Florida, once a swing state that has been trending more Republican in recent years, will have its chance to go to the polls on Tuesday.
Democrats will be choosing who will challenge Republican rising star Gov. Ron DeSantis, as well as Sen. Marco Rubio. Because of its increase in population, the state is also adding congressional district.
Though they won the White House and Senate in 2020, Democrats lost two U.S. House seats in south Florida. President Joe Biden lost the state by just under 4 points (371,686 votes) to former President Donald Trump. By comparison, Hillary Clinton lost to Trump by 112,911 votes in 2016.
Here are the races to watch on Tuesday:
Gov. Ron DeSantis defeated Democrat Andrew Gillum by less than 0.5% in 2018. But since then, DeSantis has become one of the Republican party’s brightest rising stars, winning conservative praise for his COVID-19 response and for taking on culture-war issues. He is frequently talked about as a frontrunner for the 2024 presidential election, especially if former President Trump opts out of the race.
DeSantis has been in high demand among fellow conservatives. In the final two weekends before the primary election in his home state, DeSantis took trips to campaign for Republican nominees in Arizona, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
He has no primary challenger, and he has already hauled in a massive $160.9 million, a sum that eclipses the combined $26.1 million raised by the top two Democrats battling to face him in the general.
Charlie Crist, Nikki Fried and Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images, Joe Raedle/Getty Images, Jeff Swensen/Getty Images
There are four Democrats on the ballot, with former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist and Nikki Fried, the state’s agricultural commissioner, leading the pack. Last month, in their only debate, Crist and Fried took shots at DeSantis for his controversial policies and what they see as his ambition to ascend to higher office. “He doesn’t care about you as much as he cares about his own political future,” Crist said.
Fried added, “He’s taking his eye off of his home base. He’s taking his eye off of you, the people, in order to have that chance of running for President of the United States.”
Though the leading Democrats share the mission to defeat DeSantis and similar views on most issues, they have traded sharp elbows during the primary on abortion rights and environmental policies.
In the past, Crist has said he personally identifies as “pro-life,” a position Fried seized upon. Fried said Crist’s views are “disqualifying” and that because of them, “women don’t trust him.” In an interview with the Miami Herald’s editorial board, Fried “stood by her criticism of Crist’s record on abortion” and believes the issue is what will help her win the primary.
But Crist often points to his veto of a bill that would have put up hurdles to getting an abortion when he was governor in 2010 as a sign he’s helped the efforts of abortion rights supporters.
Throughout the primary season, Crist has led Fried in fundraising, polls and endorsements. Crist raised more than $15.2 million through his campaign and political committee compared to Fried’s $10.9 million; most polls found Crist leading, at times by as much as 33 points; and Crist has secured the endorsements of more elected officials and the major newspaper editorial boards in the state.
However, Fried’s campaign is suggesting she could be on track to replicate Gillum’s 2018 come-from-behind win, after an outlying poll released in the final days of the primary showed her ahead of Crist by 4 points.
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, first elected in 2010, has no primary challengers. Once seen as a Republican rising star, Rubio dropped out of the 2016 presidential race after failing to win the primary in his home state.
Four Democrats are on the ballot to take him on, with Rep. Val Demings the frontrunner, and she has outraised her nearest opponent, William Sanchez, by $45 million.
Rep. Val Demings and Sen. Marco Rubio
Octavio Jones/Getty Images, Anna Moneymaker, Getty Images
But Rubio is still the favorite in November, and a poll from a GOP outside group last week showed him up by 11 points. Demings, a former police chief who was discussed as a possible vice-presidential contender, has outraised Rubio by almost $11 million so far, and has spent $20 million more on advertisements than Rubio. And several Democratic-leaning polls have shown either a tied race or Demings with a slight lead, and one from the University of North Florida in August gave her a 4-point lead on Rubio.
