With the General Election just two months and odd days away, Democrat Charlie Crist has a lot of things in his favor as he tries to hold his CD 13 seat. But he also has a Republican challenger, Air Force veteran Anna Paulina Luna, who overcame long odds to win her primary and is planning a repeat performance in November.
Can it happen again?
My initial reaction is that it won’t. But I’m not going to crawl out too far on that limb.
Crist remains as affable as ever. He has money, name recognition, and the power of incumbency in a district that is at least a light shade of blue.
Traditionally, that is enough to win – especially given the blue wave Democrats rode in 2018 to take control of the U.S. House. But Republicans think they can flip this district, and in Luna, they have an anti-establishment flag-bearer straight out of “Drain The Swamp.”
“You never say never in Pinellas County,” said Dr. Susan MacManus, a long-time Florida political observer and past chair of the Department of Government and International Affairs at the University of South Florida.
“And women are doing very well in Florida right now. She has the backing of the (Republican) Party right now, and that will help.”
In the Republican primary, Amanda Makki seemed to have everything going for her. She is a traditional Republican and had endorsements from Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Minority Whip Steve Scalise.
But Luna played the anti-establishment card and snagged the backing of the ultimate disruptor, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz. She won the race by seven points, but she’s up against the varsity this time.
“The primary is a different beast,” USF St. Petersburg Emeritus Professor of Government Darryl Paulson said. “You have a much smaller voting base, and the true believers turn out. In the general election, you have a much greater turnout, plus you’ve got all those independent voters.
“Plus, she was in a bruising primary while Charlie didn’t have any opposition. You’ve only got two months to put the pieces back together again. She has an uphill battle.”
Luna almost certainly will continue to play the outsider card. That might be her most effective weapon against Crist, who has a lengthy career in public office.
“It’s not good to be status-quo anymore. People are looking for fresh faces,” Paulson said. “That’s how we got Barack Obama, who had just three years of experience in the Senate. That’s how we got Donald Trump, who had zero experience.”
And MacManus added another note of caution for Crist.
“You don’t want your picture taken with Nancy Pelosi right now,” she said.
I imagine several of those already exist and will be coming to a mailbox or TV screen near you.
Trump won Pinellas County by less than 6,000 votes in 2016, but at the same time, Crist beat David Jolly by about 13,000 votes.
In July’s financial report, Crist had about $3.1 million at his disposal.
But Luna proved in the primary that she could raise cash. She pulled more than Makki in the final two reports, including a significant edge in small-donor contributions. And besides Gaetz, she has the big man in her corner.
Trump already has signaled enthusiastic support for Luna.
Will it be enough?
“It’s one of those races that is really intriguing,” MacManus said. “Charlie can’t take this for granted.”