By Jim Ellis
Aug. 29, 2018 — Turnout favored the Republicans in both contested states; about 110,000 more Republicans than Democrats voted in Florida, while the Arizona GOP participation rate was approximately one-third higher than Democrats. The big surprise of the day was Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum’s win to become the Democratic nominee for governor in Florida.
Yesterday, we covered the impending Florida Democratic gubernatorial primary in terms that suggested the surge detected related to Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum would likely be too little, too late, and that former US Rep. Gwen Graham (D-Tallahassee) was in the best position to win the open Democratic primary. In reality, most of the polling was flawed, and the Gillum surge was enough for him to score a 34-31-20-10 percent victory over Graham, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, billionaire developer Jeff Greene, and four others.
Up until the last two weeks, Gillum didn’t appear to be much of a factor as he consistently hovered only around 10-12 percent in the polling. But, combined independent spending from liberal billionaires Tom Steyer and George Soros designed to increase his turnout, an endorsement from former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, and what was obviously inaccurate polling — the only survey to show Gillum ever ahead was an internal study, but that was discounted because it came from the mayor’s campaign — allowed Gillum to claim the statewide Democratic nomination.
On the Republican side, the polling appeared to be more reliable. Six of the seven August polls projected Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Palm Coast/Daytona Beach) to be holding a substantial lead over Agriculture Commissioner and former US Congressman Adam Putnam, the early race leader. Such predictions proved true, as Rep. DeSantis scored a 20-point, 57-37 percent victory, and put him in solid position moving into the general election.
With Rep. DeSantis possibly being the most vociferous Donald Trump supporter of any winning GOP candidate within this election cycle and Mayor Gillum coming from the Democratic Party’s far left flank, the open general election will feature an extreme contrast.
In the House races, Rep. Al Lawson (D-Tallahassee) turned back a Democratic primary challenge from former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown on a 60-40 percent count. The nomination win secures a second term for Mr. Lawson in the general election.
In the other Democratic challenge campaign, freshman Rep. Darren Soto (D-Kissimmee) easily turned back former Rep. Alan Grayson, 66-34 percent, in a result not nearly as close as polling was suggesting.
In the open races, former Dick Cheney aide and businessman Mike Waltz claimed the Republican primary with 42 percent of the vote against two opponents in the Atlantic Coast 6th District. He will now face former US Ambassador and national security advisor Nancy Soderberg who scored a 56 percent win in the Democratic primary. Waltz begins the general election in the favorite’s position because the seat DeSantis is vacating clearly favors Republicans.
Turning to retiring Rep. Dennis Ross’ (R-Lakeland) open 15th District, state Rep. Ross Spano (R-Dover) garnered 44 percent of the vote and defeated four Republican opponents. He opens the general election with the inside track in a district that has not elected a Democrat since it was originally created in the 2001 redistricting plan.
Remaining on the peninsula’s west coast, state Sen. Greg Steube (R-Sarasota) recorded a landslide 62 percent against two opponents, including state Rep. Julio Gonzalez (R-Venice) who secured much Republican establishment support. Steube is a lock in the general election to replace retiring Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Okeechobee). He will face frequent Democratic candidate April Freeman, who won her party primary with a 77 percent majority.
In Miami, as expected, former Health & Human Services Secretary and ex-University of Miami president Donna Shalala claimed the open Democratic nomination, but with a surprisingly tepid 32 percent of the vote. She will face Republican Spanish language network news anchor Maria Elvira Salazar, who took the GOP primary with 40 percent against more candidates than Shalala defeated. Though the seat that retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Miami) is leaving was viewed as one the top national Democratic conversion target, the new Shalala-Salazar contest now appears highly competitive.
We can also expect competitive challenger races potentially developing for Reps. Stephanie Murphy (D-Winter Park) against state Rep. Mike Miller (R-Winter Park), Vern Buchanan (R-Sarasota) opposite attorney David Shapiro (D), Brian Mast (R-Palm City) opposing former State Department official Lauren Baer (D), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Miami) against former Circuit Judge Mary Barzee Flores (D), and Carlos Curbelo (R-Miami) who is forced to repel a challenge from consultant Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D).
As polls predicted, Rep. Martha McSally (R-Tucson), easily won the open Republican senatorial nomination over former state Sen. Kelli Ward and ex-Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. McSally scored a majority in the GOP primary, 52.2 percent at this writing though many votes are still outstanding, while Ward and Arpaio divided the remaining 47-plus percent. She now faces Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Phoenix) who was virtually unopposed in the Democratic primary.
For the Democrats, Arizona State University professor David Garcia, as predicted, easily won the Democratic gubernatorial primary, scoring an unofficial 49 percent victory against two opponents. He draws incumbent Gov. Doug Ducey (R) in the general election who romped to a 70 percent primary win over former Secretary of State Ken Bennett.
Looking at the House races, though with incomplete vote totals, Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-Sedona) looks to square off against frequent candidate Wendy Rogers. She appears to have won a close Republican primary victory over state Sen. Steve Smith (R-Maricopa). Rep. O’Halleran is favored for a second term.
In Rep. McSally’s open Tucson district, Democratic former 1st District US Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick successfully moved into the 2nd CD and captured the party nomination with plurality support of 41 percent. She will now face Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce president Lea Marquez-Peterson, who scored a close win in the Republican primary. The 2nd is a marginal district, so the general election will be interesting.
Turning to Rep. Sinema’s open 9th District, former Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton was unopposed in the Democratic primary, while physician Steve Ferrara topped 61 percent in the GOP primary. Ex-Mayor Stanton becomes the heavy favorite for November.
Mortgage banker Kevin Stitt overcame Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett to win the GOP gubernatorial run-off election with 55 percent of the vote. Cornett showed strength only in two areas, his hometown of Oklahoma City, and several counties due west of Tulsa. Stitt carried the rest of the state. He will now oppose former Attorney General Drew Edmondson (D) in a race to succeed Gov. Mary Fallin (R), who falls well down the national approval rating chart. This general election campaign may prove more competitive that what is normally seen in Oklahoma.
In the vacant 1st Congressional District, businessman Kevin Hern also scored a 55 percent Republican run-off victory margin, this time against former Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris. Hern should be a lock in the general election against Democratic winner Tim Gilpin, a local attorney.