Florida election preview: Ten state House primary races to watch in 2022

It's dizzying: There are dozens of races with multiple entrants that have significant money behind them.

Inside the House chamber on the opening day of the 2022 Legislative Session in Florida.

Inside the House chamber on the opening day of the 2022 Legislative Session in Florida. Florida House of Representatives

While some state legislative races have been nothing but fireworks (looking at you, Lauren Book and Barbara Sharief), there are only a handful of competitive primaries in the Florida Senate this election season. But that’s not the case in the Florida House. There are dozens of races with multiple entrants that have significant money behind them. In some cases, influential political players are split on who they support. In others, candidates are attacking their opponents for not being true believers in their respective political party.

With that, here are the top state House races to watch leading up to the Aug. 23 primary (information is current as of Aug. 8).


Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties

Candidates: Mariya Calkins (R), Joel Rudman (R)

This Panhandle district, which was largely unchanged during redistricting, is wide open after current state Rep. Jayer Williamson announced he was leaving politics. Two very conservative candidates remain in the race for the heavily Republican seat.

The most connected contender in the race is Mariya Calkins, who was a legislative aide to former state Rep. Mike Hill and is the wife of Santa Rosa County District 3 Commissioner James Calkins. She has been endorsed by far-right Republicans U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz and state Rep. Anthony Sabatini, and has centered her campaign on pursuing a full abortion ban in the state as well as passing constitutional carry, or permitless gun carry.

Joel Rudman is the other Republican in the race. He has been a doctor in Santa Rosa County for 17 years. Before running, he had been a vocal opponent of mask mandates, and testified before the Legislature about HB 687, titled “Free Speech of Health Care Practitioners.” He has been endorsed by former U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller and trade groups like Florida Realtors and the Florida Medical Association.

Rudman has outraised Calkins, bringing in $210,000 to her $170,000. So far, he has spent about $133,000 of his total in contributions and she has spent $137,000, giving him the lead in money on-hand in the days before the primary.


Gadsden and Leon counties

Candidates: Hubert Brown (D), Gallop Franklin (D), Gregory James (D), Marie Rattigan (D)

A seat that came into play due to controversy has continued to make headlines, as one of the seat’s candidates was forced out of the race.

HD 8 opened up after incoming Democratic House Leader Ramon Alexander, the incumbent, dropped out of the race following sexual harrassment allegations. Sharon Lettman-Hicks later dropped out as well after she was indicted on fraud charges stemming from an alleged scheme to pocket contributions to Andrew Gillum's 2018 gubernatorial campaign.

The remaining field now includes attorney Hubert Brown, pharmacist (and friend of Alexander) Gallop Franklin II, community activist and pastor Gregory James and Marie Rattigan, a former community organizer with the Tallahassee Dream Defenders and a former legislative aide to state Rep. Felicia Robinson. Two of the candidates, Brown and Franklin, have crossed the $70,000 threshold in fundraising. James has raised $26,000 and Rattigan just $6,000. 

Despite her low fundraising, Rattigan has received endorsements from progressive candidates and organizations the Florida National Organization for Women, state Rep. Anna Eskamani and Tallahassee City Commissioners Jeremy Matlow and Jack Porter. Franklin has received support from more establishment groups, like the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Associated Industries of Florida and Florida Realtors. Brown has been endorsed by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.


Volusia County

Candidates: Webster Barnaby (R), Elizabeth Fetterhoff (R)

This seat is the first in this list heavily affected by redistricting: It features two Republican incumbents running against each other after being drawn into the same district. State Reps. Webster Barnaby of Deltona and Elizabeth Fetterhoff of DeLand are facing off over who is more conservative. A recent campaign ad from Barnaby accused Fetterhoff of taking campaign contributions from "liberals and lobbyists.” 

Barnaby has raised about $160,000 while Fetterhoff has taken in $135,000. He has also ramped up his spending in recent months, spending over $25,000 in June compared to Fetterhoff’s $7,000. The pair has also been dueling for police endorsements. Fetterhoff netted the support of the Florida Police Benevolent Association, while Barnaby was endorsed by the Florida Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police. The candidates announced those endorsements on the same day.


