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People walk among U.S. flags with the U.S. Capitol in the background, Sunday, March 15, 2020, in Washington. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Congress has started work on a new coronavirus aid package after the one just approved by the House early Saturday. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

2020

Known knowns: What we learned during qualifying for Florida’s congressional seats

Primary opponent for Bill Posey. One less for Carlos Giminez. Huge field in CD 3, 19.

The qualification week for federal candidates always brings the last chance to shake up races before campaign season starts in earnest. Here’s what we learned in a four-day stretch of surprise entries, sudden exits and the settling of certain lingering doubts.

It’s smooth sailing for Neal Dunn, Mario Diaz-Balart

No candidate will have their name on the ballot to challenge either Republican incumbent this year.

Rep. Neal Dunn, a Panhandle Republican, will face only write-in candidate Kristy Thripp in November. While it remains how many voters will scribble in her name, it also means Dunn won’t have too busy a schedule in the Fall.

For Rep. Mario-Diaz Balart, the news is even better. The Miami Republican’s only Democratic opponent, Yadira Escobar, didn’t qualify, handing him official re-election to another two years in Congress. That came after he had a tougher-than-anticipated race in 2018 against Democrat Mary Barzee Flores.

Matt Gaetz will face two primary opponents

U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz faces two challengers in the Republican primary for Florida’s 1st Congressional District: Greg Merk and John Mills. A third primary challenger, Andy Romagnano, failed to qualify.

Primary competition is nothing new for Gaetz. He secured his first term in the district four years ago by winning a seven-way primary against some formidable challengers, including the late former Sen. Greg Evers. In 2018, he faced Mills and Cris Dosev in the primary and ran up the score, earning nearly two-thirds of the vote in a three-way race. Mills’ only snagged 5%.

When Gaetz makes it to the general — a safe assumption — he’ll face Democrat Phil Ehr and no-party candidate Albert Oram, but the district’s partisan lean assures the November congressional election is merely a formality.

CD 3 voters will face a lot of choices

A total of 14 candidates ultimately qualified in Florida’s 3rd Congressional District in the race to succeed Republican Ted Yoho.

Clay County Republican Judson Sapp said his polling shows him leading a very large field. Kat Cammack has made inroads in the endorsement game. But a field that includes a number of other well-monied Republicans will make for a heated contest in North Florida this year.

The GOP field also includes Ryan Chamberlain, Todd Chase, Bill Engelbrecht, Joe Dallas Millado, Gavin Rollins, James St. George, David Theus and Amy Pope Wells.

A number of Democrats also filed, including Adam Christensen, Phillip Dodds and Tom Wells. Write-in Ed Silva also filed.

Alan Grayson is still Alan Grayson

The Orlando area Democrat and one-time progressive mascot will run for Congress against Republican incumbent Mike Waltz in Florida’s 6th Congressional District. But he won’t actually appear on the ballot.

Grayson, who served more than two stints in two other districts and failed to knock out Democratic Rep. Darren Soto for his old seat in 2018, filed to run as a write-in this year in a new district, just to mess with Waltz. He said he’s running so that Waltz can’t practice in “franking,” or communicating with constituents at taxpayers’ expense, a practice allowed for Congressmen when they aren’t actively in a campaign.

Of course, Waltz couldn’t do that anyway because two other Democrats — Clint Curtis and Richard Thripp — already qualified. But hey, it’s Grayson. 

Only two GOP candidates will challenge Stephanie Murphy

The field in Florida’s 7th Congressional District certainly drew interest, but ultimately only a few qualified for the ballot to challenge the Orlando Democrat seeking a third term.

Chelle DiAngelus, the seventh Republican challenger to file, pulled out before qualification, leaving just Richard Goble and Leo Valentin in the fight.

“I believe a true leader possesses patience, restraint, foresight, wisdom, servant leadership and ethical fortitude, among many other traits,” DiAngelus said.

Independent William Garlington also qualified for the seat, but a candidate roster that included as many as 11 candidates at its peak ultimately resulted in a rather small field.

Bill Posey will learn what it’s like to run in a primary

Retired Air Force Col. Scott Caine jumped into a Republican primary against long-time incumbent Bill Posey just under the wire, Florida Today reports. That marks the first time Posey has faced a Republican primary opponent since 2008. Jim Kennedy also qualified as a Democratic candidate in the district.

Caine told the local newspaper he feels his military background qualifies him for Congress, and that Posey, while a “fine man,” should have retired after 12 years in the House.

