Florida politics had 11 questions before federal qualifying week. Here are the answers.

Casting a Vote on an Election Ballot
A week of news brings MAGA challengers to Laurel Lee, a Primary for Andrew Warren and a 2 Live Crew candidacy.

Florida Politics raised 11 questions political observers in the state expected answers to before federal and judicial qualification closed. That deadline passed at noon, April 26, and now we have answers.

Will Rick Scott face a Primary?

YES. And from a challenger who spends money.

Melbourne lawyer Keith Gross qualified as a candidate in the Republican Primary against incumbent U.S. Sen. Rick Scott. The significance, however, shouldn’t be overstated.

Gross, a former Democrat, has largely self-funded his campaign so far, but to the tune of $1.74 million in candidate loans and another $136,000 in direct contributions. But his $1.93 million in total receipts show a willingness to spend on the race, even if he closed the first quarter with under $30,000 cash on hand to Scott’s $3.78 million. But we’ll see how he does against the ultimate self-funder

Additionally, Republican John Columbus qualified early in the week. Other GOP candidates who had filed failed to meet ballot requirements by week’s end.

Will there be a Democratic Senate Primary?

YES. And this seems more significant.

It was no surprise that former U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell made the ballot after raising $7.29 million through March. But a couple other candidates with personal resources or name recognition also will appear in the Democratic Primary.

That includes technology entrepreneur Stanley Campbell, who has pulled a $1 million candidate loan, and may get a free media boost as his celebrity brother Luther Campbell (see below) runs for U.S. House. But the ballot qualification of former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, a former Senate candidate and progressive hero, also caught off guard some who thought he was only running to cut down old campaign debt.

Other qualifying Democrats in the race include Rod Joseph and Brian Rush.

And bonus answer, there’s also some extra candidates advancing to the General Election, including Feen Bonoan and no-party-affiliation candidates Shantele Renee Bennett, Ben Everidge and Tuan Nguyen, with Howard Knepper qualified as a write-in.

Any Primaries in the suspended State Attorney races?


In the Orlando area, suspended State Attorney Monique Worrell won the Democratic nomination uncontested. But Gov. Ron DeSantis’ pick for the job decided to avoid a Primary altogether. After initially filing as a Republican, appointed State Attorney Andrew Bain qualified without party affiliation. Meanwhile, two Republican State Attorney candidates did qualify in Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit: Thomas “Feiter” Fighter and Seth Hyman. The Primary winner will face Bain and Worrell in the heavily Democratic jurisdiction in November.

But in Tampa, there’s a bit of a reverse situation. Appointed State Attorney Suzy Lopez won the GOP nomination in Florida’s 13th Judicial Circuit without opposition. But suspended State Attorney Andrew Warren, after appearing on a Florida Democratic Party press call, does have a challenger. Democrat Elizabeth Martinez Strauss said she’d rather see Warren reinstated, but courts haven’t ruled and she said Democrats need a viable alternative to Lopez. “I got into this race because Andrew Warren was a risky candidate and he’s still a risky candidate,” she said.

Who wants to succeed Dave Aronberg in Palm Beach?


Seven candidates ultimately qualified to run for State Attorney. That includes three Democrats, two Republicans and an independent.

On the Democratic side, Alexcia Cox has raised nearly $174,000 to run in Florida’s 15th Judicial Circuit. Craig Williams has collected more than $87,000 in outside donations on top of a $50,000 candidate loan. Silva Rolando raised $59,000 and dropped more than $75,000 in candidate loans in her coffers as well. Gregg Lerman, who had raised more than $64,000, also made the ballot.

Meanwhile, Sam Stern on the Republican side qualified after raising more than $51,000 and putting in a $25,000 loan. Forrest Freedman, who raised about $2,900 on top of $400 in loans, also qualified for the ballot, setting up a GOP Primary.

Primary winners will face Adam Farkas, an independent who qualified despite reporting no fundraising to date.

Will Democrats contest every House race?

YES. Believe it or not.

The state party announced just this month that it wanted to recruit candidates in every single district. Things looked a little dicey straight up until, in a few deep-red districts, the party found a sacrificial lamb to pay a $10,440 qualifying fee. But Democrats did successfully bring in perennial candidate Tom Wells to challenge GOP U.S. Rep. Kat Cammack in Florida’s 3rd Congressional District and James Stockton to make a run against U.S. Rep. Michael Waltz in Florida’s 6th Congressional District.

The sticky points were in Florida’s 2nd, 5th and 12th Congressional Districts. But Rock Aboujaoude rallied enough donor support to challenge U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis in CD 12, where the incumbent also faces a GOP Primary challenge from Hank Dunlap. And in CD 2, Meghann Hovey made a last-second entry into CD against GOP Rep. Neal Dunn.

So what now? Well, at least Democrats have someone running in every part of Florida as Democrats make the case that the Sunshine State is in play for the Presidential Election.

