Last Call — A prime-time read of what’s going down in Florida politics.
Two Florida Congressmen will take the stage Tuesday for a debate over who would best represent the 2nd Congressional District in North Florida.
U.S. Reps. Neal Dunn and Al Lawson will square up for the opening tip-off at noon at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center. The race is Florida’s only U.S. House race between two incumbents following this year’s redistricting process and one of only two such races nationwide during the General Election.
City & State Florida’s Jim Rosica, who will moderate the debate hosted by the Capital Tiger Bay Club, calls it a tough situation for both candidates. Lawson has been respectful to Dunn — blaming Gov. Ron DeSantis for grouping them together by eliminating his prior minority access district — and Dunn has called Lawson “a nice guy,” Rosica told Florida Politics.
“But I don’t think ‘Big Al’ will be reticent tomorrow to highlight the policy differences between himself and his GOP opponent, such as whether Dunn’s conservatism will play in places like majority-Black and Democratic Gadsden County. And Dunn will no doubt bring up whether Lawson’s politics match the new CD 2 as a whole,” Rosica said. “I think both men likely will go into this forum with the mindset that it’s the political fight of their careers.”
Dunn likely holds the advantage in CD 2, given Republicans’ past performance in the area. Had the district existed last decade, former President Donald Trump would have carried the district by more than 11 percentage points in 2020 and Gov. Ron DeSantis would have taken it by nearly 8 points in 2018.
FiveThirtyEight gives Dunn a 98% chance to win and predicts a 14-point margin. The most recent polling, from four weeks ago, shows Dunn up by 6 points.
Despite Lawson’s uphill battle, the new seat isn’t entirely out of reach for Democrats. Former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham flipped a similarly drawn seat blue in 2014, a year Republicans gained a net 13 seats in the House and won the generic ballot by nearly 6 points.
However, some election pundits believe Florida has grown redder in recent years, particularly given Trump’s 2020 victory in Florida and the possibility of politically motivated relocations to the Sunshine State under DeSantis.
More crucially, national Democratic forces are seemingly unwilling to spend big in CD 2. Last month, Lawson told POLITICO the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee wasn’t going to play in his race, and fellow members of the Congressional Black Caucus criticized the DCCC for not showing support for a loyal member.
Although the candidates have served in Congress since 2016, both are electorally unproven at the congressional level given the prior partisan leanings of their respective old districts. Tomorrow will be an opportunity for each to show how competitive they and their parties are in the next decade of North Florida politics.
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