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Florida Primary: U.S. Rep. Ross Spano ousted, as far-right candidate wins GOP nod in Palm Beach

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.

U.S. Rep. Ross Spano, R-Florida

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.

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Florida Primary: GOP U.S. Rep. Ross Spano fights for seat, as bevy of Republicans scramble in open districts

Far-right provocateur Laura Loomer may create another headache for GOP leaders with win in Palm Beach County U.S. House district

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

TALLAHASSEE (CFP) — Voters across the Sunshine State head to the polls Tuesday for in-person voting in a primary that features a number of competitive races for U.S. House party nominations and an effort by far-right provocateur Laura Loomer to capture a GOP U.S. House nomination in Palm Beach County.

Tuesday’s primary includes races for U.S. House, state legislature and local offices; no U.S. Senate seats or statewide offices are up in this cycle. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. local time.

The only incumbent in significant danger Tuesday is Republican U.S. Rep. Ross Spano, who is being challenged for his party’s nomination in the 15th District (I-4 Corridor between Tampa and Orlando) by Lakeland City Commissioner Scott Franklin amid a federal criminal investigation into illegal loans made to his 2018 campaign. Spano has admitted his campaign violated campaign finance laws but denies any criminal wrongdoing.

In the 3rd District (Gainesville and North-Central Florida), where U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho is retiring, 10 Republicans and three Democrats are scrambling for their party’s nominations.

The Republican field includes Kat Cammack, a former Yoho aide from Gainesville; former Gainesville City Commissioner Todd Chase; Clay County Commissioner Gavin Rollins; and two personally wealthy candidates who have largely self-financed their campaigns, James St. George, a physician from Fleming Island, and Judson Sapp, a businessman from Green Cove Springs.

Because Florida does not have primary runoffs, the first-place finisher in Tuesday’s crowded primary will win 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.

The Democratic race in the 3rd District is between Adam Christensen, a Gainesville businessman; Phil Dodds, a software designer from Alachua who ran for the seat in 2012; and 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 is taking place in the 19th District (Fort Myers, Naples and Southwest Florida), where U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney is retiring and nine Republicans are running.

The fundraising race in the primary has been led by two wealthy candidates who have dipped into their own funds for their campaigns: Casey Askar, a Iraqi immigrant businessman and former Marine from Naples who has loaned his campaign $3 million, and Wiliiam Figlesthaler, a urologist from Naples who has loaned his campaign nearly $2 million.

But State Rep. Byron Donalds of Naples has raised more then $1 million from donors and snagged endorsements from the National Rifle Association, the conservative Club for Growth, and the campaign arm of the House Freedom Caucus. Two other elected officials are also in the race: State House Majority Leader Dane Eagle from Cape Coral and Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson.

The 19th District is heavily Republican, which will make the primary winner the prohibitive favorite in November. However, Democrat David Holden, a Naples financial adviser who was the party’s nominee for the seat in 2018, has raised $230,000 for the race and looks poised to get a chance at a rematch. He lost to Rooney by 25 points in 2018.

In the 13th District (Pinellas County), five Republicans are competing 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.

The race has become a contest between House Republicans leaders, who are backing Amanda Makki, a well-connected former congressional aide and Washington lobbyist, and Anna Paulina Luna, a conservative television personality and staunch defender of President Donald Trump who has the backing of Florida U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz and has tapped the conservative grassroots to raise almost $1 million for the race.

Complicating their path is George Buck, a former college professor and emergency response consultant who was the party’s nominee for the seat in 2018, losing to Crist by 15 points. He has raised more than $1 million.

Buck made headlines during the campaign when he said he would push for a constitutional amendment that would prevent foreign-born U.S. citizens from serving in Congress — a restriction that would directly affect Makki, who was born in Iran.

Makki has also come under fire for her work as a policy analyst for Alaska U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, who has been one of the few Republican senators to distance herself from Trump. Trump’s son, Donald Jr., also publicly criticized Makki for using a photograph of the two of them together in her promotional materials, even though he has not endorsed her.

