U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist delivered a needed victory to Florida Democrats Tuesday night over GOP challenger Anna Paulina Luna.
With all precincts reporting, Crist won 53% of the vote to Luna’s 47%.
While Crist’s victory is clear-cut, it was the first major competition he has faced since first being elected to Congress in 2016 over then-incumbent David Jolly and it’s a margin far less than polls or previous elections suggested.
“To our supporters, thank you!” Crist wrote on Twitter. “I am honored to serve the people of Congressional District 13 for another term.”
In a state that saw two South Florida Congressional Democrats wiped out Tuesday night, Crist’s race was a bright spot. Democrats are expected to maintain control of the U.S. House despite Reps. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna Shalala losing hard-fought races. Mucarsel-Powell’s victor, Carlos Gimenez, declared victory Tuesday night after claiming 52% of the vote. Mucarsel-Powell has yet to concede. Shalala already conceded.
With the two losses, and others from across the country Democrats’ have lost four seats, bringing the total called count to 188 seats for Democrats and 181 for Republicans, with 218 the number to get to in order to claim majority. Projections show Democrats will pull it off, but their hopes at reclaiming the Senate are still up in the air with both parties locked at 47 seats each with six seats still uncertain.
The reelection bid of a well-liked, well-funded congressional incumbent is supposed to be a mundane affair. There are press conferences, endorsements from like-minded officials and (oh yeah, we almost forgot) a challenger hailing from the duller side of “meh.”
That’s what everyone thought Crist’s run for a third term would be.
“And @RepCharlieCrist will remain Rep. Charlie Crist,” St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman tweeted. “And that’s good news for St. Pete and Pinellas.”
And @RepCharlieCrist will remain Rep. Charlie Crist, and that's great news for St. Pete and Pinellas. ☀️
— Rick Kriseman (@Kriseman) November 4, 2020
“Congressman @CharlieCrist has been a fighter for Floridians for years,” tweeted the Florida Democratic Party. “We’re so excited to send him back to D.C. to fight for our Democratic values!”
Congressman @CharlieCrist has been a fighter for Floridians for years. We're so excited to send him back to D.C. to fight for our Democratic values! #SunshineSlate☀️ #FlaPol pic.twitter.com/krEJnxf6BP
— Florida Democrats (@FlaDems) November 4, 2020
But this, as we all know, is 2020.
Crist faced a notable challenge from Luna, a Trumpy influencer type whose gun-forward campaign photos helped get the 31-year-old Air Force veteran national attention.
For brief few years, Florida’s 13th Congressional District was something rare: a true swing district. Longtime U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, a moderate Republican, held the seat for decades until he died in 2013. His former aide, Jolly, then won the seat, but lost it to Crist in 2016 after state lawmakers redrew the district to include more Democrats in the wake of a gerrymandering lawsuit.
The district runs roughly from Pinellas Point in St. Pete north to Clearwater, covering peninsular Pinellas County. Democrats outnumber Republicans here 201,088 to 176,857. NPA voters currently total 143,876, according to the latest state numbers.
Polling the week before the election showed voters in the district favoring Crist by 17 points.
A charismatic former Governor and St. Petersburg native, Crist had made his own national headlines in 2010, when he was a Republican Governor seeking an open U.S. Senate Seat. Knowing his candidacy would likely not survive a primary challenge from right-wing tea-party darling Marco Rubio, he left the party and ran for the seat, unsuccessfully, as an NPA. He then challenged Rick Scott, another right-wing Republican, for Governor in 2014, as a Democrat, and lost. He won his seat in 2016 and was seeking a third term.
Crist has long been vocally pro-environment and favors of middle-of-the-road policing reform and a second coronavirus relief package.
Luna grew up in Southern California and joined the military in 2009.
She worked for far-right media site Prager U, and topped her platform with enhancing veterans’ services – on her campaign website, anyway.
If one were to know her from her more eye-catching campaign materials, they’d see the Second Amendment was front-of mind.
She was often photographed with a semiautomatic weapon in hand in images tailor made for Instagram. Even the hero image on her campaign homepage features a gun strapped around her shoulders.
A recent ad from the fiercely pro-gun 2nd-to-None PAC featured her toting a gun decked out with the stars ‘n’ stripes themselves, then a flamethrower.
The flashy public image of a young, gun-toting Latina who refuses to compromise on her beloved Second Amendments landed her support from the likes of MAGA Panhandle U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, Turning Points USA’s Charlie Kirk and even President Donald Trump. Support from such figures led to money pouring in from across the country. Over a two-month period in late summer, she outraised Crist by more than three to one.
“Although tonight did not go our way, this is not the end of the road,” Luna said late Tuesday night. “Patriotism and public service are lifelong endeavors. We love our country. We pray for our country. And we will continue to serve our country. Thank you for your support.”
In early October, nonpartisan political prognosticator Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball moved District 13 from “Likely Democrat” to “Safe Democrat.”