Anna Paulina Luna will take on Democratic incumbent Charlie Crist in Florida’s 13th Congressional District in November.
While the seat has been Crist’s since 2016, Luna may give him a run for his money, literally, on a challenging campaign trail.
Luna’s primary win came in a quick turnaround leading up to the August election. Luna defeated Amanda Makki, the GOP establishment favorite, with 36% of the vote. Makki earned just 29%, despite earlier polls predicting her as the winner.
“I think I’ve proved to everyone that through hard work, you can really fight the odds, and make tangible change,” Luna said. “We’ve been very, very happy at the results, we still are not losing sight of the fact that grassroots support is the most important thing in any election, and we’re continuing forward with doing what we have to do to get Charlie out.”
Luna is the first formidable opponent Crist has faced since he was first elected to Congress in 2016 against then-Republican incumbent David Jolly.
The district was under GOP control for more than four decades before Crist nabbed it, thanks largely to redistricting that shifted the voter registration advantage to Democrats. Now, the party is anxious for a chance to win it back.
Doing that is a big climb, but Luna said she’s up for the job.
After her nomination, Luna garnered national attention when President Donald Trump publicly endorsed her. This was a big win for Luna, a staunch Trump ally.
Luna credits her alliance to Trump to the work he has done to reduce human trafficking, she said — it’s something that got her into politics in the first place.
“Part of the reason why I’ve been such a vocal supporter of the President is because of my work on human trafficking,” Luna said. “I’ve been following what the President has been doing with that, and really taking charge, I think for the first time in a very long time in U.S. history, on really making this one of the topics of his campaign.”
Support from Trump could be a vital factor in Luna’s campaign.
Trump’s support has paid off before, most notably in 2018 when Gov. Ron DeSantis, once considered a long shot himself, catapulted to the front of the GOP pack to earn his party’s nomination after Trump endorsed him.
Whether or not Trump’s endorsement will translate to campaign cash remains to be seen, but it’s likely Luna will have to rely on grassroots fundraising. There are several congressional races in Florida this year more ripe for the GOP’s picking, so financial support from the party and other affiliated groups might not trickle down to Luna’s race.
She hopes the differences she brings to the table will help win the day, however.
Luna isn’t a run-of-the-mill politician, which is what the GOP is counting on to help her oust the incumbent. She is using what sets her apart to her advantage — she identifies with the traditional democratic base and urban communities in ways a lot of Republicans lack.
“I don’t forget where I came from,” Luna said. “It does humble you a little bit. I really do feel that public service, and really the position of an elected official, is special because you’re supposed to be representing everyone.”
To have a shot, Luna will have to stretch her appeal across party lines. Her campaign hopes to relate to urban voting blocs to boost her cross-over appeal. The campaign is also relying on swing voters.
Overall, Luna is optimistic in her efforts to take back the Pinellas County congressional district. Despite Crist’s monetary advantage and incumbent status, the district has plenty of voters outside the two main parties to tap. Democrats outnumber Republicans by 26,678 voters, but there are more than 146,896 non-partisan or third-party voters among the district’s 512,570 voters. Still, the district went for Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016 over President Donald Trump 48% to 47%. Voter turnout in that election was more than 77%.
Turnout will be essential for either candidate to take the seat, with both parties pushing for higher turnout.
Florida Politics reached out to Charlie Crist, but he was not available to speak by deadline.