Primary Preview – Part I

By Jim Ellis

Aug. 29, 2016 — Arizona and Florida voters go to the polls tomorrow in what has become the most important of the late summer primaries.

Today, we cover Arizona and half of the competitive Florida campaigns. Tomorrow, the remaining Sunshine State races will be updated. Resulting from the court-ordered mid-decade redistricting changes and an unusually large number of open seats, competition is developing in no less than 17 of the state’s 27 congressional districts. Both states also host critical Senate contests.


• Senate: Sen. John McCain (R) is seeking a sixth term after originally winning in 1986, four years after his initial election to the House. What was thought to be a potentially competitive Republican primary at the outset seemingly fizzled when McCain drew a lesser primary opponent. For a time, it appeared that either Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Mesa) or Rep. David Schweikert (R-Fountain Hills/Scottsdale) might enter the statewide contest, but neither chose to do so. In fact, Rep. Salmon would later decide to retire altogether.

Former state Senator Kelli Ward, who resigned her position in order to spend her full energies in challenging McCain, has raised about $1.5 million, but it would likely require more in the way of resources and outside support to deny the veteran incumbent and former Republican presidential nominee a re-nomination victory. Expect Sen. McCain to do better than his 56 percent Republican primary performance in 2010.

For the Democrats, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Flagstaff) is unopposed for the party nomination save the presence of write-in candidates. The general election previews as competitive, though the latest CNN/ORC poll (Aug. 18-23) gives the senator his strongest standing of the race, 52-39 percent over the northern Arizona congresswoman. Lean Republican

• AZ-1: Kirkpatrick’s run for the Senate leaves open one of the few truly swing districts in the country. Five active Republican candidates are vying for the party nomination, including Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, former Secretary of State Ken Bennett, and rancher and former congressional candidate Gary Kiehne. Two other also-ran candidates are also in the race, including frequent candidate Wendy Rogers who has twice run in the 9th District.

The winner will likely face Democratic former state legislator and ex-Republican Tom O’Halleran. The November campaign will yield a highly competitive general election contest. Toss-Up

• AZ-5: Rep. Matt Salmon retiring leaves a competitive Republican primary, with the winner becoming the next member. Democrats are not a viable factor in this southeastern Phoenix suburban district.

Four Republicans are competing for the nomination. State Senate President Andy Biggs, who Rep. Salmon endorsed as part of his retirement announcement, former executive Christine Jones, ex-Maricopa County Supervisor Don Stapley, and state Rep. Justin Olsen comprise the Republican field. Sen. Biggs is drawing outside conservative support. Jones has been spending heavily, more than three times the amount Sen. Biggs obtained. Stapley has raised almost a half-million dollars. State Rep. Olsen appears to be an also-ran candidate. Safe Republican


• Senate: In what began as hotly contested primary campaigns in both parties has turned anti-climactic. Sen. Marco Rubio (R) returning to the statewide campaign after saying he would not seek re-election precipitated most of the open seat candidates to withdraw from the campaign. The one remaining significant contender is businessman Carlos Beruff who bills himself as the “Hispanic Donald Trump.” All polls predict a major Rubio primary win tomorrow evening.

For the Democrats, polling indicated that the battle between Reps. Patrick Murphy (D-Jupiter/West Palm Beach) and Alan Grayson (D-Orlando) began as a potentially close contest, but such has not materialized. Rep. Murphy, with heavy Democratic establishment backing, has pulled away in the latest polls and should win comfortably.

The general election will be expensive and close, as most Florida political races have been in the 21st Century. Right now, the latest polls project a Rubio lead slightly beyond the margin of polling error. Lean Republican

• FL-1: Eight-term Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Chumuckla/Pensacola) is retiring, leaving a Republican primary that will determine who will succeed the outgoing Veterans Affairs Committee chairman.

Eight Republicans are competing for the nomination: state Sen. Greg Evers, state Rep. Matt Gaetz, retired Navy officer Brian Frazier, former Navy officer James Zumwalt the grandson of former Vietnam Commander of Naval Operations Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, political organizer Rebekah Johansen Bydlak, and businessmen Chris Dosev, Mark Wichern, and Gary Fairchild.

Rep. Gaetz is a major contender here, raising the most money and having outside conservative support. Dosev has dropped almost $300,000 of his own money into his campaign, giving him the second largest campaign treasury. Safe Republican

• FL-2: The redistricting plan changed the 2nd District from politically marginal into a highly likely Republican seat. This forced freshman Rep. Gwen Graham (D-Tallahassee) to the political sidelines. With her retirement from the House, the Republicans will convert this seat. Tomorrow, we will find out whether physician Neal Dunn, US Attorney Ken Sukhia, and former State Department official Mary Thomas will become the new House member. The battle is likely between establishment-backed Dunn and conservative activist Thomas. The winner will come to Washington in January. Likely Republican

• FL-4: Eight-term Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-Jacksonville) retiring from this safely Republican district leaves another campaign that will be decided tomorrow night. The top three GOP contenders appear to be former Duval County Sheriff John Rutherford, who leads in the only published independent poll, state Rep. Lake Ray, and attorney Hans Tanzler III, the campaign’s biggest spender. Four others are also in the race, but the contest appears to be among Rutherford, Ray, and Tanzler. Safe Republican

• FL-5: A huge segment of 2nd District Democrats were placed in the new 5th CD that remains anchored in Jacksonville, but now travels in a completely different direction. Instead of moving south through Gainesville and Sanford to Orlando, the seat moves directly west to Tallahassee. Rep. Corinne Brown (D-Jacksonville), facing a new district and now a federal indictment, draw opposition from former state legislative leader Al Lawson, who has twice previously run for Congress. Businesswoman LaShonda Holloway is also in the race. Lawson came close to winning the Democratic nomination in 2010, when he held then-Rep. Allen Boyd (D) to a 51 percent primary victory. Lawson then returned in 2012 to win the party nomination, but would lose to then-Rep. Steve Southerland (R). Rep. Brown’s Jacksonville base will have to perform strongly for her to win tomorrow. Safe Democratic

• FL-6: Two-term Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Ponte Vedra Beach/Daytona) was in the Senate race until incumbent Marco Rubio decided to return. The move forced him back into the 6th District. Though two of the open district candidates, state Rep. Fred Costello and realtor G.G. Galloway, remained in the race, there is little doubt that Rep. DeSantis will be re-nominated tomorrow. He should then have little trouble in the general election. Safe Republican

• FL-7: Though the primary results are not in doubt here, the 7th CD could see a competitive general election. Redistricting made this a 50/50 political district after the Democratic city of Sanford was added from the former 5th District. Rep. John Mica (R-Winter Park) seeks a 13th term and will have little trouble dispatching of businessman and former local official Mark Busch. Democrats recruited college professor Stephanie Murphy, who is unopposed for the party nomination. Rep. Mica will be favored, but this is no longer a safe Republican seat. Lean Republican

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