TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida Democrats Kathy Castor and Lois Frankel won re-election to their congressional seats on Friday when no challengers filed before the close of a qualifying period for federal offices.
But the unhindered re-election of the two lawmakers from Tampa and West Palm Beach was the exception as the majority of Florida’s 27 U.S. House members face a highly competitive election year.
Four seats, now held by Republicans, are open and they drew crowded fields.
Eleven of 21 incumbents will face challenges in the Aug. 28 primary elections. Up to 18 of the incumbents will face challenges in the Nov. 6 general election.
A half-dozen or more races could become factors in the effort by Republicans to hold their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, with Democrats needing to pick up 23 seats across the nation to gain control of the chamber.
Two Democratic incumbents face serious challenges from their own party. Former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown is trying to oust U.S. Rep. Al Lawson in Congressional District 5 in North Florida. And former Congressman Alan Grayson is trying to wrest the Democratic nomination away from U.S. Rep. Darren Soto in Congressional District 9 in the Orlando area.
Two-term U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho drew a primary challenge from Republican Judson Sapp in District 3. Three Democrats also qualified in the district that covers Alachua, Bradford, Clay, Putnam and several other North-Central Florida counties.
Along with the Ros-Lehtinen seat, the three other open Republican seats drew large fields, including in Congressional District 6 in Volusia, Flagler, St. Johns and Lake counties. U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis is not running for re-election in the district because he is running for governor.
Three Democrats, including Nancy Soderberg, a former member of the Clinton administration’s National Security Council, and three Republicans, including former state Rep. Fred Costello, are seeking to replace DeSantis.
One of the most competitive races will be for the District 27 seat in Miami-Dade County. The seat is open following longtime Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s decision not to seek re-election. At the noon close of the qualifying period Friday, nine Republicans had qualified for the race along with five Democrats and one candidate with no party affiliation.
The Democrats are targeting the seat because Hillary Clinton carried the heavily Hispanic district by a margin of 58 percent to 39 percent over Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. The Democratic contenders include former University of Miami President Donna Shalala, who had more than $1.1 million in cash on hand through March 31, and state Rep. David Richardson of Miami Beach.
The crowded Republican field includes former state Rep. Bruno Barreiro and Maria Elvira Salazar, who had raised more than $300,000 through March.
Another highly competitive seat will be in nearby Congressional District 26, where Republican incumbent Carlos Curbelo will face another challenge from Democrats. Curbelo was targeted in 2016 but held on to his seat, which includes a portion of Miami-Dade and all of the Florida Keys, with 53 percent of the vote.
Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, one of the Democrats seeking to challenge Curbelo, participated in a health-care forum in the district this week with U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who wants to return to the speakership if the Democrats win a majority in November.
Democrats will seek to tie Republican candidates to Trump, particularly in districts where the president didn’t run well. But Republicans will use Pelosi as a counterweight as they seek to hold their 16-11 majority in the Florida congressional delegation.
“Our incumbents are in excellent shape on all fronts to win re-election. Nancy Pelosi’s handpicked candidates don’t stand a chance,” said Maddie Anderson, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Cole Leiter, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said Democrats in Florida “are running strong campaigns that are on track to flip congressional seats.”
Among the issues the Democrats will raise are Republican efforts to “rip away affordable health care” by opposing Obamacare and efforts to “give handouts to big corporations,” including the recent corporate tax cuts, Leiter said.
Republicans will target Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy in Congressional District 7, which includes a portion of Orlando and all of Seminole County. State Rep. Mike Miller of Winter Park is facing Sanford businessman Scott Sturgill in the Republican primary.
Among the issues Republicans will raise against Murphy is her opposition to the recent federal tax cuts, which Anderson characterized as a vote “against tax reform, which is continuing to put more money in the pockets of middle-class workers in her district.”
In Congressional District 17, where U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney will not seek re-election, state Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, is facing state Rep. Julio Gonzalez, R-Venice, in a three-way GOP primary, while two Democrats are seeking their party’s nomination.
In Congressional District 15, where U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross is retiring, six Republicans, two Democrats and a candidate with no party affiliation are seeking the Central Florida seat. The GOP field includes former state Rep. Neil Combee of Polk County and state Rep. Ross Spano of Dover.
Three Democrats will return to Congress if they survive primary challenges in August: U.S. Rep. Val Demings in Congressional District 10, U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson in Congressional District 24 and U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings in Congressional District 20, though Hastings would face a write-in opponent in the November election.
In the U.S. Senate race, Republican Gov. Rick Scott qualified to run against U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, the Democrat who has held the seat since 2001. Scott will face Rocky De La Fuente in the Republican primary.