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Florida’s primaries haven’t been competitive in years, but the stakes have just been raised

The Florida House primaries take on new importance under a congressional map that significantly changed the state’s House races and turbocharged Republicans’ advantage in November.

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Florida voters will select nominees Tuesday in House primaries that have taken on new importance under a congressional map that drastically reduced the competitiveness of the state’s House races and turbocharged Republicans’ advantage in the midterms.

All of the state’s 28 districts are rated as Solid or Likely Republican or Democrat in November by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales, meaning it’s a good bet that almost all of the primary winners will go to Congress. And the ratings project most of them will be Republicans, with the new map increasing the number of House seats where Republicans hold the midterm advantage.

Here’s a rundown of what to watch in the Sunshine State on Tuesday.

Incumbents on defense

Matt Gaetz in 1st District: Gaetz, one of former President Donald Trump’s most vociferous supporters, has been under a federal sex trafficking investigation, but local strategists said it is unlikely to cost him his House seat this election cycle. Trump would have carried the district by 32 points in 2020, so Gaetz’s biggest threat comes from his two Republican primary challengers, Mark Lombardo and Greg Merk. Lombardo, a former FedEx executive and Marine Corps veteran, is the only one reporting any spending. He has been blasting Gaetz in television ads focused on the investigation and Gaetz’s decision to hire the same attorney who represented sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. But Lombardo almost exclusively self-financed his campaign with a $740,000 loan, while Gaetz has a national profile that comes with a deluge of cash – he spent more than $6.5 million through Aug. 3 and has brought fellow Trump-defending Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio to the district to stump for him. Inside Elections rates the November race Solid Republican.

Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick in the 20th District: Cherfilus-McCormick faces a rematch in the Democratic primary from Broward County commissioner Dale Holness, with Democratic state Rep. Anika Omphroy also making a bid. Cherfilus-McCormick defeated Holness by just five votes in a crowded special Democratic primary in November to replace the late Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings. She went on to win the seat in January with 79 percent of the vote. With fewer candidates competing for attention from the district’s fractious ethinic populations than last fall, and Cherflus-McCormick running as an incumbent, she may have an advantage. She spent nearly $3 million winning the seat in January, but from February through Aug. 3 reported spending less than $1.4 million, and $400,000 of that was to reimburse herself for loans he gave to the campaign in 2021. Holness’ total spending since January was $407,000.

Daniel Webster in the 11th District: Webster faces activist Laura Loomer, who ran against 18th District Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel in 2020 with Trump’s endorsement and lost. Loomer — who was banned from social media for anti-Muslim comments — raised $763,000 and spent $682,000, more than Webster in both cases, and she got an additional $130,000 in outside support from a group called American Liberty Fund, which claims on its website that it backs candidates who will disrupt Congress. She has been attacking the 73-year-old six-term Republican incumbent as too old to adequately represent the district. Another Republican, Gavriel Soriano, is also on the ballot.

Battles for open seats GOP fight in the 4th: Three Republicans — Erick Aguilar, Aaron Bean and Jon Chuba — are running for the nomination to succeed Rep. John Rutherford, who is running in the redrawn 5th District. Aguilar and Bean both spent around $500,000. But Aguilar, a businessman and Navy veteran who finished with 20 percent in the 2020 GOP primary, collected more than twice as much for his campaign, thanks in part to $450,000 he kicked in himself. Aguilar came under fire, however, after sending out fundraising emails that misleadingly appeared to come from Trump and Florida Gov. Ron Desantis. Bean, a state senator, has gotten $1.2 million in outside support from two different PACs, giving him an advantage in the race. The November race for the seat is rated Solid Republican.

7th District could flip: Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy’s retirement leaves a November race rated Likely Republican by Inside Elections. Eight Republicans are competing for the nomination. The top three fundraisers — pastor/veteran Brady Duke, businessman/veteran Cory Mills and state Rep. Anthony Sabitini — have each spent more than $1 million (with Duke spending more than twice that). Sabitini has been the target of more than $800,000 in negative mail, text messages and TV and radio ads by American Liberty Action PAC, which was registered July 28 and has not disclosed its donors. Outside groups have also spent $278,000 supporting Sabatini, and $288,000 supporting Duke.

So could the 13th: Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist’s run for the Democratic nomination for governor has led to a five-candidate Republican primary in the 13th District, where the November race is rated Likely Republican. Air Force veteran Anna Paulina Luna, who won the GOP primary in 2020 and finished 6 points behind Crist, has Trump’s endorsement and support from several high-profile House members on the right. She’s also the top fundraiser, with $1.9 million in receipts, although second-place fundraiser Kevin Hayslett, a former prosecutor, was in a close second in one recent poll. On the Democratic side, Eric Lynn, a former adviser to President Barack Obama, is running unopposed.

Heavy outside spending in 15th: Republican Rep. Scott Franklin is running in the 18th District, and five candidates are running in the GOP primary to succeed him in the 15th, where the November race is rated Likely Republican. They include Laurel Lee, a former secretary of state appointed by DeSantis; state Sen. Kelli Stargel; and state Rep. Jackie Toledo, none of whom has a clear fundraising advantage. Outside groups have spent $2.2 million on the race, with Lee attracting the most money from groups both supporting and opposing her. Comedian Eddie Geller has raised and spent the most in the five-way Democratic race.

Crowd of Democrats vie to replace Demings: Rep. Val Demings’ decision to leave the House to challenge GOP Sen. Marco Rubio has created a crowded race in the still Solid Democratic 10th District. The 10 Democrats on the ballot include former Reps. Alan Grayson and Corrine Brown — who announced her bid after serving prison time for charges related to mail and tax fraud. “The race is an absolute s–t show, and you can quote me on that,” said Florida Democratic strategist Steve Schale. Activist Maxwell Frost reported $1.5 million in receipts and $1 million in spending — more than twice as much as any of his competitors. He had an additional $1.3 million in outside support from a collection of progressive and cryptocurrency-backed groups. Moderate state Sen. Randolph Bracy would be the establishment pick, Schale said. He was the only other candidate with outside support, with $29,000 spent by A Better Orlando PAC.

Smaller crowd vies to replace Deutch: Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch is resigning to become CEO of the American Jewish Committee, leaving an open seat in the 23rd District. Six Democrats are on the ballot. Schale said Broward County Commissioner Jared Moskowitz has solidified Democratic support. He has raised $1.3 million, more than double the second-highest fundraiser, Ben Sorensen, a Navy reservist and Fort Lauderdale City Commissioner.

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