Florida congressional races sending new faces to Washington

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida will have at least four new members of Congress and possibly several more as the deadline to qualify for the ballot ended Friday.

Retirements and political ambitions are opening four seats, three first-term incumbents are facing strong challengers from within their own party, and several other members are being targeted by the opposing party.

Just two years after Florida sent 10 freshmen to the U.S. House, the state will again send some fresh faces to Washington. Republican U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lethinen, Dennis Ross and Tom Rooney are leaving office, along with Ron DeSantis, who is running for governor. And that means Florida will play a key role as Democrats try to chip away at Republicans’ dominance in Congress.

Here’s a look at some of the most-watched races leading up to Florida’s August 28 primary and Nov. 6 election:

Former Clinton cabinet member Donna Shalala is vying to win the Democratic nomination to flip a Florida district long held by popular GOP Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, but her sights are already set on President Donald Trump. (March 8)

Media: Associated Press

DISTRICT 1

The Republican primary is key in this conservative western Panhandle district. Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz won the 2016 primary with only 36 percent of the vote in a seven-way race for an open seat. Real estate developer and former Marine officer Cris Dosev came in third with 20 percent of the vote. Dosev is running again, saying Gaetz is more focused on gaining attention in Washington than representing the district. But the Gaetz name is well-known in the area. Gaetz served in the state House before going to Washington, and his father, Don Gaetz, served as Senate president.

DISTRICT 5

This district that stretches from Jacksonville to Tallahassee is another that will be decided in the primary. Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee is facing a tough race. He beat U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown in the 2016 primary, but she was facing felony fraud charges. Lawson is now being challenged by former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown, who is popular among Democrats in a heavily populated area of the district.

DISTRICT 6

This is the Republican-leaning north Atlantic coast district DeSantis is giving up to run for governor, and two millionaire Republican businessmen with military backgrounds are running for his seat. Navy veteran John Ward has invested $555,000 into his campaign, while former Army Green Beret Michael Waltz has written a $400,000 check. Also on the ballot is former state Rep. Fred Costello, making his third attempt congressional run. Democrats in Washington are pinning their hopes on Nancy Soderberg, who served as President Bill Clinton’s ambassador to the United Nations. She’s raised more than $925,000 for the race.

DISTRICT 7

Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy pulled out an upset in 2016 when she beat 12-term Republican U.S. Rep. John Mica to represent this Orlando-area district. Republicans hope to win the seat back and Murphy likely will be challenged by either Republican state Rep. Mike Miller or businessman Scott Sturgill.

DISTRICT 9

Sure to be one of the hottest primaries in the state, Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto will be challenged by the man he replaced in Congress, Alan Grayson. Grayson is seeking his third trip to Washington. He beat a Republican incumbent in 2008, lost his seat in 2010, returned to Congress in 2012 and then left again for an unsuccessful Senate run. Soto won the Democratic primary for this Orlando seat with only 36 percent of the vote in a four-way race, and Grayson sees that as a sign of weakness.

DISTRICT 15

Republican U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross is retiring, leaving a scramble in his district just east of Tampa. Six Republicans are running, including former state Rep. Neil Combee and state Rep. Ross Spano, who dropped his campaign for attorney general to get in the race. Of the three Democrats running, former Navy officer and tutoring business owner Andrew Learned is getting the most attention.

DISTRICT 17

The Republican primary in this district that stretches from Venice on the Gulf coast to Lake Okeechobee will likely decide who replaces Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney. The two top candidates are Sen. Greg Steube and state Rep. Julio Gonzalez.

DISTRICT 18

Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Mast will be a target for Democrats as he seeks his second term representing this district along the Atlantic coast north of Palm Beach County. Washington Democrats are backing Lauren Baer, a foreign policy adviser in President Barack Obama’s administration. She’s raised more than $1 million, but still has to get past Pam Keith in the primary. Keith ran for U.S. Senate two years ago, finishing third but catching the attention of party activists.

DISTRICT 26

Republican U.S. Rep. Carlo Curbelo is seeking his third term in this district, which stretches from Miami to Key West. He beat incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia in 2014, beat Garcia again to keep the seat in 2016 and this year is being challenged by Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who has raised more than $900,000 and is being backed by Washington Democrats.

DISTRICT 27

Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is leaving Congress after 30 years, giving Democrats their best chance to flip a Republican seat in Florida. The rush to replace her has been massive — Nine Republicans and five Democrats will be on primary ballots before the winners face off in November. While Ros-Lehtinen is Republican, she’s a moderate who’s well liked in this otherwise Democratic district that includes parts of Miami and Miami Beach. The Democratic primary looks like it will largely be a showdown between state Rep. David Richardson and Donna Shalala, who served as President Bill Clinton’s Health and Human Services secretary and as University of Miami president. Former Miami-Dade County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro is the leading fundraiser on the Republican side.

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