Crist is one of only two Florida Democrats whose seat is expected to be possibly competitive in 2020. The other is U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy in the 7th District (Orlando and its northern suburbs), where the Republican race is between Richard Goble, a mortgage broker from Lake Mary; Leo Valentin, an Orlando radiologist; and Yukong Zhao, a Chinese immigrant and energy executive from Orlando. Murphy won by 15 points in 2018

In the 21st District (Palm Beach County), Loomer is facing five other Republicans for the nomination to face Democratic U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel in November and has raised more than $1 million, outpacing even Frankel.

While the GOP winner will have little chance against Frankel in the heavily Democratic district, where no Republican even bothered to oppose her in 2018, Loomer would 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  performance of Shakespeare’s Julius Cesear 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 retweeted a fundraising solicitation sent on Loomer’s behalf, although he has not endorsed her.

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Establishment pick Bill Hagerty wins Tennessee Republican U.S. Senate primary

Republicans in East Tennessee pick Diana Harshbarger as a successor for retiring GOP U.S. Rep. Phil Roe

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

NASHVILLE (CFP) — With the backing of President Donald Trump and the Republican establishment, Bill Hagerty, the former U.S. ambassador to Japan, has won his party’s nomination for an open U.S. Senate seat in Tennessee.

Hagerty took 51% in Thursday’s vote to 39% for Manny Sethi, a Nashville orthopedic trauma surgeon. He will now face Democrat Marquita Bradshaw, a Memphis environmental activist, in November’s general election.

Bradshaw, who spent less than $10,000 on her primary campaign, was the surprise winner of the Democratic primary over Nashville attorney James Mackler, who had raised more than $2 million for the race but could only muster a third-place finish.

Also in Thursday’s primary, Republicans in the 1st U.S. House District in East Tennessee picked Kingsport pharmacist Diana Harshbarger as their nominee to replace retiring Republican U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, making her a prohibitive favorite to win in November in the state’s most Republican district.

Hagerty speaks at victory rally in Gallatin (WBIR via YouTube)

Hagerty, 60, a former private equity executive and state economic development official, left his post in Tokyo to pursue the Senate seat after incumbent U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander announced his retirement last summer.

He received an immediate endorsement from Trump, despite the fact that Hagerty had backed Trump rival Jeb Bush in the 2016 election and has a long association with 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney, the only Republican senator to vote for Trump’s impeachment.

Speaking to supporters at a victory celebration in his hometown of Gallatin, Hagerty thanked Trump, who he said “had my back since before the beginning of this.”

“Thank you for being the inspiration for me, President Trump. I look forward to help you continue moving forward,” he said. “We’ve got to stand up to the radicals in Washington that want to push us off the cliff into socialism.”

Hagerty had put together a collection of disparate supporters that included not only Trump, his son Donald Jr., and Fox News host Sean Hannity, but also support from Bush, Romney and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Sethi countered with endorsements of his own from U.S. Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky, along with conservative groups such as the Family Research Council, Gun Owners of America, and the anti-abortion Tennessee Heartbeat Coalition.

The race grew contentious and both men competed for the Trump mantle. Hagerty’s campaign branded Sethi as a “Never Trumper” and highlighted the fact that he was a finalist for a White House fellowship under former President Barack Obama; Sethi’s returned the favor by highlighting Hagerty’s ties to Romney and Bush.

Given that Tennessee hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate in 30 years, Hagerty will be a heavy favorite in November against Bradshaw, who won her primary with 36% of the vote.

In the 1st District, which stretches from the Tri-Cities west toward Knoxville, the Republican primary to replace Roe turned into a 14-candidate free-for-all. Harshbarger won with 19%, followed by State Rep. Timothy Hill from Blountville at 17% and State Senator Rusty Crowe from Johnson City at 16%.

