All six members of Congress representing the Tampa Bay area will face challenges this fall and one of those races could change which party sends more Floridians to Washington for the first time in decades.
Three Democrats — state Rep. Adam Hattersley, former TV news anchor Alan Cohn and political newcomer Jesse Philippe — qualified to run for Congress in District 15 by Friday’s noon deadline. They are vying for the chance to knock off embattled U.S. Rep. Ross Spano, a Dover Republican embroiled by a federal investigation into his 2018 campaign and widely considered one of Florida’s most vulnerable congressional incumbents.
Spano is also facing an August primary challenge from former Lakeland City Commissioner Scott Franklin, who recently reported raising $267,000 — including $160,000 of his own money — in the two weeks after announcing his campaign.
The Spano seat has attracted significant attention from national Democrats who view it as their best chance in the Sunshine State to flip a seat from red to blue this fall. While the district, which covers northeastern Hillsborough, northwestern Polk and southern Lake counties, skews Republican, Spano’s legal troubles have the GOP concerned.
The state’s primary election is August 18.
Florida’s Congressional delegation includes 14 Republicans and 13 Democrats. If Democrats here net one seat this election cycle, they will have a majority in the delegation for the first time since 1989.
Democrats have also targeted U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan’s district, where state Rep. Margaret Good is the lone Democrat to qualify to challenge the long-time incumbent. Buchanan, a Sarasota Republican and one of the wealthiest members of Congress, has successfully beat back past attempts to unseat him. But, Good has mounted a serious challenge and has already raised more than $1.1 million, and without a primary, it will all go toward defeating Buchanan.
In a statement addressing the close of Florida’s filing period, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokeswoman Sarah Guggenheimer signaled that their candidates are likely to make the 2020 fight about health care, just as they did in 2018 when they won back the House. Republicans have been “put on notice,” she said, for repeated efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act “even in the face of the current COVID-19 epidemic.”
Republicans have focused much of their 2020 efforts on winning back the two South Florida districts they lost two years ago. Two Republicans — Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Giménez and Omar Blanco, president of the Metro-Dade Firefighters Local 1403 — qualified for the chance to run against Democrat U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in one of the most competitive districts in the country.
And in the next district over, U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala could face a rematch with Cuban journalist Maria Elvira Salazar, though the latter will have to go through a Republican primary with realtor Juan Fiol. Republicans lately have amplified attacks on Shalala in the days since she was named to a panel that will oversee the distribution of $500 billion in coronavirus relief for businesses.
Shalala has faced criticism, even from her own party, for holding investments in companies that could receive federal assistance. She recently told the Miami Herald that she divested from those companies in 2019, but never reported the stock sales, a violation of federal law.
“Donna Shalala broke the law and should not oversee managing billions of taxpayer money,” said Camille Gallo, spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
If the political winds shift strongly in favor of President Donald Trump and Republicans, it could put in play the Pinellas County seat represented by U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist. Though considered a blue district, it was represented by ex-Republican David Jolly just four years ago and five GOP hopefuls have emerged looking to upset the well-known Crist.
If Crist loses, it would likely be the result of a very bad year for Democrats. Under that scenario, the party could lose not only the White House, but control of the House just two years after wresting it from Republicans. Political prognosticators suggest that is an unlikely outcome and the race-watchers at the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia predict Crist, who has raised $1.8 million, is a likely victor.
Nevertheless, three of Crist’s would-be challengers — Amanda Makki, George Buck and Anna Paulina Luna — have raised significant six-figure sums. Makki, a former congressional staffer and pharmaceutical lobbyist, has the backing of Republican leadership while Trump ally U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz endorsed Luna, a veteran and conservative commentator. Sheila Griffin, a retired lawyer and former St. Petersburg city council candidate, and teacher and small businesswoman Sharon Barry Newby are also running.
Matt Becker, the Chief Operating Officer for the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, recently pulled out of the District 13 primary to attend to his small business amid the coronavirus crisis.
Across the bay, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor’s Tampa-based district has lured two Republicans into a primary: Christine Quinn, who ran against Castor unsuccessfully in 2016, and lawyer Paul Sidney Elliot. Neither have reported raising any money.
U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, a Palm Harbor Republican who staved off a spirited challenge in 2018, will once again face a November opponent, though this effort is not as well-funded. Democrat Kimberly Walker, a defense contractor, has raised about $3,000 to Bilirakis’ $934,000.
There are two open seats in Florida being vacated by retiring Republican Reps. Ted Yoho of Gainesville and Francis Rooney of Naples. A combined 27 candidates have qualified to run in those races, instigating August primaries for both parties in these two heavily Republican districts.