The Republican primary in Florida’s 13th Congressional District has been heating up as of late and is becoming the swing-seat GOP primary to watch in Florida.
Five candidates qualified last month: George Buck, Sheila Griffin, Anna Paulina Luna, Amanda Makki and Sharon Newby.
Buck is hoping for a rematch with incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, to whom he lost in a landslide 15-point defeat in 2018.
Buck has come under fire from his own party for incendiary comments, has faced questions about his “diploma mill” Ph.D., which he regularly touts, and has spent the last couple months peddling the theory that the Coronavirus is human-made.
Buck’s campaign had little cash on hand at the end of the first quarter — less than $40,000 after debt service, which suggests he will have difficulty raising his profile down the stretch of the primary, given his lack of resources.
Nevertheless, he is likely to have some residual name recognition from his 2018 run. However, Republicans looking to seriously challenge Crist in November will steer clear of Buck, given his landslide loss two years ago.
Both Griffin and Newby had raised less than $50,000 through the end of the first quarter and have had relatively quiet campaigns, though they do remain in the race for now.
Luna’s campaign, however, has not been quiet.
The U.S. Air Force veteran and conservative commentator has a large social media following entered the race with a splash last September. She comes from the hardcore pro-Donald Trump wing of the Republican Party and quickly locked up endorsements from high-profile Trump allies such as U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz and Turning Point USA Founder/Students for Trump Co-Chair Charlie Kirk.
Luna hit a lull in fundraising and momentum in the late fall but appears to have turned things around this spring, having posted a series of victories lately. She raised over $220,000 in the first quarter of 2020, the best quarterly report of any candidate in the race.
In the last month she’s followed up with a straw poll win, being named to the NRCC’s Young Guns program, appearing regularly in national conservative media, and racking up more endorsements from Trump allies as well as local leaders such as Bill Foster and David Yates. At this point, Luna has all the markings of a viable contender for the GOP nomination. If she keeps up her fundraising and recent momentum, an upset of Makki may be in the cards.
Makki, a lawyer, is a former Capitol Hill staffer and lobbyist. She is well connected in Washington D.C., as has been leading in both fundraising and endorsements since she entered the race last June.
She has been endorsed by U.S. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, a series of federal PACs, and a couple of local elected officials from smaller municipalities in Pinellas.
Detractors say she profiles similarly to former Republican U.S. Rep. David Jolly, who Crist unseated in 2016. Jolly, like Makki, was a former Capitol Hill staffer and lobbyist. While indeed having a significant cash advantage as of the last quarter, Makki will likely have to answer for some of her past work as a lobbyist now that it appears she will have a competitive primary race.
Earlier this week, an article dropped covering her 2018 lobbying work for the Sixteen Thirty Fund, a left-wing nonprofit with offshoots tied to efforts to stop the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, impeach Trump, and win back the House for Democrats in 2018.
The article quickly went viral on Twitter, propagated by Trump allies and Trump-favored media personalities. A Twitter search of her name now reveals a torrent of attacks challenging her Republican and conservative credentials.
Her past lobbying clients include pharmaceutical companies and opioid manufacturers as well, a point the Democratic Congressional Committee was quick to make upon her entry into the race.
With just under 100 days to go until the August primary election, the CD 13 race no longer appears to be a sleepy affair.
Several high-profile members of the pro-Trump machine back Luna, while much of the Republican establishment and House leadership backs Makki.
Although, Luna was able to score a spot on the NRCC Young Guns list after Makki was endorsed by McCarthy, perhaps suggesting she is not totally shut out from that world either. As it stands, Makki’s cash still makes her the candidate to beat, but this is one to watch.