Even before she was sworn into Congress, U.S Rep. Anna Paulina Luna grabbed the nation’s attention. As the 118th Congress met for its first vote, she was among 19 Republicans who refused on the first ballot to support Kevin McCarthy for Speaker of the House.
The body had to vote 15 times before McCarthy secured the gavel, with the California Republican making significant concessions along the way. Luna ultimately accepted terms and supported the sitting Speaker.
And while some wondered if the holdout votes would suffer punishment at the hands of leadership, the St. Petersburg Republican landed plum committee assignments on the House Oversight Committee and Natural Resources Committee.
“While undoubtedly controversial, Anna Paulina Luna is also a figure of growing national reputation and importance. With endorsements from the likes of Donald Trump and Matt Gaetz already under her belt, Luna’s identity as a conservative fighter was further bolstered by her role in challenging Kevin McCarthy’s speakership earlier this year,” RSA Consulting President and CEO Ron Pierce said. “Although you may not agree with what she has to say, it is hard to deny that she has had an impact.”
The Congresswoman certainly has a different stature than she did even a year ago, when she had earned some celebrity through her advocacy as much as her first failed run for Congress against then-Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist. Even when she ran on difficult terrain in 2020, flamboyant advertising generated national attention, such as when she appeared in a 2nd-to-None PAC ad with three other gun-wielding congressional candidates; Luna carried an American flag-painted flamethrower.
While she lost to Crist by 6 points in 2022, fate would offer her a political lifeline in 2022 in the form of a new map crafted by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ staff and signed by the Republican executive.
That changed Florida’s 13th Congressional District from a jurisdiction that went to Democrat Joe Biden by 4 percentage points in the 2020 presidential campaign to a district Trump had won by nearly 7 points.
She still had to charge through a costly Republican Primary against Kevin Hayslett and a General Election battle against Barack Obama administration veteran Eric Lynn. But she ultimately secured her seat, with the blue-to-red flip helping the GOP secure a House majority.
“Anna has a message that resonated in the Primary and in the General Election,” said political consultant James Blair. “And she just outworked her opponents.”
Blaire feels Luna also outworked Crist, but the district wasn’t as GOP-friendly then and she had no outside help. This time Republicans all over the country helped her flip the seat. And that happened despite Lynn and an outside PAC associated with his campaign outspending her 12 to 1.
All this makes for a star biography in a chamber where attention quickly converts to political capital. Luna picked up a new seat for the GOP, and arrived as the first Mexican American to serve on Florida’s congressional delegation.
The Congresswoman attracted haters as well. The Washington Post published an investigation of her background questioning parts of her biography, like her father’s incarceration. But errors, such as suggesting she was registered as a Democrat in Washington when the state doesn’t allow registration with political parties, meant the report saw wide criticism, with the only follow-up by other news organizations being interviews with Luna to debunk portions.
The whole episode, if anything, fueled greater popularity for Luna on the Right, where the Congresswoman boasts a small donor network that helped her raise nearly $3.4 million in the 2022 election cycle without the value of incumbency.
She’s helped, undoubtedly, by a long-term relation with Charlie Kirk’s Turning Point USA, a conservative group focused on student outreach. The group provided an endorsement and material support in her election.
“Anna Paulina Luna is one of the most exciting candidates in America,” Kirk tweeted about Luna in October. “Her victory is essential.”
She also maintains a close relationship with former President Trump, who endorsed her candidacy early on.
She’s also, to a degree, become a poster child of multiple fights for Republicans. She filed an elections complaint against Twitter last year when the massive platform refused to give her verified status as a congressional candidate, then sued the Federal Elections Commission for failing to take any action.
Since arriving in Congress, she continues to gain attention with accessories including an AR-15 pin she routinely wears to hearings. She often uses her time with made-for-TV lines of questioning including printed flow charts and visual aids intended to reach viewers at home as much as colleagues in the Chamber.
The Congresswoman quickly joined the high-profile House Freedom Caucus, allying herself with the most combative conservatives in Congress. But members say it’s a mistake to underestimate Luna’s policy chops. As a veteran and conservative movement leader, she has the background and research ability to steer conversations even as a freshman member.
“Anna is a relentless fighter for her district,” Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican, told Florida Politics. “She has major star power and is using it very effectively. I’m already learning a great deal from her on military policy matters and communications strategy.”
Can she continue to grow and capitalize on that fame? If nothing else, time is on her side.
At age 33, she’s actually the youngest Republican in all of Congress and the fourth-youngest member of the House. But for 26-year-old U.S. Rep. Maxwell Frost of Orlando, she’d be the youngest member of Florida’s delegation. (Trivia fans take note that a state known for its senior population produced the two youngest members of the Republican and Democratic caucuses).
Today, that means she’s a lowly ranked member in a swing district earning the love and hate from national media that youth and social media savvy provide. But if she is still serving in the House a decade from now, she will be the rare member to rack up 10 years on the Hill before reaching her mid-40s.
Can a firebrand who courts controversy achieve much in a collegial body? Already, the Congresswoman has shown she just might be able to move past a bad girl reputation and work across the aisle. When U.S. Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a Parkland Democrat, decided to start a weekly tradition of brunching with a colleague from across the aisle, his first guest was Luna, a classmate and fellow Floridian.
But can she grow her influence after starting out in a relationship viewed by many as adversarial with McCarthy and GOP leadership? Blair said he has had such conversations with Luna, but knows the Congresswoman took a stand for something she believed in. That resulted in the Speaker’s Office making significant concessions that distributed power to members.
“Anna said to me the following day after that, James, if this costs my seta in two years, so be it,” Blair recalls. “These rules changes are important, and they are better for the institution, so no matter what we will have done something good in my two years.”
We define the Tampa Bay region as Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco, but can also include Hernando, Polk or Sarasota — if the politicians from those counties impact either Pinellas or Hillsborough.
We define a politician as being in office or running for office.
Being first on a panelist’s list earns the politician 25 points, second earns them 24 points and so on, to where being listed 25th earns a politician one point. Points are added and, voilà, we have a list.
Special thanks go to our experienced and knowledgeable panelists, who were essential to developing the 2023 list: Christina Barker of the Vinik Family Office, Ashley Bauman of Mercury, Ed Briggs of RSA Consulting, political consultant Maya Brown, Ricky Butler of the Pinellas Co. Sheriff’s Office, Reggie Cardozo of The Public Square, Ronald Christaldi of Schumaker, Barry Edwards, Joe Farrell of Pinellas Realtors, pollster Matt Florell of Vicidial Group, Shawn Foster of Sunrise Consulting Group, Adam Giery of Strategos Group, political consultant Max Goodman, Mike Griffin of Savills, Todd Josko of Ballard Partners, Natalie King of RSA Consulting, political consultant Benjamin Kirby, Merritt Martin of Moffitt Cancer Center, Mike Moore of The Southern Group, Ron Pierce of RSA Consulting, J.C. Pritchett, pastor of St. Pete’s Faith Church, Darren Richards of Tucker/Hall, Preston Rudie of Catalyst Communications Group, Amanda Stewart of Johnston and Stewart, Bemetra Simmons of the Tampa Bay Partnership, Alan Suskey of Shumaker Advisors and communications consultant Janelle Irwin Taylor. With Michelle and Peter Schorsch.