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Central Florida Candidates Ready for Mad Dash to the Congressional Primaries

June 28, 2016 - 6:00am
David Jolly, Dan Webster and Charlie Crist
David Jolly, Dan Webster and Charlie Crist

The Florida congressional landscape is set to radically change after the November elections. Between redistricting, some unexpected retirements and two representatives running for the U.S. Senate, almost half of the Sunshine State’s 27 congressional seats are in play in the primaries or the general election. With that many seats up for grabs, Florida can expect some differences in how it's represented starting in 2017.

There are competitive congressional primaries and general elections shaping up in Central Florida. Here's a look at where some of the congressional races in that part of the state stand after qualifying ended on Friday:

CD 10: Democrats are poised to pick up this Central Florida seat. After the dust settled on redistricting, Republican Dan Webster scooted north as some top Democrats jumped in. Val Demings gave Webster a scare in 2012 and she’s back for another congressional bid. But she doesn’t have an open shot at the Democratic nomination as Bob Poe and Geri Thompson, both experienced candidates with long political careers of their own, are running in what should be a competitive primary. Dark horse attorney Fatima Fahmy is also running in the Democratic primary and hopes to pull off an upset here. After losing out to Glo Smith in the Republican primary to run against Corrine Brown two years ago, Thuy Lowe is back for another congressional try but she’ll have a hard time in November against whoever the Democrats nominate.  This seat should be turning blue. 

CD 11: After three terms in Congress, Rich Nugent bowed out but the GOP should keep this seat. Nugent is backing his former chief of staff Justin Grabelle but he faces a major Republican opponent in the primary. After redistricting turned his district blue, Dan Webster moved north to run here. Conservative pastor Jack Martin had been running here but he failed to qualify, setting up the two candidate primary. Dave Koller, who lost to Nugent last time out, is the only Democrat in the race and he’ll have a tough time being competitive after getting blown out in 2014.  Matt Schnackenberg had been running on the Libertarian line but failed to qualify. Still, voters looking for a candidate outside the major parties have an option in tea party activist Bruce Riggs who is running with no party affiliation. Even with Nugent heading to the sidelines and a contentious primary looming, Republicans should be able to keep this seat with ease. 

CD 12:  Republican Gus Bilirakis is hoping for a promotion in Washington, wanting to move up to chair the Veterans Affairs Committee now that Jeff Miller is retiring. Standing in his way is attorney Robert Tager who is running as a Democrat. Tager has some impressive legal experience in the region but he’ll have a hard time upending the incumbent in this solidly Republican district. Bilirakis should have little to worry about in November. 

CD 13: When Marco Rubio jumped in the Senate contest last week, he moved this race from a sure thing for Democrats to a close contest. On the Democratic side, Charlie Crist chased Eric Lynn out of the race and looked likely to have an unlikely political comeback following his defeats in 2010 and 2014. Over on the Republican side, Mark Bircher, who lost to David Jolly in the primary back in early 2014, was trying for a second run for Congress. But with Rubio running for Senate again, Jolly got out of that contest and is now looking to keep his seat. Some conservatives will back Bircher over Jolly but the incumbent should win the primary.Redistricting made this seat far more hospitable for Democrats but this will be a close contest. Crist is no longer a heavy favorite for this seat by any means. 

CD 14: While her district was slightly changed by redistricting, Democrat Kathy Castor should be headed for another easy win. There was some talk Mike Prendergast would try for a rematch of his 2010 loss but he stayed out. Eddie Adams, who has run for this seat numerous times before, didn’t qualify this year. This leaves businesswoman Christine Quinn as the Republican candidate to challenge Castor. Quinn has some strengths as a candidate but she’ll need a perfect storm to make this race competitive. 

CD 15: At one point in the redistricting process, Dennis Ross was a possible casualty as the Legislature drew up new maps. Now he is a heavy favorite to keep this seat for Republicans. Businessman Jim Lange is challenging Ross on the Democratic line but he’ll need a major wave to topple the congressman in November. 

CD 16: Now cleared of ethics charges, Republican Vern Buchanan should be headed for reelection. He faces dark horse in James Satcher in the Republican primary while two Democrats--pilot Brent King and attorney Jan Schneider--line up for their party’s nomination. Buchanan has bested far better known candidates over the years and is a heavy favorite to keep this seat for Republicans. 

CD 17: Tom Rooney can be pardoned if he is feeling a little bit of deja vu. Two years ago, Rooney beat Democrat April Freeman and John Sawyer, who was running with no party affiliation, to keep this seat in the Republican column. In November, Rooney faces Freeman and Sawyer yet again. Unless something drastic happens, expect the same result this time out as well with Rooney winning big. 

CD 18: Patrick Murphy is leaving this seat after two terms to run for the Senate. This is a battleground district but the major parties have very different nominating contests. Randy Perkins is a clear favorite on the Democratic side and has cleared the decks of most of his competition even as attorney Jonathan Chane and engineer Juan Xuna try to catch him. The Republican primary is far more crowded. Carl Domino, the former state representative who as blown out by Murphy in 2014, is back for another try. From her time on the Martin County School Board and  her marriage to incoming state Senate President Joe Negron, Rebecca Negron has a lot of name recognition as she aims for the seat. Attorney Rick Kozell is looking to move up the Republican ranks by stressing his conservatism. Disabled veteran Brian Mast is also playing up his conservative credentials in this race. So is conservative pundit Noelle Nikpour. Dr. Mark Freeman will hope his dark horse bid will get some attention. Nurse and Navy vet Carla Spalding pulled out of the GOP contest to run with no party affiliation. Nurse Marilyn Holloman is running as a write-in candidate. 

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