Michele Rayner beats Wengay Newton for HD 62 seat

The Democratic nominee will likely take the seat, since the lone Republican candidate is in jail on charges related to the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection.

State Rep. Michele Rayner is set to serve a second term in the Legislature after winning the Democratic Primary for House District 62.

Rayner beat former Rep. Wengay Newton for the nomination, collecting 53% of the vote to Newton’s 35%.

“The people have spoken and I am now officially the Democratic Nominee in Florida’s 62nd State House District race! I’m humbled and proud, but most of all I’m ready to make history again this November by bringing the people’s voice back to FL’s halls of power,” Rayner wrote in a tweet Tuesday night.

In response to his defeat, Newton congratulated Rayner.

“Congratulations to Rep. Michelle Rayner on her primary win of the new HD 62 seat. What’s next for me? Thursday, Wifey and I will celebrate 32 years of marriage. Saturday, I will celebrate, be it God’s Will, 59 years of being blessed,” he wrote in a post. “Thanks for all your support and thanks for always being there for me and my family.”

A third candidate, Jesse Philippe, earned 11% of the vote.

Rayner, a civil rights lawyer, succeeded Newton for the South St. Petersburg district in 2020. Upon her initial election, she became the first openly gay woman of color to serve in the Legislature. Rayner is an advocate for social justice, and previously served as an Assistant Public Defender, legislative aide and counsel for the local NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

Newton served in the House from 2016 to 2020. He chose not to seek re-election in 2020, instead running two unsuccessful campaigns, one for Pinellas County Commission and another for St. Pete Mayor.

After being bested in the mayoral race, Newton announced he would run for his former House seat. While Newton appeared on the ballot, he did have to clear some hurdles in the qualification process.

The race for the seat was fierce, with both Newton and Rayner boasting name recognition in the district.

When he first entered the race, Newton didn’t know he’d have to face the incumbent. Initially, Rayner was not seeking re-election, instead pursuing a congressional seat. However her plans changed in May when redistricting shifted the Pinellas seat she sought into a Republican-leaning jurisdiction.

In swapping her campaign from Congress to state House, she brought with her a hefty war chest, giving her a strong advantage against Newton, who has struggled to compete with her fundraising. Rayner collected $253,544 between her campaign and affiliated committee, Progress for All. Newton, on the other hand, amassed $46,160, and Philippe raised $23,289.

Rayner and Newton have also differed greatly in support.

While Rayner has garnered endorsements from prominent local and state Democratic figures and progressive organizations, Newton received backing from more Republican-aligned organizations.

That led some to question Newton’s ties to the Republican Party, with support coming from former Republican colleagues. Although the former Representative touted an ability to work with Republicans — running with support from the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Fraternal Order of Police — others worried he is too close, potentially compromising Democratic policy goals.

The Democratic nominee will likely take the seat, since the lone Republican candidate, Jeremy Brown, sits in jail on charges from the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Even if he was not imprisoned, the Republican would struggle to flip the deep-blue district, which saw 72% support for President Joe Biden in the 2020 election, and only 27% for Donald Trump.

Kelly Hayes

Kelly Hayes studied journalism and political science at the University of Florida. Kelly was born and raised in Tampa Bay. A recent graduate, she enjoys government and legal reporting. She has experience covering the Florida Legislature as well as local government, and is a proud Alligator alum. You can reach Kelly at [email protected].


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