In Pinellas County, conservative TV personality Anna Paulina Luna easily defeats establishment pick in GOP U.S. House primary
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
TALLAHASSEE (CFP) — Freshman Republican U.S. Rep. Ross Spano has lost his bid for re-election amid a criminal investigation into his 2018 campaign, while Republicans in Palm Beach County have picked far-right provocateur Laura Loomer — banned from social media for her strident anti-Muslim comments — as their U.S. House nominee, drawing praise from President Donald Trump.
Also in Tuesday’s primary, Kat Cammack won the GOP nomination for the seat being given up by her former boss, U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, in North-Central Florida, while State Rep. Byron Donalds of Naples appears to have taken a step toward adding a rare African American face to House Republican ranks.
Meanwhile, in Pinellas County, conservative TV personality Anna Paulina Luna defeated the pick of the Republican establishment, Amanda Makki, for the right to take on Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist in what may be the GOP’s best chance to flip a Florida seat in 2020.
In the 15th District (I-4 Corridor between Tampa and Orlando), with all of the precincts reporting, Spano trailed Lakeland City Commissioner Scott Franklin by less than 1,600 votes.
During the campaign, Franklin hammered Spano over an ongoing federal criminal investigation into illegal loans made to his 2018 campaign. The congressman has admitted his campaign violated campaign finance laws but denies any criminal wrongdoing.
Franklin will now face the Democratic primary winner, Alan Cohn, a former investigative journalist, although Democrats’ hopes of flipping the Republican-learning seat probably dimmed with Spano’s demise.
In the 3rd District (Gainesville and North-Central Florida), where Yoho is retiring, 10 Republicans were competing to fill his seat.
Cammack, former Yoho aide from Gainesville, took 25% to edge out Judson Sapp, a businessman from Green Cove Springs, at 20%.
Because Florida does not have primary runoffs, the first-place finisher in Tuesday’s crowded primary won the nomination with a plurality and will be favored in November in the Republican-leaning district, which is mostly rural but includes the University of Florida.
In the Democratic primary, Adam Christensen, a Gainesville businessman, held a lead of less than 700 votes over Tom Wells, a physicist who has been endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America and groups affiliated with Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders
Another Republican free-for-all took place in the 19th District (Fort Myers, Naples and Southwest Florida), where U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney is retiring and nine Republicans were running.
Donalds took 23%, less than 800 votes ahead of the second-place finisher, State House Majority Leader Dane Eagle from Cape Coral. Casey Askar, a Iraqi immigrant businessman from Naples who put $3 million of his own money into the campaign, finished a close third.
The 19th District is heavily Republican, which will make Donalds, who is African American, the prohibitive favorite in November. Currently, there is only one black Republican in the House, U.S. Rep. Will Hurd of Texas, who is not seeking re-election.
In the 13th District (Pinellas County), Luna took 36% to 29% for Makki, a well-connected former congressional aide and Washington lobbyist who had the backing of House Republican leaders and raised $1.2 million for the race.
But Luna, a staunch defender of Trump on TV, excited the Republican grassroots to raise nearly $1 million and surge from behind, with an endorsement from firebrand Florida U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz.
Crist is one of only two Florida Democrats whose seat is expected to be possibly competitive in 2020, although he won re-election by 15 points in 2018.
The other GOP target is U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy in the 7th District (Orlando and its northern suburbs), where Leo Valentin, an Orlando radiologist, held a 700-vote lead over Richard Goble, a mortgage broker from Lake Mary, with all precincts reporting.
In the 21st District (Palm Beach County), Loomer took 42% to beat five other Republicans for the nomination to face Democratic U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel in November after raising more than $1 million, outpacing even the incumbent.
While Loomer appears to have little chance against Frankel in the heavily Democratic district,, she will be yet another fringe nominee for Republican leaders to defend, after victories by adherents of the QAnon conspiracy theory in Georgia and Colorado.
Loomer, who describes herself as a “nationalist” but eschews the “alt-right” label, has been banned from a variety of social media sites — and even Uber and PayPal — for anti-Muslim rhetoric, describing herself on Twitter as a #ProudIslamophobe and calling for a ban on Muslims entering the country.
Among her particular targets are the only two Muslim women in Congress, U.S. Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota.
Loomer has also drawn attention to herself for outlandish publicity stunts, including heckling reporters at the Conservative Political Action conference (which got her banned from the event); asking Chelsea Clinton at a book signing to autograph a book for a woman who alleges that the Clinton’s father, the former president, raped her; and interrupting the assassination scene in a performance of Shakespeare’s “Julius Ceasar” in Central Park, shouting “this is violence against Donald Trump.”
She has also spread conspiracy theories, including that Omar had married her brother and that some school shootings were staged and survivors coached to talk to the media.
Despite that questionable pedigree, Loomer’s campaign has drawn support from Gaetz, Trump confidante Roger Stone, U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona, and Fox News personality Jeanine Pirro.
Trump, who had retweeted a fundraising solicitation sent on Loomer’s behalf, praised her win: “Great going Laura. You have a great chance against a Pelosi puppet!”
The president’s Mar-a-Lago estate, which is now his permanent residence, is in the 21st District.