion procedures.
Unlike the handful of earlier special elections, this district is hyper-competitive. Biden won the district by less than 2 points after Donald Trump carried it by around 7 points in 2016. The seat is open after Democrat Antonio Delgado, who first won the district in the 2018 blue wave, resigned from office to become New York’s lieutenant governor.
The expensive contest pits Democrat Pat Ryan up against Republican Marc Molinaro. Ryan has leaned heavily into protecting abortion rights in his campaign, while Molinaro has focused in on the economy.
The winner of the contest will give an early insight into how animating the Dobbs decision is for voters, as both parties look to fine-tune their messaging.
There is a second special election to replace former GOP Rep. Tom Reed in Western New York, but Republican Joe Sempolinski is expected to win the red-tinted district over Democrat Max Della Pia. Sempolinski is not running for a full term.
Members of Congress in danger in New York
Nadler emerged from a bitter brawl with Maloney in New York’s 12th District, with Maloney lobbing attacks about Nadler’s fitness for office in the closing days of the race. Nadler tried to brush aside the attacks, and won a comfortable victory despite being well outraised.
Sean Patrick Maloney, the chair of the DCCC emerged victorious in a primary battle with state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, who was backed by the progressive wing of the party angry at the DCCC chief for muscling out another member of the delegation during the late scramble over redistricting. Republicans believe they can make a run at Maloney in November.
Maloney’s decision to run in the 17th District displaced Rep. Mondaire Jones, who is now running in a seat based in New York City. Jones is locked in a tight primary for the open 10th District that includes former federal prosecutor Dan Goldman; state Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou; former Rep. Liz Holtzman, who last served in Congress in 1980; city Councilwoman Carlina Rivera and others. Jones seems destined for a loss; Goldman has a very narrow lead over Niou with the majority of the expected vote tally, with Jones in third and likely not enough outstanding to catch up.
A Senate seat on the line
Oklahoma Republicans picked Rep. Markwayne Mullin to succeed Inhofe. He beat out former state House Speaker T.W. Shannon in the GOP primary runoff and will face former Democratic Rep. Kendra Horn in November. Mullin is the heavy favorite in the fall.
Setting up more House battlegrounds
New York also features a slew of potentially competitive House seats in November, after the state Supreme Court there threw out a Democratic gerrymander drawn by the state legislature. Now, a handful of seats will be competitive in November — and at the center of that is a trio of open seats on Long Island.
Turnover on the island’s delegation came from Democratic Rep. Tom Suozzi and GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin’s gubernatorial runs — Zeldin is the underdog GOP nominee in November, and Suozzi got blown out in a primary against Gov. Kathy Hochul — and Democratic Rep. Kathleen Rice’s retirement. Depending on the environment in November, all three could host competitive races.
In the race to replace Suozzi, Democrats are picking between DNC member Robert Zimmerman and county legislator Josh Lafazan, among others. Republicans have rallied around financier George Santos.
Another New York district to watch is the 22nd, which is open after GOP Rep. John Katko announced his retirement. The district became a bit bluer in the redistricting process, with a crowded field that includes Francis Conole, who finished in second in the Democratic primary in the area in 2020, and others in a four-way race. It is not, however, a slam dunk for Democrats: Republicans are deciding between a pair of millionaire businessmen in Steve Wells and Brandon Williams, and either could put up significant resources for November.
Florida has a slate of competitive Republican primaries in safe red seats, after an aggressive Republican gerrymander there put the party on track to pick up several seats. One of the most contentious has been the contest to take over Crist’s seat, where the Trump-endorsed Air Force veteran Anna Paulina Luna won the GOP primary. She’s favored in the fall in the newly red district.
And in a surprise, Webster only narrowly beat Laura Loomer, a notorious conspiracy theorist, in a primary in Florida’s 11th District. Webster’s district includes The Villages, the central Florida retirement community and Republican stronghold that has been a huge presence in GOP politics in the state for decades.
Elsewhere, Democrat Maxwell Frost won a crowded open primary in the blue 10th District. The 25-year-old activist beat out a field that includes former Reps. Alan Grayson and Corrine Brown. Frost will likely replace Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) in the Orlando-based district after Demings easily won the Democratic Senate primary to face Rubio.
Another closely watched race in New York is the Republican primary in a safe red district upstate, which puts the controversial, bombastic businessman Carl Paladino against state GOP chair Nick Langworthy. Paladino, with the support of House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik, would be one of the most abrasive members of Congress should he win.
Gary Fineout contributed to this report.
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