Posey, for his part, made note he qualified by petition, a sign his constituency has already demonstrated support for his continued service in Florida’s 8th Congressional District. The incumbent was sitting on more than $450,00 cash on hand at the end of the first quarter.

Matt Becker, Nicolas Sacramento won’t enter the CD 13 fray

Five Republicans will fight it out in August for the chance to challenge Democratic incumbent Charlie Crist in Florida’s 13th Congressional District. But Matt Becker won’t be one of them.

The owner of a staffing firm in Clearwater, his candidacy ended up a political casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic. He said the business challenges of running his company ultimately made it impossible to run at this time.

“While this is not the decision I wanted to make, COVID-19 changed everything for me,” Becker wrote.

Nicolas Sacramento failed to qualify before deadline as well.

The field of GOP challengers still includes Amanda MakkiAnna Paulina LunaGeorge BuckSheila Griffin and Sharon Barry Newby. 

Kathy Castor will face an opponent after all

The Democratic incumbent in Florida’s 14th Congressional District, Kathy Castor, made it through the 2018 election cycle with no opposition. But she won’t get off that easy this cycle.

While none of the Republicans running in CD 14 have yet reported a dollar in fundraising, two — attorney Paul Sydney Elliot and businesswoman Christine Quinn — paid the qualification fee and will appear on the ballot. Those two will have a primary to introduce themselves to voters before facing the long-time incumbent in November.

Castor, as of the end of March, was sitting of $884,114, much of that leftover from her easy mid-term cycle.

Margaret Good is — in fact — running for Congress

That story broke a long time ago when Good announced in Florida’s 16th Congressional District. But the Sarasota Democrat kept a campaign account active for state House, which led to speculation she had an escape hatch available.

The nature of a recent spending mishap fueled chatter. The sitting state lawmaker, like many peers, turned to political accounts to fund community resources around the COVID-19 pandemic. But a tele-town hall was wrongly funded through a state political committee, which could only legally help Good in the service of a state candidacy. Some Democrats noted that issue goes away if Good runs for state House — or even challenges Joe Gruters for state Senate.

Good provided a bright light for the party in 2018 flipping a state House seat blue — one very much at risk without her.

But qualifying for federal office signals she’s got Congress on her mind now, and will challenge seven-term Republican incumbent Vern Buchanan in November. 

Almost all the candidates in CD 19 were serious

A total of 10 Republicans and two Democrats ultimately qualified for the ballot in the contest to succeed U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney in Florida’s 19th Congressional District. The Naples Republican’s decision not to seek a third term spurred the busiest Congressional campaign in Florida. But the question always loomed whether all the candidates opening FEC accounts would make the cut. In the end, only pundit Ford O’Connell and Naples activist Antonio Dumornay failed to pay the $10,440 qualifying fee.

The field of qualified candidates includes disabilities advocate Darren Aquino, fast-food mogul Casey Askar, FGCU professor Cindy Banyai, state Reps. Byron Donalds, Dane Eagle and Heather Fitzenhagen, physician William Figlesthaler, Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson, financial advisor David Holden, Collier County Sheriff’s Deputy Daniel Kowal, Ave Maria law grad Christy McLaughlin and former Minnesota lawmaker Dan Severson, not to mention write-in Patrick Post.

Carlos Giminez won’t be bloodied in a GOP primary

Republican candidate Irina Vilariño withdrew from the contest in Florida’s 26th Congressional District after raising hundreds of thousands of dollars in a year-long campaign.

That means there will be no battle-to-the-death Republican primary between her and Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giminez for the chance to take on Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in one of Florida’s hottest Congressional races. Giminez will now face only Omar Blanco, the former head of Miami-Dade Firefighters Local 1403. That’s not expected to be nearly as nasty a contest in August, and most likely means Giminez will be the nominee and get to save his powder for knocking out the freshman Democrat.

What does it all mean?

With the COVID-19 pandemic sucking all the air out of the room, politics as usual has been relegated to the backseat. But with so many contested races, Florida is a state to watch in November as Republicans try to wrest the majority from House Democrats by waging high-profile primaries and fighting to maintain seats Democrats are targeting. While coronavirus might have upended traditional campaigning, voters have options, and they’ll likely be looking no further than candidates’ positions on recovering the trampled economy and on incumbents’ voting records related to virus response. The bottom line: There’s still an election and now more than ever, every vote will count.

Written By

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Orlando Rising and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Drew Dixon, Renzo Downey, Rick Flagg, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Bob Sparks, Andrew Wilson, and Kelly Hayes.
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