Two North Florida Congressmen will likely face off in November after Gov. Ron DeSantis shifted the region’s battle lines.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson will challenge Republican U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn in Florida’s 2nd Congressional District, according to reports. Lawson’s announcement came Thursday, a week to the day after the Florida Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to the state’s new congressional map before the Midterms. The new map, drawn by officials in DeSantis’ Office, eliminates Lawson’s current 5th Congressional District seat that spans from his hometown of Tallahassee to Jacksonville.
“They feel like they need a fighter for them in North Florida because a lot of time they feel like they get overlooked,” Lawson told POLITICO, who first reported his decision.
The Court’s decision creates an uphill battle for Lawson, 73, who has served in the House since being elected in 2016. Lawson’s current district is the only one of five North Florida districts that leans Democratic. But all five districts lean Republican under the new map.
Dunn, 69, is a Panama City urologist who was also first elected to Congress the same year as Lawson. Lawson told POLITICO he will hammer Dunn’s opposition to COVID-19 relief and infrastructure bills that poured money into the region.
Lawmakers passed the DeSantis-drawn map when negotiations on cartography failed during the Regular Session, forcing a Special Session. Analysts in the Florida Senate and House had maintained minority access seats were protected by the state constitution, per a 2015 Florida Supreme Court ruling that enacted the map in place the last three election cycles.
The 2015 ruling introduced the outgoing configuration of CD 5 that DeSantis wanted off the map. However, the Republican Governor argued that, by preserving a minority access district in North Florida, lawmakers produced a map drawn with race as a predominant motivator in violation of the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.
A lawsuit alleging the new map violates the Fair Districts amendment to Florida’s Constitution by diminishing the ability of Black constituents to elect a Representative of their choice remains ongoing. However, any impact will likely have to wait for a full trial to unfold, something that could take years.
The existing CD 5 map snakes through parts of Tallahassee and cuts to the western edge of Gadsden County before following the Florida-Georgia border and spilling into Jacksonville. Meanwhile, the existing CD 2 spans from Bay County to Levy and Marion counties and includes the parts of Tallahassee that CD 5 avoids.
Everything between DeFuniak Springs and Madison falls into the new CD 2, which would have voted for DeSantis over Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum by nearly 8 points in 2018 and for former President Donald Trump over President Joe Biden by 11 points in 2020.
Lawson had previously floated the ideal of challenging Dunn. But two weeks ago, Lawson told Florida Politics he remained confident that the Supreme Court would rule in favor of preserving the Tallahassee-Jacksonville district for the 2022 cycle. However, he did not rule out challenging Dunn in CD 2 if the Court sided with the Governor’s Office.
“That’s something I would look at,” Lawson said. “I really think I’d be running in 5th Congressional District.”
With the Court’s decision last week came time for Lawson to make his own decision.
Last week, Lawson criticized the Supreme Court for failing to address the map before the Midterms.
“The Justices in the majority ducked their constitutional responsibility, relying on a ridiculous procedural argument to obtain the result they wanted, instead of addressing the merits of the case,” he said.
“Today’s decision is indeed disheartening. The fact that Ron DeSantis appointed three of the four justices who rubber stamped his map made this outcome predictable. This shameful decision by the Florida Supreme Court is further indication that our judiciary has become overly political and is no longer an independent branch of government as our founders intended.”
Lawson never faced a serious General Election opponent in any of his three wins beginning in 2016, when the Tallahassee-Jacksonville district kicked in. He previously ran unsuccessfully for the House in 2010 and 2012. Meanwhile, Dunn defeated Democratic opponents in 2016 and 2018 by securing more than two-thirds of the vote and picked up no challenger in 2020.
“I have delivered for North Florida since 1982. The people are familiar with the work that I have done,” Lawson told POLITICO.
Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics contributed to this report.