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Southern primary season concludes with contests in Florida, Oklahoma

Wide-open governor’s races top ballot in Florida; Republicans pick governor nominee in Oklahoma

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

TALLAHASSEE (CFP) — The Southern primary season draws to a close Tuesday with competitive races in both parties for Florida’s open governor’s seat and a runoff for Oklahoma Republicans to pick their gubernatorial nominee.

Adam Putnam

Ron DeSantis

The marquee race in Florida is the GOP contest for governor between U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, who carries the imprimatur of President Donald Trump, and State Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who was considered the front-runner in the GOP race until DeSantis announced his run in January and got Trump’s endorsement.

The Democratic race for governor features a three-candidate battle between former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham from Tallahassee, the daughter of former U.S. Senator Bob Graham; former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine; and Palm Beach billionaire real estate investor Jeff Greene.

Florida does not have primary runoffs, so the first-place finisher on Tuesday will get the nomination.

In the U.S. Senate race, Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and Republican Governor Rick Scott are expected to easily win their party’s nomination for the fall election, setting up what is likely to be the nation’s most expensive Senate race this year.

Also in Florida, three sitting Democratic U.S. House members are trying to survive primary challenges, while Republicans will pick their nominees for three open GOP-leaning seats.

Tuesday’s primaries will also set up fall matches for four battleground seats that Democrats are trying to take away in their quest to win control of the House, including in the 27th District in Miami-Dade County, where Donna Shalala, President Clinton’s health secretary and former president of the University of Miami, is trying to launch a political career at age 77.

In Oklahoma, the GOP runoff pits former Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett against Tulsa businessman Kevin Stitt. The winner will face Democratic former Attorney General Drew Edmonson in the fall to succeed term-limited Republican Governor Mary Fallon.

Kevin Stitt

Mick Cornett

Cornett came out on top during the first round of voting in June, although he carried just 29 percent of the vote. However, more recent public polling has shown Stitt, making his first bid for public office, with the lead.

Stitt ran on a platform of reforming the political culture in Oklahoma City, a message that resonated in the wake of a teachers’ strike in April that shuttered classrooms and roiled state politics. His campaign has surged after he poured in more than $3 million of his own money.

Cornett, 59, is a well known figure in Oklahoma politics, serving 14 years as mayor of Oklahoma City after a career as a television anchor.

While Republicans dominate Oklahoma politics — and Fallon won the last two races by double-digit margins — Democrats will have a viable nominee for governor in Edmundson, 71, who comes from a prominent Oklahoma political family and served as attorney general from 1995 to 2011.

In Florida U.S. House races, Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson is trying to turn back a primary challenge from former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown in the 5th District, a majority-minority district that stretches across North Florida from Jacksonville to Tallahassee.

Two years ago, Lawson, from Tallahassee, ousted former U.S. Rep. Corinne Brown after she was indicted on corruption charges. Brown is now trying to return the favor and bring the seat back to Jacksonville, which is the largest population center in the district.

Lawson has criticized Alvin Brown for his past association with Corinne Brown (no relation), who is now serving a federal prison sentence.

In the 9th District in metro Orlando, Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto is being challenged by former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, a controversial liberal firebrand who held the seat until giving it up in 2016 to make an ill-fated U.S. Senate run.

In an illustration of how much Grayson’s former colleagues don’t relish his attempted comeback, all 10 Democratic House members representing Florida districts have endorsed Soto, along with former Vice President Joe Biden.

Soto, the first person of Puerto Rican heritage to represent the Sunshine State in Congress, will also benefit from a growing number of Puerto Ricans who have settled in Central Florida since the island was hit by economic problems and Hurricane Maria.

In another Orlando-area district, the 7th, Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy is facing a primary challenge from Chardo Richardson, an attorney who is running as a “progressive” alternative to Murphy, who flipped the seat from Republican to Democratic hands in 2016.

Florida Democrats are also picking nominees in four Republican-held districts that they hope to flip in November.

In the 16th District centered on the southern side of Tampa Bay area, Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan of Sarasota is seeking a seventh term in a district Trump carried by 11 points. But Democrat David Shapiro, a Sarasota lawyer, has raised more than $1.3 million for the race to try to make it competitive, according to the most recent Federal Elections Commission campaign finance reports.

Shapiro is facing Jan Schneider, an attorney who holds a Ph.D. in political science, in the Democratic contest.

In the 18th District along the Treasure Coast and northern Palm Beach County, two Democrats are competing to take on Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Mast from Palm City in a swing district that switched parties in 2012 and 2016.

Laura Baer, an attorney from Palm Beach Gardens, who served as a senior adviser to secretaries of state Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, is facing Pam Keith, an attorney and U.S. Navy veteran. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the campaign arm of House Democrats, has picked sides in this race by supporting Baer, who has raised three times as much money as Keith.

In the 26th District which takes in parts of Miami-Dade and the Florida Keys, Democrats are going after Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who has been a rare critic of Trump within the House Republican Caucus as he tries to hang on in a district Hillary Clinton won by 16 points.

Two Democratic political newcomers are competing to face Curbelo: Debbie Murcasel-Powell, a consultant for non-profit groups, and Demetrius Grimes, a retired Navy commander. Murcasel-Powell holds a wide fundraising advantage in the primary, having taken in $1.9 million, although Curbelo has raised twice that amount.

The seat in the 27th District, which includes Miami Beach and parts of Miami, is open due to the retirement of veteran Republican U.S. Rep. Ilena Ros-Lehtinen, who has held it for 30 years. This district, where Clinton beat Trump by nearly 20 points, is considered to be perhaps the Democrats’ best pickup opportunity nationally.

Five Democrats are running, with Shalala the biggest name on the Democratic side. However, she has been outraised by one of her rivals, State Rep. David Richardson of Miami Beach, who is the first openly gay man elected to Florida’s legislature. Matt Haggman, a foundation executive and former journalist from Coconut Grove, has also raised more than $1 million for the race.

On the Republican side, leading candidates include Maria Elvira Salazar, a Spanish-language TV news anchor; Miami-Dade County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro; and Michael Ohevzion, a businessman and Brazilian immigrant.

The population of the district is more than 70 percent Latino and includes Miami’s politically potent Cuban community. However, none of the leading Democrats are Latino, while all of the leading Republicans are.

Republicans are also picking nominees for three open GOP-held seats that they will be favored to retain in November.

In the 6th District in metro Jacksonville, which DeSantis gave up to run for governor, three Republicans and three Democrats are running. In Southwest Florida’s 15th District, where Republican U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross retired, five Republicans and three Democrats are fighting for nominations.

In the 17th District, a rural district south of Orlando, three Republicans and two Democrats are running to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney.



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