Neal Dunn, Al Lawson debate who should continue representing North Florida
Incumbent v. incumbent: Al Lawson and Neal Dunn fight in a controversial district.

Lawson Dunn
The race is one of only two races between incumbents among U.S. House races nationwide.

With three weeks until Election Day, two incumbent Congressmen pleaded their cases to voters for which candidate they should send back to Washington to represent North Florida in Florida’s 2nd Congressional District.

U.S. Reps. Neal Dunn and Al Lawson were drawn into the same district this year after Gov. Ron DeSantis eliminated Lawson’s current district. The meeting marked the first of two debates in high-profile congressional races slated for Tuesday in Florida, with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and U.S. Rep. Val Demings lined up for a senatorial debate in the evening.

CD 2 features Florida’s only U.S. House race between two incumbents following this year’s redistricting process. The race is also one of only two such races nationwide during the General Election.

As a contest between two sitting members of the U.S. House — both of whom have served since 2016 — the debate provided each candidate a level playing field to measure themselves against Republican and Democratic leadership and the needs of the people of North Florida.

Dunn, a Republican from Panama City, opened the debate immediately hammering President Joe Biden on a “list of failures,” including inflation, the economy and the withdrawal from Afghanistan. He promoted Florida’s economic strength under DeSantis and promised to “turn things around” together with his Republican colleagues, who are well-positioned to retake the House, according to election forecasters.

Lawson, a Democrat from Tallahassee, attempted to characterize Dunn as focusing on federal politics while highlighting his history representing North Florida in the Legislature.

“My opponent acts like he’s running against (Nancy) Pelosi, running against Biden, but I’m running for you,” Lawson said.

Still, Lawson largely tacked with Biden and touted laws passed during the Democratic President’s first two years in office, such as the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), the American Rescue Plan and the federal burn pit bill, known as the PACT Act.

On the economy, Dunn stressed the impacts of inflation, the economic slowdown, which he called a recession, and supply chain interruptions on North Florida. Dunn touted energy independence, not the IRA, as a core solution to stabilizing the economy.

“Your gas prices are going to be up and they’re going to stay up for a long, long time,” Dunn said. “The IRA is a huge, huge bill that is mostly about (the) Green New Deal and weaponizing the IRS.”

Meanwhile, Lawson spotlighted poverty as a leading economic concern in CD 2 and pointed to COVID-19 relief and job creation passed under Biden. He also highlighted the Paycheck Protection Program, which began under President Donald Trump.

“You’ve got to work together to make things happen. That’s one of the things that my colleagues have not been able to do — is to cross the line and work with each other to make something happen,” Lawson said. “It’s easy to talk, but that dog won’t hunt, Neal Dunn.”

Both candidates similarly found themselves split on immigration, with Dunn saying many problems facing law enforcement begin at the southern border. Lawson focused on the longevity of the nation’s border concerns and the country’s history of accepting asylum-seekers.

On abortion, Dunn and Lawson took the common positions of their respective colleagues. Lawson called himself pro-choice and stressed the right for women to control their bodies.

Dunn, a surgeon by trade, called the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, which overturned Roe v. Wade and sent abortion policy to the states, “probably appropriate.” He also distinguished himself from conservatives who oppose exceptions to abortion restrictions in the cases of rape, incest and the risk of a mother’s life.

“In my surgical career, I operated on numerous in-utero, unborn babies,” Dunn said. “Those babies were my patients. I had a sacred trust with those babies.”

Moderator Jim Rosica of City & State Florida asked both candidates who won the 2020 election. Like Lawson, Dunn agreed that Biden was elected, but he extended his answer.

“However, it is a shame that Americans cannot have confidence in their elections. That’s an incredible thing, for a first world country to have the problems we have having faith in elections,” Dunn said.

Regarding the Jan. 6 Committee’s subpoena of Trump, Dunn said it is important to support Congress’ subpoena powers but questioned the committee’s subpoena powers. He also addressed the documents seized by the FBI at Mar-a-Lago.

“Can any of you say honestly, with certainty, that you can believe the reports you’re hearing from the press and the FBI about these documents?” Dunn asked the audience.

The candidates also sparred over Ukraine, student loan debt, veteran care, climate change and gun violence — such as Lawson’s support for “(getting) rid of assault weapons.” They found common ground on their support for the death penalty.

The two also debated prescription drugs. Dunn lamented the significant cut of drug sales received by pharmacy benefit managers. Lawson noted that he opposes Rubio’s proposal to lift the Medicare copay cap placed under the IRA, a topic that will likely come up in Tuesday night’s debate, hosted by WPBF 25 News.

The Dunn-Lawson debate was hosted by the Capital Tiger Bay Club, based in Tallahassee, in the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center.

Midterm years are historically unfavorable to the party controlling the White House and Congress. Democrats and left-leaning efforts had performed well in polls and Special Elections since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and the national right to an abortion, but Republicans have regained support in recent weeks, as immigration and the economy has come back into focus.

The most recent poll in the race, commissioned a month ago, shows Dunn with a 49%-43% lead over Lawson. FiveThirtyEight gives Dunn a 98% chance to win and predicts a 14-point margin.

Dunn and Lawson did not debate the creation of the new CD 2, which DeSantis proposed after calling Lawson’s current Tallahassee-to-Jacksonville minority access district unconstitutional. However, the redistricting decision has been a continuing storyline for North Florida as critics try to restore a minority protection seat in the region and reverse Republicans’ expected gains.

Dunn likely holds the advantage in CD 2, given Republicans’ past performance in the area. Had the district existed last decade, Trump would have carried the district by more than 11 percentage points in 2020 and DeSantis would have taken it by nearly 8 points in 2018.

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.

CD 2 stretches from eastern Walton County, across the Democratic-leaning regions in Quincy and Tallahassee, to Madison and Taylor counties and part of Lafayette County.

Lawson secured 44 votes in the straw poll while Dunn secured 31 votes. Two weeks prior, state Sen. Loranne Ausley received 53 votes following her debate against Republican Corey Simon, who received only 20 votes.

In perhaps a final play to win over the room’s high concentration of political insiders and Florida history buffs, Lawson paid homage to the late Gov. Lawton Chiles, the state’s last Democratic Governor.

“Remember, one thing, Congressman Dunn, the old he-coon walks just before dawn.”

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.


  • Tom

    October 18, 2022 at 4:48 pm

    Vote for Lawson, Demings, and Crist.

    Do not vote for Rubio, DeSantis, or Fat Cammack.

  • Hope

    October 18, 2022 at 11:36 pm

    Fake Tom,

    All your work has paid off.. for Republicans!

  • rusty

    October 19, 2022 at 11:42 am

    Dunn, the only real reason that people have lost faith in elections is because you and your GOP cronies have set about to destroy that faith. Witness, Florida where we have great elections, yet DeSatan and his GOP legislature passed new laws to discourage voting by making it harder to vote. Big Al is not President Biden nor Speaker Pelosi – he is his own man.

  • tom palmer

    October 20, 2022 at 8:16 pm

    It is hard to listen to arguments about the alleged weaponization of the IRS and the desire to remain in Afghanistan with a straight face.

Comments are closed.


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