The majority of Florida’s state Senate seats won’t have primary elections on the Aug. 23 ballot. Although all 40 seats are up for grabs this cycle due to redistricting, 29 of them do not have more than one person running in either party at all. And most of the primaries for the other 11 seats feature a single candidate backed by the state party and local political players, while the others in the race are political newcomers with limited funds.
But some of the races have compelling political storylines in Florida’s 2022 election season. Several Orlando and South Florida Democratic primaries are grudge matches between established political names. Some of the Republican primaries headline candidates trying to outdo each other’s Donald Trump/Ron DeSantis bona fides. Other races include candidates who have lost several races in recent years and are looking yet again to unseat incumbents.
With that, here are the top state Senate races to watch leading up to the August primary (Information is current as of July 29).
STATE SENATE DISTRICT 1
Escambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties
Candidates: Doug Broxson (R), John Mills (R)
State Sen. Doug Broxson, running for his final term in the Florida Senate, is facing a primary opponent known for challenging established Republican officials in the Panhandle. John Mills, who ran for Florida’s 1st Congressional District seat in 2018 and 2020 but lost both times to U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, has picked Broxson as his next primary target. Mills barely put up a fight against Gaetz in 2020, netting 9.6% of the Republican primary vote compared to Gaetz’s 80.9%.
Mills’ main criticism of Broxson is his support of a bill (SB 7026) in 2018 that increased the purchasing age for rifles and shotguns to 21 and added a three-day waiting period. The bill was passed less than a month after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in which 17 people were killed. The law has been cited by Democratic politicians advocating for similar legislation on the national level.
"When I am sworn in and take that sacred oath, I will on day one file legislation to repeal the gun control measures passed by Doug Broxson and I will file legislation to enact constitutional carry," Mills told the Pensacola News-Journal.
From an election standpoint, however, it’s likely Mills’ bid is going to end up like his previous attempts. Broxson has raised $107,200, while Mills only has the $3,000 he gave to his own campaign. Broxson also has key endorsements for his conservative district, including the local Fraternal Order of Police. The winner will go on to face Democrat Charlie Nichols, although the eventual Republican nominee is likely to be favored in a seat that Broxson won with nearly two-thirds of the vote two years ago.
STATE SENATE DISTRICT 15
Osceola and Orange counties
Candidates: Kamia Brown (D), Geraldine Thompson (D)
Two state representatives are running in this race, which have the two caucus colleagues butting heads about each other’s records in the Legislature. State Reps. Kamia Brown and Geraldine Thompson of Orange County are both in it to win it. While current Sen. Victor Torres represents the current District 15, redistricting realigned him to District 25, leaving his old district to fall under the previous jurisdiction of state Sen. Randolph Bracy. Bracy, meanwhile, passed on a reelection bid to pursue a congressional seat. Since there is no Republican candidate, the winner of this primary will take the seat.
Thompson is the more experienced of the two, having served in both state legislative chambers on and off since 2006. Brown has spent six years in the House. But so far, Brown has outpaced Thompson four-fold in fundraising, amassing almost $120,000 to Thompson’s roughly $29,000, according to Division of Elections records. Brown also has more money left in her campaign account, with about $51,000 on-hand compared to Thompson’s about $6,600. Brown has received endorsements from Democratic state Sens. Lori Berman, Shevrin Jones and Torres.
The two rivals disagree on little from a policy perspective, but have made subtle jabs on the campaign trail, like when Thompson accused Brown of letting other legislators take up legislation on issues she should have pursued during a Tiger Bay Club of Central Florida forum. Little public polling has been done on this race, but one poll from the group U.S. Term Limits in July indicated that Thompson has 26% support, Brown 19% and 56% of likely voters are undecided, which leaves plenty of room for either to win.
STATE SENATE DISTRICT 22
Sarasota and Manatee counties
Candidates: Joe Gruters (R), Michael Johnson (R)
The race for this newly drawn district has garnered attention thanks to a political vendetta and a battle over each candidate's MAGA credentials. Michael Johnson, a Seminole County political activist, is challenging incumbent and Florida Republican Party Chair Joe Gruters for his Sarasota-based Senate seat. The two men previously butted heads after Gruters sided with the Seminole County Republican Party when Johnson attempted to hold an unauthorized local party meeting to replace the local party’s leadership.