Orange and Osceola counties

Candidates: Fred Hawkins (R), Kenneth Davenport (R), Dianna Liebnitzky (R), Rishi Bagga (D), Tom Keen (D), Tahitiana Munoz-Chaffin (D)

In District 35, redistricting has made for one of the most competitive in the Florida House. President Joe Biden won the district by 5 points, according to MCI Maps. Therefore, the winners of the Republican and Democratic primaries both have a realistic shot at winning.

The only candidate in either party who currently holds elected office is state Rep. Fred Hawkins, a Republican. He was elected to a district in 2020 that held a comparable area of Osceola County but did not include the portions of Orange County that have tilted the district slightly blue. He is being challenged in the primary by Kenneth Davenport, a flight attendant and former probation officer, and Dianna Liebnitzky, who he beat in the 2020 primary by about 17 points.

The race so far is going Hawkins’ way. He has been endorsed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, a stamp of approval that Florida Republicans running for office have been clamoring for. He also leads candidates in both parties in fundraising, with almost $280,000 raised to his campaign account so far. The Democratic field includes attorney and hotel owner Rishi Bagga, Navy veteran Tom Keen and former police officer and real estate agent Tahitiana Munoz-Chaffin.

Bagga leads Democrats with almost $45,000 raised, followed by Keen’s $29,000 and Munoz-Chaffin’s $5,000. Keen has received endorsements from state Sen. Victor Torres, Florida Rising and the Orange County Rainbow Democrats, while Bagga has been endorsed by the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida.


Orange and Osceola counties

Candidates: Carolina Amesty (R), Vennia Francois, (R), Janet Frevola (R), Bruno Portigliatti (R), Mike Zhao (R)

With Allie Braswell securing the Democratic nomination in this slightly blue-leaning district without any competition, all eyes are on the Republican primary in HD 45.

This race is flush with cash, with four of the five GOP candidates raising at least $110,000 each. Voters in this district, which includes the Walt Disney World area, have been inundated with mailers and advertisements thanks to the large amount of campaign cash. Attack mailers from outside groups like the Citizens for Principled Leadership, Conservative Leadership Fund and Florida Conservative Action Fund also have been hitting mailboxes. 

The fundraising leader is private Christian university executive Carolina Amesty, who has brought in almost $280,000. She has also been endorsed by influential state Republicans, like former Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran and state CFO Jimmy Patronis.

One interesting angle in this race is the fundraising of Asian-American civil rights activist Mike Zhao. Three quarters of the $118,000 he has raised has come from out-of-state, including almost $10,000 during a fundraiser in San Jose, California. He justified the fundraiser in a written statement to Florida Politics by arguing that conservatives in New York, California and New Jersey want to retire in Florida, and he appeals to them by promising to support DeSantis’ agenda.


Pinellas county

Candidates: Kim Berfield (R), Jason Holloway (R), Jim Vricos (R)

This contest has seen the state’s elected Republicans divided among which candidate to support, while the primary rivals have accused each other of being a RINO, or Republican in name only.

In one corner is Kim Berfield, a former state House member, and in the other is Jason Holloway, a Democrat-turned-Republican who was appointed to a state committee on blockchain technology by DeSantis in 2019. Berfield has accused Holloway of being a fake Republican due to his time as a legislative aide to Democratic state Sen. Darryl Rouson and a local Democratic official. 

Holloway has fired back in a website from his political committee accusing Berfield of being a RINO because she endorsed Charlie Crist for governor (albeit when he was still a Republican) and worked in his administration. The two have split legislative endorsements, with Berfield netting support from state Rep. Chris Latvala (the seat’s incumbent) and state Sen. Ed Hooper, while Holloway has been backed by state Sens. Joe Gruters, also the state GOP chair, and Jeff Brandes as well as state Rep. Nick DiCeglie.

Holloway has ratched up spending since July, spending almost $70,000 between his campaign account and political committee in the month. Berfield’s campaign has spent $26,310. A third candidate, Jim Vricos, is not expected to be a significant factor in the race.


