Anna Paulina Luna won the Republican primary in Florida’s 13th Congressional District, meaning she will take on U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist in November.
Luna, 31, a veteran, garnered nearly 36 percent of the vote, or more than 22,000 votes of the nearly 62,000 ballots cast in the race. Amanda Makki, 42, a lobbyist and former senate staffer, came in second with about 29 percent of the vote. George Buck, a veteran and retired firefighter, was close behind with about 26 percent of the vote. Former lawyer and Pinellas County GOP leader Sheila Griffin, 62, earned about 7 percent of the vote, while business owner Sharon Newby, who dropped out of the race and endorsed Luna, received 3 percent of the vote.
“I am honored and humbled to be nominated by the voters of Pinellas County,” Luna said in a statement. “Pinellas Republicans affirmed what they told me on the campaign trail: they are ready for patriotic public servants and are done with career politicians and insiders. I look forward to unifying the Republican Party and sharing our message of people before party, and country before politics with all voters in Pinellas.”
The fight for the Republican nomination was in some ways about who could hug President Donald Trump the tightest. Luna, Makki and Buck all regularly tweeted about their allegiance to Trump and their support from pro-Trump groups and made being an ally of his on Capitol Hill central to their campaigns.
Luna is an Air Force and Air National Guard veteran and conservative commentator, working for conservative media company PragerU. She grew up in Southern California and describes herself as a conservative Hispanic activist.
She previously characterized the race as a head-to-head fight against Makki, and saw her popularity shoot up over the last month. Luna previously polled third, behind Makki and Buck, according to a July survey by St. Pete Polls.
She has the the backing of influential names in President Donald Trump’s orbit, including U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, who rallied for Luna last week outside Conservative Grounds, a Republican-themed coffee shop in Largo. Despite the pandemic and blistering heat, the event drew more than 100 people.
For much of the race, Makki, who performed well in an early July poll and raised more money than her opponents, received front-runner treatment, taking hits from both Buck and Luna. Buck tried to paint Makki, a lobbyist and former congressional staffer for moderate Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, as a member of the Washington swamp. Luna retweeted tweets that refer to Makki as a “RINO,” or “Republican in name only,” and derided Makki as a “career political insider.”
Makki also projected as the presumptive nominee, hardly mentioning her opponents on social media and instead attacking Crist.
Makki left Murkowski’s office in 2017 to become a lobbyist at law firm K&L Gates, where she specialized in health care policy. A federal lobbying disclosure listed Makki as a lobbyist for liberal dark money group the Sixteen Thirty Fund during the second quarter of 2018. Her campaign called the form an “error” and denied that Makki ever did work for the group.
Makki had the backing of top House Republicans, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Minority Whip Steve Scalise.
“It has been an honor to meet so many members of our community, to hear their stories firsthand and to discuss our shared vision for better representation for Pinellas County,” Makki wrote in a statement. “I am grateful for those whose support I earned, and I look forward to continuing to find ways to connect with and improve our community. I encourage my fellow Republicans to keep up the good fight and press on toward our shared goal of defeating Charlie Crist this November.”
Buck, 64, ran for this seat in 2018, losing to Crist by almost 16 points. Originally from Long Island, N.Y., Buck has lived in Pinellas County for 26 years, a contrast he draws to Luna and Makki, who are newer to the district and whom he’s referred to as “carpetbaggers.”
The veteran and retired firefighter calls himself a “pro-business” conservative, though his agenda is largely driven by social issues, including fighting abortion, defending the Second Amendment and stopping illegal immigration. He also calls himself a counterterrorism expert.
Buck has held posts at St. Petersburg College and the University of South Florida.
Griffin, 62, is a former lawyer and has lived within House District 13 since she was a toddler. She has held leadership positions in the Pinellas County GOP, the St. Petersburg NAACP and the Boys & Girls Club of the Suncoast, and previously worked for the Florida Department of Corrections and ran for St. Petersburg City Council candidate.
Neither Buck nor Griffin responded to requests for comment.
After the results were in, Crist’s campaign released a statement affirming his “commitment to civility and working across the aisle is about building coalition-driven solutions to our shared challenges — defeating COVID-19, reopening and rebuilding our economy, fighting climate change, and ensuring we serve those who served our country.”
“This is the type of leadership Floridians deserve and the kind of representation Congressman Crist will continue to provide,” wrote Crist spokesman Kevin Cate. “Voters of Pinellas County need and deserve someone in Washington who deeply understands the district on a personal level — and nobody knows Pinellas County better than Charlie Crist.”
After raising just under $1 million, Luna has about $319,000 on hand, about one tenth Crist’s war chest of more than $3 million.