4 takeaways from the Florida primary elections

Great nights for Charlie Crist, Maxwell Alejandro Frost, Anna Paulina Luna and more.
Republican gubernatorial incumbent Gov. Ron DeSantis, waves to supporters Tuesday in Hialeah. DeSantis will face U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist in November.
Republican gubernatorial incumbent Gov. Ron DeSantis, waves to supporters Tuesday in Hialeah. DeSantis will face U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist in November. [ GASTON DE CARDENAS | AP ]
Published Aug. 24, 2022|Updated Aug. 24, 2022

Two Florida races will dominate the national discussion in the run-up to the Nov. 8 general election: Charlie Crist vs. Ron DeSantis for Florida governor, and U.S. Rep. Val Demings vs. Sen. Marco Rubio for U.S. Senate.

But there’s lots more to talk about in the wake of primary night.

Floridians decided hundreds of races Tuesday, including congressional primaries, state House races and Cabinet primaries. Some broad themes have already emerged.

A good night for the Democratic establishment

It doesn’t get more establishment than U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist. His gubernatorial campaign was endorsed by dozens of elected Democrats, including Speaker of the U.S. House Nancy Pelosi. Sure, he’s a former Republican, but this run for governor is Crist’s second as the Democratic nominee in the last three political cycles.

Lauren Book, D-Plantation, the Democratic leader in the state Senate, defeated former Broward County mayor Barbara Sharief in her primary. Incumbent state Sen. Shevrin Jones, D-Miami Gardens, seen by some as a rising Democratic star, also convincingly won his primary.

Democratic leaders flexed their muscles in other races, too. For instance, in Miami-Dade County, attorney Ashley Gantt ousted incumbent Democratic state Rep. James Bush III with the support of progressives in the state Legislature. Bush had been harshly criticized by some of his colleagues for voting for numerous Republican social priorities, including this year’s 15-week abortion ban.

In the Tampa Bay area, state Rep. Michele Rayner, D-St. Petersburg, fended off a primary challenge from former state Rep. Wengay Newton, whom she criticized for getting donations from Republicans.

Meanwhile, former state Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs, who served as the Division of Emergency Management director under Gov. DeSantis, won the primary for Congressional District 23. That’s a heavily Democratic district, so voters likely will send Moskowitz to Washington.

A better night for the Republican establishment

If the Democratic establishment had a good night, the Republican Party institution had a great one.

Senate President Wilton Simpson comfortably defeated primary challenger James W. Shaw in the GOP primary for agriculture commissioner. Several incumbent U.S. representatives — Vern Buchanan, for example — crushed primary opponents challenging them from the right.

Then there were the candidates who lost.

During his two terms in office, state Rep. Anthony Sabatini, R-Howey-in-the-Hills, made enemies around the Florida Legislature. He repeatedly clashed with his own party’s leadership, calling Chris Sprowls, the top Republican in the Florida House, a RINO: Republican In Name Only. As Sabatini geared up for the 7th Congressional District GOP primary, it was apparent that top state Republicans were rooting for him to lose.

He did, by more than 10,000 votes, to veteran Cory Mills, whose campaign netted more than a dozen endorsements from GOP U.S. representatives. After the race was called, Sabatini blamed the result on “the Swamp.”

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In The Villages-area 11th Congressional District primary, a similar story played out in far-right activist Laura Loomer’s challenge to incumbent U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster. Loomer, who has called Islam a “cancer on society,” lost the primary by about 5,000 votes. (She refused to concede Tuesday, citing “big tech election interference.”)

Even at the state legislative level, blaming a loss on the party establishment was a common refrain for Tuesday’s defeated.

Take Jake Hoffman, a candidate in the primary for state House District 65, who lost to Karen Gonzalez Pittman by fewer than 300 votes.

“Tonight Tampa’s establishment got exactly what they wanted, an empty suit candidate who will do their bidding in Tallahassee,” Hoffman wrote in a statement.

Turnout was steady

Just over a quarter of registered voters cast a ballot in Florida’s primary elections. That was down slightly from 2018, the last midterm primary, when 27% of voters pulled the lever.

In some large counties, turnout was about the same or slightly up compared to 2018. In Pinellas, for example, nearly 32% of voters headed to the polls — roughly the same as in 2018. It was a similar story in Duval County, home to Jacksonville.

In the state’s two largest counties, turnout was down somewhat. Broward County and Miami-Dade each saw just about 20% of registered voters head to the polls — a decrease of three percentage points compared to 2018.

Young rising stars headed to Congress?

Democrat Maxwell Alejandro Frost, 25, defeated nine other candidates, including three seasoned political veterans, in his Congressional District 10 primary. The outspoken gun control activist, who was a lead organizer with the gun safety group March for Our Lives, is already getting national media attention as potentially the first member of Generation Z to serve in the U.S. Congress. Frost was endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and ran on progressive causes such as Medicare for all.

Republican Calvin Wimbish will have something to say about Frost’s coronation, but the 10th Congressional District went for Biden by 31 points in 2020. It’s likely going to be won by a Democrat in November.

Anna Paulina Luna, 33, bested four others in the GOP primary for Congressional District 13. The Trump-endorsed Luna could be another in the recent tradition of conservative women who head to Washington. This cycle, she’s campaigned with U.S. Reps. Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene, and said she plans to join the conservative House Freedom Caucus if elected.

Luna is running for the congressional seat Crist vacated as he runs for governor. Democrat Eric Lynn, who did not have a primary, is sitting on at least $1 million of campaign cash. He is running to keep the seat blue. (Luna’s election committee has about $500,000 on hand.)

The district, newly redrawn by the Legislature this year, went for former President Donald Trump in 2020 by six points.