Palm Beach County

Candidates: Seth Densen (D), Shelly Lariz Albright (D), Thomas Valeo (D), Katherine Waldron (D)

HD 93 is the Democratic Party’s equivalent of HD 58; established Democratic leaders are split between who to back in this Palm Beach County seat. State Rep. Matt Willhite aide Tom Valeo has received the most support from Democratic electeds, being endorsed by Willhite (who currently represents the seat where the redrawn HD 93 will be after the election), state Sen. Bobby Powell and a host of House members, including Carlos Guillermo Smith, Tracie Davis and Andrew Learned.

Port of Palm Beach Commissioner Katherine Waldron, the only currently elected official running for the seat, has received support from national and local Democrats, including U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, Palm Beach County Mayor Bob Weinroth and the Florida College Democrats. Wellington community activist Shelly Albright has been endorsed by Wellington officials, including Wellington Councilmembers Michael Drahos, Michael Napoleone and Tanya Siskind. Waldron leads fundraising with over $120,000 raised, followed by Albright’s $44,000 and Valeo’s $20,500.


Broward County

Candidates: Daryl Campbell (D) and Elijah Manley (D)

This race is a rematch between two candidates who ran against each other earlier this year and ended it with bad blood.

State Rep. Daryl Campbell bested Elijah Manley and other challengers to succeed Bobby Dubose, who resigned to run in the special election in Florida’s 20th Congressional District, in HD 94 earlier this year, earning 40% of the vote in the four-way contest. After the results came in, Manley, a gay rights activist, accused Campbell of taking part in a homophobic whisper campaign against him. Campbell denied the accusation.

In the rematch, Campbell has a commanding fundraising lead. He has brought in $57,000 to his campaign account, while Manley has raised $6,770. The South Florida Sun Sentinel has also endorsed Campbell, even though the newspaper endorsed Manley the first time around. According to his campaign website, Manley has received the support of Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis, Wilton Manors elected officials Paul Rolli and Chris Caputo, and another opponent from earlier this year, Josephus Eggelletion III.


Broward County

Candidates: Hillary Cassel (D), Todd Delmay (D), Clay Miller (D)

HD 101 is another South Florida district dividing establishment Democrats, creating an environment ripe for a toss-up race. The field includes two people with ties to local Democrats: Hillary Cassel, an attorney and former Broward assistant state attorney, and Clay Miller, legislative director for Broward County Commissioner Beam Furr and former president of the Broward Young Democrats. The third person in the race, Todd Delmay, an LGTBQ advocate, was involved in the 2014 lawsuit against the state to allow same-sex marriage.

A slew of Democratic House members have backed Cassel, including state Reps. Anna Eskamani, Omari Hardy, Travaris McCurdy, Michele Rayner and Felicia Robinson. Delmay has received the support of various organizations and some media outlets, including the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Equality Florida and the South Florida Sun Sentinel editorial board. Miller has been backed by state Reps. Robin Bartleman, Marie Woodson, Michael Gottlieb and  former Rep. Elaine Schwartz, as well as groups like the Broward Teachers Union and Broward Democratic Black Caucus.

The race has also seen ramped up spending since the start of June, with Cassel spending over $150,000 between her campaign account and political committee, Friends of Hillary Cassel. Delmay spent about $55,000 while Miller spent $20,000 in the first two weeks of July.


Miami-Dade County

Candidates: James Bush III (D), Ashley Gantt (D)

HD 109 features a strong challenger to a Democratic incumbent who has supported legislation his caucus has strongly opposed. State Rep. James Bush III voted in favor of Florida’s 15-week abortion ban passed last session, as well as the bill dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by opponents. He was the only Democrat to do both.

Lawyer and entrepreneur Ashley Gantt told the Miami Times that her decision to challenge Bush stems from her belief that her community does not have the right person advocating on behalf of residents. Bush’s stances on those issues were cited by the Miami Herald editorial board, Ruth’s List, state Rep. Anna Eskamani and state Sen. Jason Pizzo in their announcements that they are endorsing Gantt or in public displays of support for her. Gantt has outraised Bush $98,000 to $63,200. She has a little less spending power heading into the race’s last legs, with $32,000 on-hand to his $36,000.