By Jim Ellis
Aug. 31, 2016 — A look at overnight primary results:
Veteran Sen. John McCain (R) won his re-nomination campaign last night in Arizona, but with a lesser majority than expected. McCain topped former state Sen. Kelli Ward, 52-39 percent, which proved worse than his GOP primary margin six years ago (56 percent). Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Flagstaff) was unopposed on the Democratic side. The rather tepid McCain victory last night increases her chances in the general election.
Sen. Marco Rubio rebounded strongly from his failed presidential campaign with a 72 percent victory in his statewide Republican primary yesterday. More than 1.4 million Republican voters cast ballots in Florida’s nomination contest. Businessman Carlos Beruff, who spent more than $8 million of his own money on his campaign, finished a distant second with only 19 percent support.
Sen. Rubio now advances to the general election to face, as expected, Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Jupiter) who won his Democratic primary with 59 percent of the vote. Controversial Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Orlando), who was close early in the campaign, fell to only 18 percent, just ahead of also-ran candidate Pam Keith, an attorney and Navy veteran (15 percent). About 300,000 fewer Democrats than Republicans participated in the primary election. Sen. Rubio has been consistently gaining momentum, so he begins the general election as the slight favorite.
Controversial Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu split the conservative vote last night in winning the Republican primary in the open 1st District. He topped a field of five GOP opponents by a 12-point margin in attracting 32 percent support. The Sheriff will now face former state Sen. Tom O’Halleran, a former Republican, who easily won the Democratic primary. The expansive 1st District that is equivalent in size to Pennsylvania is a politically marginal seat that either party could win. A very close general election contest is expected.
In retiring Rep. Matt Salmon’s (R-Mesa) 5th District, former GoDaddy.com executive Christine Jones appears to have eked out a primary win. She scored a close 30-29-22-20 percent victory over state Senate President Andy Biggs, who had Rep. Salmon’s support along with many conservative organizations, former Maricopa County Supervisor Don Stapley, and state Rep. Justin Olsen, respectively. Jones has an 876-vote lead over Biggs, and will stand unless there are still enough absentee and uncounted votes remaining that will change the outcome. If the margin holds, and likely it will, Jones will go onto clinch the southeastern Phoenix suburban seat in the general election.
Despite moderate outside Super PAC spending against him, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Prescott) scored a 71 percent re-nomination victory in his 4th Congressional District.
A very busy congressional primary evening culminated in Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Jacksonville) losing her bid for re-nomination in the newly constituted 5th District. The seat was radically changed in the court-ordered redistricting plan. The CD again anchors in Jacksonville, but now travels due west to Tallahassee instead of going south to Gainesville, Sanford, and Orlando.
Former state legislator and two-time congressional candidate Al Lawson scored a 48-39 percent Democratic primary victory over the 12-term incumbent who is facing a federal indictment for alleged non-profit financial violations. Lawson swept the district’s new regions and dominated the Tallahassee vote, the area he had represented in the legislature. Rep. Brown, despite her strong performance in Jacksonville, becomes the fifth incumbent to lose re-nomination. Three of the five were directly related to mid-decade redistricting plans.
Completing one of the most talked about primary challenges, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Weston) turned back law professor Tim Canova, 57-43 percent, from a low turnout of just over 50,000 voters. Both candidates spent well over $3 million apiece, and featured involvement from both Democratic presidential candidates. Though Bernie Sanders and his supporters were heavily backing Canova, the district’s presidential primary vote overwhelming for Hillary Clinton gave Wasserman Schultz a needed additional boost.
In the open 1st District, the candidate projected as the Republican nomination favorite, state Rep. Matt Gaetz, fulfilled the analyst predictions and easily took the nomination over a crowded GOP field of candidates. Gaetz will easily win the general election and replace the retiring incumbent, Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Chumuckla/Pensacola). Just under 99,000 votes were cast in the GOP primary.
The open 2nd District, made safely Republican in redistricting and forcing freshman Democrat Gwen Graham (D-Tallahassee) to the political sidelines, witnessed a very tight GOP primary battle. Dr. Neal Dunn, enjoying strong Republican establishment support, nipped conservative former State Department official Mary Thomas (41-39 percent) with just over 81,000 votes being cast. Dr. Dunn will now cruise to victory in the general election.
In the open 4th District, former Duval County Sheriff John Rutherford, as expected, topped state Rep. Lake Ray, attorney Hans Tanzler III, and St. Johns County Commissioner Bill McClure, 39-20-19-10 percent from a turnout just topping 100,000 individuals. Rutherford will succeed retiring Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-Jacksonville) in the next Congress.
In the new Orlando-anchored 10th District, former Police chief and ex-congressional candidate Val Demings won a landslide Democratic primary victory, and will claim the open congressional seat in the fall. Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Orlando) vacated this now Democratic seat to run in the adjacent open Republican 11th District, and took 60 percent of the vote there to win the nomination. He will continue his congressional career from his new district with a predicted general election victory.
Rep. Murphy’s open 18th District led to an interesting conclusion. Disabled Afghan War veteran Brian Mast scored 38 percent of the vote in a crowded field of six candidates, which was strong enough for a 12-point victory over his closest competitor, local school board member Rebecca Negron. As expected, wealthy businessman Randy Perkins won the Democratic primary setting up a tough general election battle. Mast’s compelling war record may be the deciding factor in the race, giving him an important edge in the marginally Republican district.
Turning to South Florida, former Rep. Joe Garcia (D-Miami) just slipped past businesswoman Annette Taddeo despite the latter’s strong establishment support. Garcia will win the final vote tally by 726 votes in notching a 51-49 percent Democratic primary victory from a very low turnout of approximately 29,000 voters. He now will face freshman Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Miami), the man who unseated him in 2014. Redistricting made this seat more Democratic, but the latter party is clearly not united behind Garcia, giving Curbelo the type of opposition primary finish for which he had hoped. This will be a toss-up battle in the fall.
Back in Orlando, the primary night proved a poor one for the Grayson family. While Rep. Alan Grayson was badly losing the Senate primary, his wife, Dr. Dena Grayson, finished third in the Democratic primary to succeed him. The winner was state Sen. Darren Soto, who will win the general election and head to Washington in January.
The open Ft. Myers/Cape Coral seat went to former US Ambassador to the Holy See, Francis Rooney, as expected. He won the Republican primary with 53 percent of the vote against two Republican opponents and will succeed retiring two-term Congressman Curt Clawson (R-Bonita Springs).
Other incumbents overcoming lesser primary challenges were Reps. Ron DeSantis (R-Ponte Vedra Beach/Daytona), John Mica (R-Winter Park), Lois Frankel (D-West Palm Beach), Ted Deutch (D-Boca Raton), Frederica Wilson (D-Miami Gardens), and Ilena Ros-Lehtinen (R-Miami).