Johnson has argued that Gruters, who co-chaired Donald Trump’s Florida campaign in 2016, and other party leaders were not supporting Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis enough. Gruters accused Johnson of a personal grudge against him and said his rival is not running to improve the community. The incumbent has raised over $150,000, while Johnson has raised nothing beyond contributing $32,300 into his own campaign.
A political committee called Accountability in Government, which received over $100,000 from the Republican Party of Florida in 2018, is behind a mailer labeling Johnson a “MAGA clown.” The mailer appears to be an attempt to persuade Democrats, who are voting in the open primary because no Democrat is running, to not vote for Johnson. However, at least one local Democratic Party leader is encouraging Democrats to vote for Johnson because of Gruters’ ties to Trump.
STATE SENATE DISTRICT 34
Candidates: Shevrin Jones (D), Pitchie Escarment (D), Erhabor Ighodaro (D)
State Sen. Shevrin Jones is defending his place in the Senate in a new seat thanks to redistricting while contending with a former local elected official who ran against him in his first Senate race in 2020. Former Miami Gardens Vice Mayor Erhabor Ighodaro is one of two challenging Jones, and the only one with public office experience. During the 2020 campaign, Ighodaro came under fire for making homophobic comments in his campaign for the District 35 seat against Jones, the first openly gay Black lawmaker elected to the Florida Legislature.
Jones far outperformed Ighodaro last time, taking home 43.3% of the vote in a six-person primary compared to Ighodaro’s 14.8%. Jones is likely to win by a large margin again; he has received endorsements from leadership across local jurisdictions in Miami-Dade County and from a PAC founded by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. He also has about $90,000 on hand of the more than $120,000 he has raised, compared to Ighodaro’s $19,000. A third Democratic candidate, Pitchie Escarment, is not expected to be a factor in the race.
After receiving an endorsement earlier this year from the SAVE Action PAC, which advocates for LGBTQ rights, Jones referred to Ighodaro’s remarks from the first time he ran for Senate. “Back in 2020, one of my Democratic opponents tried to hit me with homophobic attacks,” Jones said, according to Florida Politics. “Now, that same opponent is trying it again. Together with SAVE, let’s show them that the people of South Florida are worth the fight and homophobia is not and should not be welcomed in any political office.”
STATE SENATE DISTRICT 35
Candidates: Lauren Book (D), Barbara Sharief (D)
What was already one of the most closely watched primaries this cycle had the heat turned up recently when one of the candidates filed a libel lawsuit for the other’s campaign ads.
Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book is facing her first election challenge in her total of six years in office. Former Broward County Commissioner Barbara Sharief, the first Black woman to be Broward’s mayor, is running against Book in a redistricted seat now held by state Sen. Shevrin Jones. The two campaigns have lobbed personal attacks against each other that has resulted in Sharief filing a libel lawsuit against Book.
In a campaign ad, Book accuses Sharief in campaign ads of defrauding Medicaid after the state found over a decade ago that Sharief’s home health care company overbilled Medicaid by hundreds of thousands of dollars two times. Political committees have also added to the negative attacks against Sharief, including a mailer from the Winning Florida PAC accusing Sharief, whose father was murdered with a gun when she was 14, of having a “shameful record on guns and public safety.”
Sharief filed the lawsuit last Friday, and is seeking over $1 million in damages from Book and Winning Florida. Claire VanSusteren, Book’s spokesperson, told the Miami Herald that the suit was nonsense and suggested Book could file a countersuit.
Book wasn’t the only one to hurl personal attacks. Sharief created an ad calling Book fiscally irresponsible, including a clip from Book’s 2009 appearance on the show “Platinum Wedding” where she said her wedding cost over $1 million. She also aired an ad saying Book is “desperate to win” the state primary and called her campaign out for using a picture of her holding a gun at a gun buy-back event in the mailer. Book’s campaign denied any connection to the mailer, but said Broward voters rejected Sharief’s campaign tactics when she lost her bid to represent Florida’s 20th District in Congress in 2020, according to the Miami Herald.
Book has been endorsed by the lion's share of her Senate colleagues and by several organizations, including Florida Planned Parenthood. Book also has nearly $2.7 million on hand when factoring in her two political committees, Leadership for Broward and Leadership for Florida, compared to the $356,000 Sharief has left. An internal Lauren Book poll in June found Book held a double-digit lead in the race, 39% to 25%, but it also found a good chunk of voters in the district were undecided, leaving open the possibility that Book could be unseated.