Because Tennessee does not have primary runoffs, Harshberg won with a plurality and will now face Democrat Blair Walsingham, a farmer from Hawkins County, in November.

The Republican nominee will be the prohibitive favorite in the state’s most Republican district, which the party has held continuously for 140 years.

In other races in Thursday’s primary, the two Democrats in the Volunteer State’s congressional delegation — U.S. Reps. Jim Cooper of Nashville and Steve Cohen of Memphis — both easily turned back primary challenges, although Cooper was held to 54%.

Uniquely among states, Tennessee holds its primary elections on Thursdays, rather than Tuesdays, although the general election in November will be held on a Tuesday as it is in the rest of the country.

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The fundraising leader in the race is Diana Harshbarger, a Kingsport pharmacist who has raised nearly $1.5 million. She’s followed by Josh Gapp, a Knoxville pathologist who had initially run in the Senate primary until Roe announced his retirement, and former Kingsport Mayor John Clark.

Also in the race are State Senator Rusty Crowe from Johnson City; State Rep. David Hawk from Greeneville; State Rep. Timothy Hill from Blountville; and former Johnson City Mayor Steve Darden.

Hotly contested Republican U.S. Senate race highlights Thursday’s primary ballot in Tennessee

Voters in East Tennessee will also pick a successor for retiring GOP U.S. Rep. Phil Roe

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

NASHVILLE (CFP) — Tennessee Republicans will decide a contentious battle for an open U.S. Senate seat in Thursday’s primary election, settling what has become a proxy battle between libertarian and establishment voices within the national GOP.

Also, Thursday, 14 Republicans are competing for the nomination in the 1st U.S. House District in East Tennessee, with the winner a prohibitive favorite to take over the seat of retiring Republican U.S. Rep. Phil Roe.

Poll opening times in the Volunteer State vary by county; polls close in the Eastern time zone at 8 p.m. and at 7 p.m. in the Central time zone.

Bill Hagerty and Manny Sethi

In the Senate race, Bill Hagerty, the former U.S. ambassador to Japan, is locked in a tight race for the Republican nomination against Manny Sethi, a Nashville orthopedic trauma surgeon.

Thirteen other Republicans are also in the race, including former Shelby County commissioner and unsuccessful 2018 U.S. House candidate George Flinn, who has poured $5 million of his own money into the contest.

The seat is open because of the retirement of Republican U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, who has held it for the past 18 years.

Hagerty, the establishment choice, has put together a collection of disparate endorsements that includes not only President Donald Trump, his son Donald Jr., and Fox News host Sean Hannity, but also support from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

Sethi has countered with endorsements of his own from U.S. Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky, along with conservative groups such as the Family Research Council, Gun Owners of America, and the anti-abortion Tennessee Heartbeat Coalition.

Hagerty’s campaign has branded Sethi as a “Never Trumper” and highlighted the fact that he was a finalist for a White House fellowship under former President Barack Obama. Sethi has returned the favor by noting that Hagerty gave large campaign contributions to Romney’s presidential campaigns and served as a delegate for Jeb Bush during his 2016 race against Trump.

Tennessee does not have primary runoffs, so whichever candidate emerges from Thursday’s vote with a plurality will be the party’s nominee.

The Democratic contest features six candidates, with Nashville attorney James Mackler, who is backed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, seen as the favorite.

Tennessee hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate in 30 years, and the nominee who emerges from the Republican will be a prohibitive favorite in November, although Mackler has raised more than $2 million so far.

In the 1st District, which stretches from the Tri-Cities west toward Knoxville, the Republican primary has turned into a 14-candidate free-for-all.

The fundraising leader in the race is Diana Harshbarger, a Kingsport pharmacist who has raised nearly $1.5 million. She’s followed by Josh Gapp, a Knoxville pathologist who had initially run in the Senate primary until Roe announced his retirement, and former Kingsport Mayor John Clark.

