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Monday, August 17, 2020

5 Florida primaries to watch Tuesday

TALLAHASSEE — Millions of Florida voters head to the polls Tuesday to cast ballots in hundreds of primary races for national- and state-level races, some of which will decide the election outcome in districts that aren’t up for grabs by both political parties.

That’s particularly true in South Florida, where voters will choose a state attorney and the likely Broward County sheriff. Elsewhere, Floridians will be deciding races that have the potential to affect the balance of power in Congress and the state Senate.

Grab the popcorn. Here are five returns you need to watch:

15th Congressional District

Why it’s important: Democrats hope to push Republicans deeper into the House minority and view this conservative-leaning seat as a potential pickup.

The backstory: Incumbent Rep. Ross Spano is under investigation over loans he made to his campaign in 2018 and faces a serious Republican primary challenge from Lakeland City Commissioner Scott Franklin. The primary has divided the party establishment, with Sen. Marco Rubio and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy endorsing Spano despite the ethical cloud. Franklin has his own endorsements, including a nod from Rep. Matt Gaetz, and has hammered Spano with ads targeting the investigation.

Democrats smell an opportunity to take the seat, especially if Spano survives the primary. They’ve recruited state Rep. Adam Hattersley, a first-term legislator who won his Republican-leaning district even as voters there went for Republican Rick Scott over Democrat Bill Nelson in the 2018 Senate race by a 7-point margin. But Hattersley isn’t a shoo-in, either. Former television journalist Alan Cohn has a fundraising edge and endorsements from former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham and unions.

13th Congressional District

Why it’s important: Republicans hope to emerge from the primary with a well-funded contender to take on Rep. Charlie Crist, a Republican-turned-Democrat seeking a third term.

The backstory: Crist comfortably won his Pinellas County seat in 2018 with nearly 58 percent of the vote and is sitting on $3 million in cash. Still, Republicans have targeted the seat as a possible pickup after Trump lost the district by just three points in 2016. Their argument: Crist has never been confronted by a strong challenger in a seat once held by a Republican. Now the question is which of the GOP’s five candidate will emerge from the primary, and how far he or she will have to run to get to the center.

Amanda Makki, a former Capitol Hill staffer and lobbyist, has raised more than $1 million and has the backing of the House GOP establishment. Despite being under fire for her past lobbying efforts, she's seen as the front runner. But she’s being challenged, in particular by Anna Paulina Luna, an Air Force veteran who worked for Turning Point USA, a conservative student organization. Luna has been endorsed by Gaetz and Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk, who portray Luna as more pro-Trump than Makki.

Another Republican wildcard: George Buck, Crist’s 2018 challenger, who could siphon votes from the other two. Buck caused a stir when he said that only natural-born citizens should be allowed to be in Congress. Makki is an Iranian-born immigrant who has said American is “under invasion.”

35th State Senate District

Why it’s important: State Democrats have made the rare decision to jump into a primary in this liberal Miami-Dade and Broward district for fear one of their own could undermine the party.

The backstory: Florida Democrats need to flip only three seats to tie Republicans for a Senate majority, but former state Sen. Daphne Campbell could throw that calculus off if she wins the primary and general election. She’s considered a less-than-reliable Democratic vote, having aligned with Republicans on hot-button issues such as abortion, school prayer and charter schools. Senate Democratic leaders have thrown their support behind Rep. Shevrin Jones to succeed Sen. Oscar Braynon, a Democrat being forced out by term limits. The primary winner will face a write-in Republican candidate.

Miami-Dade State Attorney

Why it’s important: George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police sparked a national debate over policing and renewed criticism of incumbent Katherine Fernandez Rundle.

The backstory: Rundle, a Cuban American Democrat, has held the state attorney post in Miami-Dade since Janet Reno went to Washington in 1993. But the incumbent has come under sharp criticism for her handling of police killings and the deaths of people held in custody. The Miami-Dade Democratic Party has called on Rundle to suspend her candidacy, and she’s facing a primary challenge from Melba Pearson, a onetime deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida who once worked for Rundle as an assistant state attorney.

Pearson, who is Black, entered the race before Floyd’s killing. She has promised to end racial disparities in the criminal justice system and reduce Miami-Dade’s jail population. The primary is open to all voters and will determine the area’s next prosecutor.

Broward County Sheriff

Why it’s important: Gun politics meets Democratic party politics.

The backstory: Looming over this race is the 2018 Parkland shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 people dead. Former Sheriff Scott Israel — who drew the wrath of the NRA and other gun rights groups after the shooting — was removed from office by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and replaced by Sheriff Gregory Tony. Israel has vowed to win his job back and is challenging his successor in the Democratic primary.

A win for Israel, who has the backing of many Broward Democrats, would be a defeat for DeSantis. But Parkland parents upset with Israel’s performance have aligned with Tony. The primary battle has been increasingly bitter as the men spar over their personal histories, their records and how they would handle policing. The winner of the Democratic primary is heavily favored to win the post in November.

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