Donna Shalala, a former secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will take on Cuban-American broadcast journalist Maria Elvira Salazar in the November general election after both survived crowded primary races Tuesday in a major congressional battleground.
Democrats are expected to bank heavily on Shalala picking up the Miami-Dade County seat of retiring Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, as the Democratic Party seeks to retake control of the U.S. House.
Shalala, also a former University of Miami president, got 32 percent of the vote in a five-way field in Congressional District 27. In the Republican primary, Salazar picked up 41 percent of the vote in a field of nine.
Meanwhile, Democratic incumbents were successful Tuesday, with U.S. Rep. Darren Soto crushing the hopes of former Congressman Alan Grayson, who was trying to recapture the District 9 seat in Central Florida. Also, U.S. Rep. Al Lawson fended off a challenge from former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown in the Democratic primary in Congressional District 5 in North Florida.
The party also again secured three of the state’s 27 seats, with U.S. Rep. Val Demings and U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson both winning primaries and facing no general-election opposition. Congressman Alcee Hastings defeated a primary opponent and now goes up against a write-in candidate in November.
Democrats Lois Frankel and Kathy Castor were the state’s only congressional incumbents who had no opposition this year.
On the Republican side Tuesday, retirements and political aspirations created crowded fields for open seats.
In the District 6 GOP primary to replace Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis in Northeast Florida, Michael Waltz, a businessman and former Army Green Beret from St. Augustine, received 42 percent of the vote to hold off former state Rep. Fred Costello and Palm Coast businessman John Ward.
Waltz now will face former U.S. Ambassador Nancy Soderberg, who handily defeated two opponents in the Democratic primary.
In Congressional District 15, state Rep. Ross Spano defeated four other Republicans seeking to replace retiring Congressman Dennis Ross. Spano received 44 percent of the field to top a field that included former state Rep. Neil Combee of Auburndale.
Spano will face Kristen Carlson, who defeated two Democratic primary opponents in the Republican-leaning district.
Also, state Sen. Greg Steube easily won the Congressional District 17 primary over state Rep. Julio Gonzalez and Bill Akins of Port Charlotte. Steube will now face April Freeman, who received 77 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary in a district that leans heavily Republican.
Two other races that are expected to draw national attention in November were set up as expected Tuesday.
On the Treasure Coast, freshman Congressman Brian Mast had little problem dispatching two Republican primary challengers in District 18. Meanwhile, Lauren Baer, a foreign policy official in the Obama administration whose family owns Baer’s Furniture, won by 20 percentage points over Pam Keith, an attorney who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 2016.
In Central Florida, freshman Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy got 86 percent of the vote to defeat a Democratic primary challenger and will face state Rep. Mike Miller in November. Miller, R-Winter Park, defeated two primary opponents, scoring 54 percent of the vote.