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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, 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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U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster’s bid for speaker crushed by Paul Ryan wave

Webster received only nine votes, eight from his fellow Southerners

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

florida mugWASHINGTON (CFP) — Florida U.S Rep. Daniel Webster’s longshot bid for House speaker has come up short — 227 votes short, to be exact.

U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster

U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster

Webster, a Winter Haven Republican, garnered just nine votes in the October 29 vote, which saw the rise of U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin into the top leadership spot.

Ryan received support from 236 of the chamber’s 247 Republicans. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, received support from 184 out of the 188 Democrats.

Webster, 66, launched his campaign for speaker September 28, after former House Speaker John Boehner stepped down amid a rebellion by conservatives in the GOP caucus.

Initially, members of the House Freedom Caucus–made up of the House’s most conservative members–endorsed Webster, a former speaker of the state House in Florida. However, after Ryan entered the race, that support began to melt away.

Of the 38 Freedom Caucus members, only six stuck with Webster on the final vote.

Among the nine House members who supported Webster, eight were Southerners: Dave Brat of Virginia; Curt Clawson, Bill Posey and Ted Yoho of Florida; Louie Gohmert and Randy Weber of Texas; Walter Jones of North Carolina; and Thomas Massie of Kentucky.

Southern revolt against House Speaker John Boehner fails

Boehner defeats  GOP U.S. Reps. Louie Gohmert and Ted Yoho in leadership vote

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

southern states smWASHINGTON (CFP) — U.S. House Speaker John Boehner has turned back a leadership challenge from two Southern congressman who assailed him for being insufficiently conservative and too willing to deal with Democrats.

House Speaker John Boehner

House Speaker John Boehner

The House re-elected Boehner to a third term January 6, thwarting challenge from within his party by U.S. Reps. Louie Gohmert of Texas and Ted Yoho of Florida.

The final vote was 216 for Boehner, 164 for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, three for Gohmert and two for Yoho.

U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster of Florida — who launched a last minute campaign against Boehner just hours before the vote — received 12 votes, including his own, while other candidates received 16 votes.

The vote for the speakership is normally a routine affair, with Republican Boehner pitted against Democrat Pelosi on a party-line vote.

But because Boehner had to win a majority among House members present and voting, the conservative insurrection threatened to force the balloting into a second round — something that hadn’t happened in more than 90 years and would have been a a significant embarrassment for the speaker.

Still, the defection of 25 Republicans left Boehner two votes shy of the 218 needed to command an absolute majority of House members.

Boehner was helped by the fact that 27 House members didn’t vote, including a number of Democrats in New York attending the funeral of former New York Governor Mario Cuomo.

Gohmert, 61, is a six-term lawmaker who represents a district in East Texas. Yoho, 59, is beginning just his second term representing a district in north-central Florida. Both men announced their challenges to Boehner the weekend before the vote.

The challenge comes despite a 13-seat gain by Republicans in the 2014 midterm elections, giving the GOP its largest majority since 1928.

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