DeSantis pushed hard for an aggressively gerrymandered map — even more so than the Republican-leaning map by Florida’s legislature, which he vetoed. Under his map, Republicans could gain as much as four seats, with Democratic-leaning seats in the 5th, 7th and 13th Districts likely to flip red, and a new version of the 15th District that is solidly Republican.
Florida’s courts were asked to throw out the map, after one state judge found the elimination of the 5th District unconstitutional. The state Supreme Court decided to not hear a challenge on the maps before the midterm elections.
Trump ally Rep. Matt Gaetz has represented this safe Republican district in the Florida Panhandle since 2016. But he is currently under investigation to determine if he violated sex trafficking laws and obstructed justice in a sex trafficking investigation. Earlier this year, Gaetz’s ex-girlfriend was granted immunity in that investigation, and his friend Joel Greenberg, a former Seminole County tax collector, pleaded guilty to six federal charges, including child trafficking.
Gaetz has denied any wrongdoing and has said he has never paid for sex nor had sex with an underage girl.
Marine Corps veteran and former FedEx executive Mark Lombardo filed in June to run against Gaetz, according to FloridaPolitics.com. Running as an “America First” conservative, Lombardo has run a series of attack ads against Gaetz this summer.
Gaetz is taking the challenge seriously, running his own ad blitz this summer and is holding a rally Monday with Donald Trump, Jr. The former president officially endorsed Gaetz on Truth Social over the weekend.
The Republican-led redistricting eliminated Florida’s only two majority Black districts, and northern Florida 5th District’s 370,000 Black residents are now spread out among four other districts. Democratic Rep. Al Lawson, who currently represents the 5th District and lives in Tallahassee, opted to run in the 2nd District, taking on incumbent Republican Rep. Neal Dunn of Panama City.
“Tallahassee needs a Democratic congressman,” Lawson told NPR last month. “We’re not going to give it up to Panama City.”
The 2nd District leans red, with Trump having won it by 11 points in 2020.
Three Republicans are running for this seat, which now covers southwest Jacksonville. Rep. John Rutherford, who currently represents the 4th District, is the frontrunner. No Democrat has filed to run in the seat, which now leans Republican by 23 points.
Centrist Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy, a member of the House Jan. 6 committee, announced late last year that she would not be running for reelection. Since then, the district has been redrawn to lean more Republican.
The GOP sees this district as an opportunity to flip, and the top three Republicans – Brady Duke, Cory Mills and Anthony Sabatini – running have already raised over $1 million each. None of the four Democrats running have raised more than $28,000.
At a forum last month for the 7th, 9th and 10th Districts, 12 of the 14 Republicans said they did not believe Mr. Biden is the winner of the 2020 presidential election, according to FloridaPolitics.com. Two Republicans seeking to represent the 7th District, Rusty Roberts and Ted Edwards, were the only two to say Mr. Biden won the election.
The seat is being vacated by Crist, who is running in the Democratic primary for governor, and redistricting has caused it to lean more toward Republicans. Trump-backed Air Force veteran Anna Paulina Luna and former prosecutor Kevin Hayslett are the top GOP contenders for the seat. Luna has raised $1.95 million compared to Hayslett’s $1.59 million.
Though he didn’t win Trump’s endorsement, Hayslett has styled himself as a Trump- and DeSantis-type Republican. He aired an attack ad earlier this month hitting Luna for being a “RINO” (a Republican in name only) for saying she “always agreed with President Obama’s immigration policies.” Luna, meanwhile, has called him a “criminal” and accused him of “lying to voters.”
First elected in 2010, Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch announced earlier this year that he would not run for reelection and will become CEO of the advocacy group American Jewish Committee.
The district, which includes Boca Raton and Fort Lauderdale, is expected to stay in Democrats’ hands. Six Democrats are on the ballot, with Jared Moskowitz, a former state legislator who left his seat to join the DeSantis administration as director of the state’s emergency management division, currently favored to win the nomination.