Thanks to Gov. Ron DeSantis asserting control over the redistricting process in an unprecedented fashion, Republicans are positioned to widen their control over Florida congressional seats.
The state’s new congressional maps loom large over several U.S. House of Representatives primary races to be settled in August. Florida’s redistricting shifted the balance of power even more toward Republicans. Within the new boundaries, 20 of the districts voted predominantly for former President Donald Trump in 2020 versus eight for President Joe Biden. The old map had 15 Trump districts and 12 Biden districts.
The change has resulted in several crowded GOP primaries for seats that went blue last time around. Some of the primaries have been flooded with millions of dollars being spent by multiple candidates.
Elsewhere, progressive candidates in some of the state’s bigger media markets are running against mainstream Democrats and even outpacing them in fundraising in several races. In other districts, far-right, culture-war conservatives are looking to usurp establishment Republicans, scratching and clawing for the support of either the Gov. Ron DeSantis or a certain former president.
Here are the top congressional races to watch leading up to the Aug. 23 primary. (Information is current as of July 25.)
CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT 1
Escambia, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, Walton and Holmes counties
Incumbent: Matt Gaetz (R)
2020 Primary Results: Gaetz 80.9%, John Mills 9.6%, Greg Merk 9.5%
2022 Candidates: Gaetz (R), Mark Lombardo (R), Greg Merk (R), Rebekah Jones (D), Margaret Schiller (D)
While the outcomes for the primaries in this heavily Republican district are not expected to surprise anyone, the cast of characters contending this cycle are too compelling for this race to not be covered here.
On the Republican side, the frontrunner is U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz. This is the first time he is up for reelection after news of an ongoing FBI probe into his relationship with former Seminole County Tax Collector and felon Joel Greenberg and a Justice Department investigation into whether he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl. It also came out that he requested a pardon from then-President Trump for his role in spreading election disinformation, according to information unearthed by the Jan. 6 commission, that helped create the environment for the insurrection.
But other Republicans in the race are maneuvering to increase their chances at unseating Gaetz. Bryan Jones, a U.S. Air Force Special Operations pilot, withdrew from the race earlier in July and threw his support behind U.S. Marine Corps veteran and former FedEx executive Mike Lombardo. Lombardo has pledged to spend up to $1 million of his own money to defeat Gaetz, whose campaign committee has over $1.3 million on hand.
On the Democratic side, the candidate with the most name recognition is former Florida Health Department scientist Rebekah Jones. Two years ago, Jones accused state Department of Health leadership of firing her for refusing to manipulate COVID-19 data, but a state investigation earlier this year found no evidence of wrongdoing. The report caused some of her former Democratic allies to accuse her of running her own disinformation campaign. She also just beat a lawsuit from her primary opponent, Margaret Schiller, that tried to keep her off the ballot by arguing Jones wasn't a member of the Democratic Party a full year before qualifying, which would violate new state law.
CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT 4
Nassau, Duval and St. Johns counties
Incumbent: John Rutherford (R)
2020 Primary Results: John Rutherford 80.2%, Erick Aguilar 19.8%
2022 Candidates: Aaron Bean (R), Erick Aguilar (R), Jon Chuba (R)
State Sen. Aaron Bean has been the frontrunner for the open seat in this solidly conservative district for several weeks, but his lead has only grown after unforced errors by one of his opponents.
Navy veteran and businessman Erick Aguilar was removed from the Republican fundraising platform WinRed after he misled donors that small-dollar donations to him were going to support Republicans with bigger name recognition, like DeSantis and Trump. Consultants working on his campaign jumped ship, according to news reports, and DeSantis and other GOP leaders blasted him. Aguilar publicly said he did nothing wrong and denied that the consultants left him because of the accusations.
The Aguilar matter aside, Bean tripled his fundraising in the second quarter, to $346,800 total, despite only raising money for a month. The fundraising lead and recent news is creating a perfect storm for Bean to coast through the primary, as he has also swept up most of the endorsements from local Jacksonville officials as well as several state and federal electeds, like U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.
A Saint Pete Polls survey has Bean bringing in the support of 59% of Democratic voters with Aguilar bringing in just 16%, suggesting the gaff-less frontrunner will likely cruise through Tuesday’s primary
CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT 7
Seminole and Orange counties
Incumbent: Stephanie Murphy (D)
2020 Primary Results: No Democratic primary. Republican primary Leo Valentin 38.6%, Richard Goble 37.4%, Mike Zhao 24%
2022 Candidates: Erika Benfield (R), Brady Duke (R), Ted Edwards (R), Cory Mills (R), Russell Roberts (R), Anthony Sabatini (R), Al Santos (R), Scott Sturgill (R), Tatiana Fernandez (D), Karen Green (D), Al Krulick (D), Allek Pastrana (D)
The 7th Congressional District is the first seat on this list that is likely to flip parties in 2022 because of redistricting, meaning the eight-person Republican primary is the race to watch. The three candidates who are polling and fundraising at the top of the heap are Iraq and Afghanistan veteran Cory Mills, state Rep. Anthony Sabatini and former Navy Seal Brady Duke. Duke is winning the fundraising game, raising almost $1 million in the past quarter but spending much of it. All three candidates have considerable money left to spend. Duke leads the group with over $500,000 left, followed by Sabatini (about $330,000) then Mills ($257,000).