Will CD 13’s Primary remain crowded?


In the end, five Democratic candidates all qualified to challenge U.S. Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, a freshman Republican and one of U.S. House Democrats’ targets in the Fall.

Whitney Fox so far is the best-funded Democrat, raising $422,000 for the race through March. But Mark Weinkrant, who reported more than $188,000 in receipts so far, also qualified. So did Liz Dahan, with $119,000 raised through the quarter, and John Liccione, who has collected just over $46,000. And in the last hour of qualifying, Sabrina Bousbar, who reported more than $126,000 in receipts and garnered some significant endorsements, also qualified for the ballot.

But Luna made the ballot and no Republican challenger will take her on in August. That means a blue bloodbath in Pinellas County and Democrats fight it out for the chance to take on the incumbent in a district she won in 2022 by almost 9 percentage points.

Will any Democrat in CD 27 back down?


Two well-financed Democrats had filed against GOP incumbent U.S. Rep. María Elvira Salazar when the week started and both made the ballot. Michael Davey has raised more than $314,000 for the race as of the end of the first quarter, and Lucia Baez-Geller has reported $241,000 and change. But they will have to spend a significant chunk of that to decide who takes on the incumbent in the Fall.

Salazar also drew a Republican opponent. Royland Lara, who filed in October, and qualified despite reporting no fundraising to date. That likely won’t be much of a challenge in August. But House Democrats say this race is a priority to take back four years after Salazar unseated Democrat Donna Shalala.

Will CD 9 see a real election?


But there could be a costly GOP Primary before Republicans take their shot at Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto. House Republicans did successfully recruit former state Rep. John Quiñones, the first GOP Puerto Rican elected to the Florida Legislature. The Kissimmee Republican qualified less than 24 hours before deadline after raising $105,000 through March.

But the top fundraiser in the contest isn’t Quiñones or Soto, but Republican Col. Thomas Chalifoux, who had almost $1 million in cash on hand for the race at close of the quarter, pretty much all of it courtesy of a candidate loan. If he’s willing to spend that, it could cost a lot just to win the GOP nomination in a district Joe Biden won by 18 percentage points in 2020. Republican Jose Castillo, who reported $57,000-plus in cash on hand, also qualified.

It got national Republicans’ attention when an underfunded Scotty Moore got within 8 points of Soto in 2022. The result appears to be a potentially bloody Primary in 2024.

Is Uncle Luke serious?


The biggest rumor to fizzle this week was that 2 Live Crew frontman Luther Campbell, who has played in South Florida politics behind-the-scenes for years, would run for Congress. In the end, he did not appear to qualify and sources close to his campaign did not expect him to surface as a candidate.

The First Amendment crusader got tongues wagging when he opened a Federal Election Commission account midweek, appearing to lay groundwork for a Democratic Primary challenge to U.S. Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, a redshirt freshman who came to power through a five-vote win in a Special Election Primary. But it looks like this election season won’t be quite as nasty as some wanted it to be.

In fact, she won unopposed, the only member of the delegation to do so.

Will Carlos Giménez seek re-election?


Rumors have circulated about whether the U.S. Rep. Carlos Giménez, a second-term Republican, would run for another office like his old Miami-Dade Mayor post. Admittedly, those died down after the Republican incumbent reported more than $1 million in cash on hand to close the first quarter.

But considering that he represents a district won by Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Presidential Election and Andrew Gillum in the 2018 Governor’s race, Democrats still held their breath to see if they could be blessed with an open seat this year. Giménez, however, qualified to run for a third term representing Florida’s 28th Congressional District.

Of note, he’s been outraised this election cycle by Democrat Phil Ehr, the only Democrat to qualify. But Ehr, who opened his election account when he was still running for Senate, closed the first quarter with just over $48,000 in cash. At least he doesn’t have a Primary like Democratic candidates in CD 13 and CD 27. But it could be a challenge to convince national Democrats this seat can be flipped blue four years after Giménez unseated Mucarsel-Powell there.

Who will be the MAGA challenger to Laurel Lee?


Two candidates meeting the description qualified for the race. James Judge, a Dade City Republican who challenged Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor in 2022 and had planned a GOP Primary challenge to U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, shifted his candidacy to Florida’s 15th Congressional District and paid his qualifying fee early in the week. Then, Jennifer Barbosa, a former challenger to Democratic U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff in California, surfaced as a CD 15 candidate this week and also made the ballot.

Both filed in direct response to a call from former President Donald Trump for a Primary challenger to take on U.S. Rep. Laurel Lee, the only Republican in Florida’s congressional delegation to endorse DeSantis over Trump for President. But Trump has yet to identify a favorite in the race. His endorsement would certainly impact the August Primary. Meanwhile, Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp was the sole Democrat to qualify in the district and would likely welcome the chance to fight a non-incumbent.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


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