LAKELAND, Fla.—A Trumpian firebrand, a former Florida secretary of state, and an Iraq/Afghanistan war veteran running in his first election are among Republicans advancing to likely victories in November elections for open seats in three central Florida congressional districts.
Air Force veteran Anna Paulina Luna, endorsed by former President Donald Trump, edged two challengers to win the party’s nod in Tampa Bay-area Congressional District 13 while Cody Mills, a Trump-appointed Department of Defense (DOD) adviser, defeated seven rivals to win the Republican primary in suburban Orlando-area CD 7 in Florida’s Aug. 23 primaries.
Both seats are held by incumbent Democrats who are not seeking reelection, including Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.), who resigned from his CD 13 seat to run for governor.
Lauren Lee, who served as Florida’s secretary of state for four years before resigning earlier this year, emerged from a five-candidate field to win the Republican primary for the open seat in CD 15, which spans Hillsborough-Polk counties between Tampa and Lakeland and is, essentially, a newly created, additional congressional district.
Florida gained a 28th congressional district in post-2020 Census reapportionment. The state’s Republican-controlled Legislature, pushed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, adopted new districts—challenged and upheld in court rulings—that some analysts say could boost the GOP’s congressional delegation majority from its current 16–11 to as dominant as 20–8.
Mills, a “constitutionalist” who served with the 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq and Afghanistan, is a foreign policy expert who often appears on Newsmax, Fox News, OANN, and other conservative media outlets.
The Winter Haven native was one of eight Republicans who leaped into the CD 7 GOP primary seeking the party nomination to run in a district where lawmakers shifted the axis from deep blue-downtown Orlando and Winter Park to include all of Seminole County and much of northern Orange County, where Republican voters dominate. As a result, the district’s FiveThirtyEight rating transformed from D+5 to R+14.
CD 7 is now represented by three-term Democrat Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), a former defense analyst and moderate who co-chairs the Blue Dog caucus, a bipartisan fiscal accountability group.
Murphy, however, announced in December she was not seeking reelection in a district that is dramatically different than the one she has represented since 2016.
With 95 percent of the Aug. 23 CD 7 Republican primary tallied, Mills was the front-runner in the eight-candidate pack, garnering 38.1 percent of ballots cast, easily outpacing second-place finisher, state Rep. Anthony Sabatini (R-Howey-in-the-Hills).
Mills will be the favorite in November’s general election against Karen Green, vice chair of the Florida state Democratic Party, who defeated business owner Tatiana Fernandez in the CD 7 Democratic primary.
Although all leading CD 7 Republican contenders were avowedly supportive of Trump and touted “America First” platforms, Sabatini has long drawn criticism as a hyper-MAGA lightning rod who allegedly enjoys performing before TV cameras and on social media more than doing the committee work necessary to represent a constituency in Tallahassee or in Washington.
Sabatini was endorsed by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who attended a recent rally on his behalf, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). He raised more than $1.2 million, including $568,000 from national PACs, while also drawing a great deal of spending by opponents.
One super PAC, American Liberty Action, spent more than $1.4 million attacking the righter-than-right Sabatini for once registering as a Democrat and for casting the only vote against DeSantis’s 2022 budget proposal.
Although he gushed praise for Trump and highlights their hand-shaking encounters in photos and ads, the former president did not formally endorse Sabatini in his CD 7 GOP primary.
Trump did, however, endorse Luna, first in her narrow 2020 CD 13 loss to Crist and again in her Aug. 23 CD 13 primary victory over attorney Kevin Hayslett and former congressional aide Amanda Makki.
With 95 percent of the CD 13 Republican primary tallied, Luna had 44.4 percent of ballots cast in rolling to a November election where she will be favored to defeat former U.S. Defense Department official Eric Lynn, who was unopposed in the Democratic primary, in a purple R+1 district that has been reconfigured by lawmakers into a red R+12.
Luna, who rose to MAGA prominence on social media as a conservative activist, gave Crist a competitive race in 2020 after she was endorsed by Trump and used that endorsement to stem off a strong run by Hayslett, a former prosecutor.
Second-place finisher Hayslett raised $2.4 million to buy ads claiming he’d “seal the border” unlike Luna, who he argued supported former President Barack Obama’s pathway to citizenship approach for illegal immigrants and was not the true “America First” candidate she purports to be.
Luna’s campaign raised nearly $2 million but received more than $3.2 million in spending from Club for Growth Action and Conservative Outsider PACs, which claim she is an outspoken opponent of illegal immigration and attacked Hayslett for opposing Trump in 2016.
In newly created CD 15, Lee cruised past state Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland), state Rep. Jackie Toledo (R-Tampa), and two other candidates to win the Republican primary.
With 95 percent of the CD 15 Republican primary tallied, Lee was leading with 41 percent to Stargel’s 28 percent in securing the GOP nod to take on former news anchor Alan Cohn in November’s general election.
Lee will be the favorite in her contest against Cohn, who was not tested in a CD 15 Democratic primary.
The new district, which includes parts of Hillsborough, Pasco, and Polk counties east and north of Tampa, is rated R+7, but is expected to be competitive. Trump would have won the district by a 51–48 percent margin.
From The Epoch Times