Mills and Sabatini have split up the party with major national endorsements, with more mainstream Republicans and groups – like Rep. Jim Jordan and the Conservative Political Action Conference – aligning with Mills, and more far-right officials like Reps. Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene aligned with Sabatini.
The race has also attracted PACs: The Citizens for Better Government Accountability PAC has produced a mailer dubbing Sabatini “Absentini” for his attendance record during the last legislative session and special sessions. The PAC’s registered agent is Gregory Fournier, a Republican campaign strategist and managing partner at Envisage Public Relations.
According to a poll of likely Republican voters by St. Pete Polls, Mills is leading the race with almost 24%, while Sabatini has 22% and Duke has just under 16%.
CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT 10
Orange, Lake and Polk counties
Incumbent: Val Demmings (D)
2020 Primary Results: No Democratic primary
2022 Candidates: Jack Achenbach (D), Jeffrey Boone (D), Randolph Bracy III (D), Corrine Brown (D), Maxwell Alejandro Frost (D), Terence Gray (D), Alan Grayson (D), Natalie Jackson (D), Khalid Muneer (D), Teresa Tachon (D)
This open Democratic seat has attracted many candidates seeking to succeed U.S. Rep. Val Demings, who’s running for U.S. Senate, and there’s no clear frontrunner to replace her. Ten Democratic candidates – some new faces and some familiar ones – are running for this seat.
The two front-runners appear to be state Sen. Randolph Bracy and Maxwell Alejandro Frost. Bracy’s campaign released an internal poll in June showing him with a large lead, with 29% support from likely Democratic voters and Frost in second with just 9%. Yet Frost has dominated in fundraising, mainly through small-dollar donations, and benefited from key endorsements and support from the Democratic Party’s progressive wing. Frost raised $369,726 in the second quarter (April-June) across over 9,000 contributions and still has $683,074 to spend. Bracy raised $72,371 in the quarter and has $271,525 on hand.
Frost has received endorsements from the Congressional Progressive Caucus, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, state Sen. Victor Torres and state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith. If elected, the 25-year-old Frost would be the first member of Generation Z in Congress.
While both candidates are looking to punch their ticket into Congress for the first time, the race also saw two late additions from congressional veterans that could complicate projections on the race. Former U.S. Reps. Alan Grayson and Corrine Brown both threw their hats into the ring in June right before the filing deadline. Grayson, who portrays himself as a progressive, could compete for voters with Frost. Brown, a convicted felon for fraud and conspiracy, has left Florida politicos confused why she is running again or if anyone could trust her to hold public office. Their entrance also undercut the message of mailers sent by Bracy that claimed he was the only candidate with legislative experience.
CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT 13
Incumbent: Charlie Crist (D)
2020 Primary Results: No Democratic Primary. Republican Primary: Anna Paulina Luna 36.1%, Amanda Makki 28.3%, George Buck 25.8%, Sheila Griffin 6.8%
2022 Candidates: Kevin Hayslett (R), Moneer Kheireddine (R), Anna Paulina Luna (R), Amanda Makki (R), Christine Quinn (R), Eric Lynn (D)
Much like District 7, this district is projected to flip red in 2022 after this year’s redistricting process. Veteran Anna Paulina Luna and former prosecutor Kevin Hayslett are leading the field in fundraising, though Republican strategist Amanda Makki could be competitive in the race. Hayslett is pacing the field with money left to spend; he has over $700,000 in his pocket, compared to Luna’s $500,000. Luna has still outraised Hayslett overall in the race, with almost $1.8 million to his roughly $1.3 million. Makki trails both with almost $900,000.
Luna has the name recognition from being the party’s nominee for the seat last time around, and also is endorsed by Trump. Hayslett has several state-level and local endorsements, including outgoing Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls and Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. While the seat may lean Republican, whoever wins the primary will have to face former Obama advisor Eric Lynn, the only Democrat who qualified to run. He’s benefiting from not having to worry about a primary race and currently has over $1.1 million on hand.
CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT 15
Hillsborough, Polk and Lake counties
Incumbent: Scott Franklin (R)
2020 Primary Results: Democratic Primary: Alan Cohn 41%, Adam Hattersley 33%, Jesse Philippe 26%. Republican Primary: Scott Franklin 51.2%, Ross Spano 48.8%
2022 Candidates: Demetries Grimes (R), Laurel Lee (R), Kevin McGovern (R), Kelli Stargel (R), Jackie Toledo (R), Gavin Brown (D), Alan Cohn (D), Eddie Geller (D), Cesar Ramirez (D), William VanHorn (D)
This district, which was completely redrawn due to the addition of a new congressional district in the state, leans Republican. However, the expected margin is closer than in the 7th and 13th Congressional Districts, according to FiveThirtyEight. The unknown nature of this new district and those projections mean both primaries deserve attention.
In the Republican primary, former Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee, state Sen. Kelli Stargel and state Rep. Jackie Toledo are the leading contenders for the nomination. Toledo is leading the group in fundraising with about $520,000, but Lee isn’t far behind after a $510,143 quarter. Lee has gotten donations from former Florida Senate presidents Bill Galvano, Andy Gardiner and Don Gaetz, as well as from state Attorney General Ashley Moody.
The race has also attracted PAC support: Americans for Prosperity Action, a group linked to David and Charles Koch, gave $45,000 to Lee. Conservative Warriors PAC, which was funded with a $1 million donation from a Stargel-aligned state political committee, has spent over $400,000 on direct mail and media support for her campaign.
If polls are to be believed, Lee has a lead before in-person voting begins. A St. Pete Polls survey found that 52% of Republicans who already voted backed Lee, while about 19% supported Stargel and over 10% backed McGovern.
On the Democratic side, Alan Cohn has received endorsements from established Democratic elected officials. He has been endorsed by U.S. Reps. Charlie Crist, Kathy Castor, Lois Frankel and Debbie Wasserman Schultz. He also raised more than $100,000 in the first 14 days of his candidacy. Eddie Geller, a former video director for the Democratic National Committee, raised more than $435,000 for the seat. He has been endorsed by Rep. Andrew Learned and the College Democrats of Florida.
CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT 23
Broward and Miami-Dade counties
Incumbent: Ted Deutch
2020 Primary Results: Democratic Primary: Debbie Wasserman Schultz 72%, Jen Perelman 28%. Republican Primary: Carla Spalding 51.3%, Michael Kroske 48.7%
2022 Candidates: Allen Ellison (D), Michaelangelo Hamilton (D), Hava Holzhauer (D), Jared Moskowitz (D), Ben Sorensen (D), Michael Trout (D)
This congressional district is one of the few in the state dominated by Democrats, meaning the winner of the six-person primary would likely become the person to replace outgoing U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch.
The two frontrunners are former state emergency management director Jared Moskowitz, also a former state representative, and Fort Lauderdale City Commissioner Ben Sorensen. Moskowitz has raised more than $1 million in the race to date, but both men have similar amounts left to spend. Sorensen has more than $480,000 on hand while Moskowitz has more than $600,000. Sorensen recently drew the ire of the Federal Election Commission after he failed to file his campaign finance report by the deadline and could be subject to fines.
Moskowitz has the lion's share of endorsements, including support from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, 29 state senators and over 50 local officials. Sorensen recently received the support of the Taking the Hill PAC, which is led by former Army Under Secretary and current Pennsylvania U.S. Rep. Patrick J. Murphy.
CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT 27
Incumbent: Maria Elvira Salazar (R)
2020 Primary Results: No Democratic Primary. Republican Primary: Maria Elvira Salazar 79.1%, Raymond Molina 10.9%, Juan Fiol 10%
2022 Candidates: Angel Montalvo (D), Ken Russell (D) Annette Taddeo (D), Maria Elvira Salazar (R), Frank Polo Sr. (R)
While she faces a Republican challenger, U.S. Maria Elvira Salazar should be expected to run away with the GOP nomination for one of the most vulnerable seats in the state, according to the Tampa Bay Times. She raised $835,000 last quarter compared to the $13,300 raised by her Republican rival, Frank Polo. The attention should instead be on the Democratic side, in a race largely between state Sen. Annette Taddeo and Miami City Commissioner Ken Russell.
Since dropping her bid to become governor, Taddeo has received endorsements from nationally prominent Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, most of Florida’s congressional Democratic delegation, including former opponent Charlie Crist. She has also raised money quickly, with $460,000 raised in her first 24 days running,
Russell has amassed a war chest over the course of his journey for federal office that began with a challenge to Rubio. He has raised more than $1.75 million over the past year, but has a little over $450,000 left to spend. His campaign has also received national attention for its use of viral social media marketing, primarily on TikTok, that has generated millions of views.