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Matt Gaetz endorses Anna Paulina Luna, a Republican running for Congress in St. Pete

The Air Force vet is one of five Republicans in the race to face U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist

A Republican primary for St. Petersburg’s Congressional seat is shaping into a fight between Donald Trump’s network and the GOP establishment.

U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz on Tuesday endorsed Air Force veteran Anna Paulina Luna in the crowded field of Republicans vying for the nomination in Florida’s 13th Congressional district. The Panhandle Republican and close ally of Trump said Luna “can be counted on to support the president.”

“We must grow our community of conservatives (sic) leaders as we build a coalition to Keep America Great,” Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, said in a statement.

Luna, 30, is one of five Republicans vying for the chance to face U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, the Democratic incumbent from St. Petersburg, next November. The other candidates include former D.C. lobbyist Amanda Makki, former St. Petersburg City Council candidate Sheila Griffin, political newcomer Matt Becker, and failed 2018 candidate George Buck.

Makki immediately earned the backing of the conservative organization FreedomWorks upon declaring her candidacy in June, and in August she was featured as a young Republican to watch in 2020 by the National Republican Congressional Committee. A former Hill staffer for Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, she has also proven to be a formidable fundraiser, bringing in more than $400,000 through September.

But Luna’s entrance into the race in September has changed the outlook. It now appears the primary will become a battle between Trump loyalists and a candidate, Makki, who Republicans thought could put up a fight in a district held by ex-Republican David Jolly just three years ago.

An outspoken conservative with a sizable social media following, Luna has risen in the same pro-Trump media environment where Gaetz is revered as the president’s No. 1 defender in Congress. She has worked for Turning Point USA, the conservative organization for young people that often holds events with surrogates from Trump’s inner circle, like his son Donald Trump, Jr.

The Gaetz endorsement is an early indication that Luna will have the support of the Trump machine in her primary race.

“Congressman Matt Gaetz is a visible, committed and outspoken leader in the fight for the heart of our constitutional republic," Luna said. “He leads with both words and actions and I am honored to receive his endorsement.”

Luna has raised about $55,000, while Buck has brought in $179,000; Becker raised $58,000, and Griffin $13,000.

Crist has $2.6 million saved for his re-election fight.

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