Also in the race are State Senator Rusty Crowe from Johnson City; State Rep. David Hawk from Greeneville; State Rep. Timothy Hill from Blountville; and former Johnson City Mayor Steve Darden.

The winner of the Republican contest will face Democrat Blair Walsingham, a farmer from Hawkins County. The Republican nominee will be the prohibitive favorite in the state’s most Republican district, which the party has held continuously for 140 years.

Uniquely among states, Tennessee holds its primary elections on Thursdays, rather than Tuesdays, although the general election in November will be held on a Tuesday as it is in the rest of the country.

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MJ Hegar wins Texas Democratic U.S. Senate runoff, will take on John Cornyn

Donald Trump’s former White House doctor Ronny Jackson wins U.S. House runoff in Panhandle; Pete Sessions makes a comeback

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

AUSTIN (CFP) — Former Air Force combat pilot MJ Hegar has won the Democratic nomination to take on incumbent Republican U.S. Senator John Cornyn for a seat that Democrats have hopes of flipping in November.

Hegar, who had the backing of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, defeated State Senator Royce West of Dallas by a margin of 52% to 48% in Tuesday’s runoff and now faces the task of pulling off something no Democrat has done in 32 years — win a Senate race in the Lone Star State.

Texas Democratic U.S. Senate nominee MJ Hegar

In a victory statement, Hegar vowed to run “a Texas-sized winning campaign that will take down Sen. Cornyn and deliver real results on health care, racial justice, economic opportunity, climate change, immigration and gun violence.”

The Cornyn campaign responded with a statement calling her “Hollywood Hegar,” because of her out-of-state support, and noting that she barely beat West even though she and her allies outspent him on advertising by a margin of 100 to 1.

“Senator Cornyn is prepared to face whatever comes his way,” his campaign said.

In other Texas runoff races, Ronny Jackson — the former White House doctor whom President Trump tried and failed to install as Veterans’ Affairs secretary in 2018 — won a Republican runoff for a U.S. House seat in the Panhandle, making him the favorite to win in November in the Republican leaning 13th District.

Jackson now faces the winner of the Democratic runoff, Gus Trujillo, who works for a Latino business group in Amarillo.

In the Waco-based 17th DistrictPete Sessions, a former House Republican leader who lost his Dallas-area seat in 2018, made a comeback by winning a runoff in a new district. He will face Rick Kennedy, a software developer from Round Rock, in November; the Republican lean of this district will also make Sessions the favorite.

In other Texas U.S. House runoffs Tuesday:

In the 10th District (East Texas between Austin and Houston), Mike Siegel won the Democratic runoff for the right to face incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul in a race that Democrats have targeted as a pickup opportunity.

In the 22nd District (Southern Houston suburbs), Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls won the Republican runoff and will face Democrat Sri Preston Kulkarni in a race that Democrats have also targeted. The winner will replace retiring Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Olson.

In the 23rd District (West Texas between San Antonio and El Paso), the Republican runoff may be headed into overtime after Tony Gonzales ended election night with a scant seven vote lead over Raul Reyes in a race fill the seat of retiring Republican U.S. Rep. Will Hurd.

The runoff pitted U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, who endorsed Reyes, against Trump, who endorsed Gonzales. In the closing days of the race, Trump’s campaign sent Reyes a cease-and-desist order over a mailer that implied he had the president’s endorsement.

The winner will face Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones, who nearly defeated Hurd in 2018 in the state’s most competitive House district.

In the 24th District (Metro Dallas-Ft. Worth), Candace Valenzuela, a school board member in Carrollton-Farmers Branch, won the Democratic nomination and will face the Republican nominee, former Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne, in the race to succeed incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Kenny Marchant, which Democrats are also targeting.

In the 31st District (Northern Austin suburbs), Donna Imam, an Austin computer engineer, won the Democratic runoff to face incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. John Carter, who is also on the Democrats’ target list.

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