Staunch Donald Trump ally Anna Paulina Luna will take on incumbent Charlie Crist in the November General Election for a shot at Florida’s 13th Congressional District.
Luna defeated GOP establishment favorite Amanda Makki with 35.86% of the vote. Makki earned 28.52%.
The two faced off in a nail-bitter election Tuesday night. In a statement, Luna said she was honored and humbled by the nomination.
“Pinellas Republicans affirmed what they told me on the campaign trail: they are ready for patriotic public servants and are done with career politicians and insiders,” Luna said. “I look forward to unifying the Republican Party and sharing our message of people before party, and country before politics with all voters in Pinellas. I am running to represent all people in Congress and give them the voice they deserve.”
In response to Luna’s win, Makki, while disappointed in the results, made clear the common goal — oust Crist.
“While I am disappointed in the outcome of tonight’s election, I am immensely proud of the hard work of my entire campaign and our team of volunteers,” Makki said. “I am grateful for those whose support I earned, and I look forward to continuing to find ways to connect with and improve our community. I encourage my fellow Republicans to keep up the good fight and press on toward our shared goal of defeating Charlie Crist this November.”
Now, Crist will face his first formidable opposition since he was elected to Congress in 2016. The incumbent’s campaign released a statement regarding Luna’s win.
“Congressman Charlie Crist’s commitment to civility and working across the aisle is about building coalition-driven solutions to our shared challenges — defeating COVID-19, reopening and rebuilding our economy, fighting climate change and ensuring we serve those who served our country,” the statement reads. “Voters of Pinellas County need and deserve someone in Washington who deeply understands the district on a personal level — and nobody knows Pinellas County better than Charlie Crist.”
Despite polling numbers originally predicting an easy victory for Makki, Luna garnered significant support in the critical stretch leading up to the primary.
Luna took the lead in contributions for the past two reporting periods, although Makki has had stronger fundraising overall. Makki was the biggest spender in the pre-primary reporting period, spending $442,799 in July.
Since the start of their campaigns, Luna has brought in just shy of $1 million, and Makki raised more than $1.2 million, as of the end of July.
Luna will start her campaign against Crist with nearly $2.8 million less than the Democratic incumbent, who has $3.1 million cash on hand.
Despite Crist’s monetary advantage and incumbent status, the district is not quite safe. Democrats outnumber Republicans by only 26,678 voters, but there are more than 146,896 no party-affiliated or third-party voters among the district’s 512,570 voters. Pinellas went for former President Barack Obama in both his runs, but favored President Donald Trump in 2016.
Still, ousting Crist would still be a monumental feat for Republicans. Crist easily crushed vocal hyper-conservative George Buck two years ago with 58% of the vote. Buck was also on the primary ballot again this year, but not without controversy, and received 25.84% of the vote.
Crist also edged out former incumbent David Jolly in 2016 with 52% of the vote, which came only after the district was redrawn to include downtown St. Petersburg and parts of the Southside, giving Democrats the voter registration edge.
If an incumbent with high approval ratings couldn’t hold the redrawn district, it’s hard to imagine Luna managing to retake the seat this year, at a time when Republicans face potential guilt-by-association behind a President whose approval ratings are in the gutter.
Both Luna and Makki used their support for Trump throughout the campaign, but the two appealed to voters differently, reflected in their respective endorsements and campaign ads. It seems Luna’s more hard-hitting approach was successful in landing her the nomination.
Luna, who is a military veteran turned conservative media personality, sought to claim the far-right vote and ran as a vocal Trump ally.
No candidate, however, was as vocal or controversial as Buck, who caused a bit of a stir this campaign season.
Buck came under fire in July after tweeting only natural-born citizens should be able to serve in Congress — a plan that if it had been in place would have disqualified Makki, who was born in Iran. Buck also garnered criticism for implying in a December email that U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar should be hanged.
The candidate spent the least of the top three in the pre-primary filings but has spent the most since the start of his campaign — $969,391 in total. While he didn’t earn the nomination, it adds to the overall GOP push to dethrone Crist.
Taken as a whole, all three have been attacking Crist as a socialist-aligned Democrat who threatens American freedom and values.
The Republican race also featured a fourth candidate, Sheila Griffin, who earned 6.78% of the vote. Her campaign was plunged deep in the red after failing to raise significant funds and acquiring $20,928 in debt leading up to the election.
A fifth candidate, Sharon Newby, dropped out of the race and endorsed the new nominee, Luna.