TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Former Navy pilot Scott Franklin has ousted Rep. Ross Spano, making the Florida congressman dogged by ethics investigations the eighth incumbent House member to be defeated in party primaries this year.
Tuesday's contests were shaped by the coronavirus pandemic, with more than 2.3 million people casting mail-in ballots.
That compares to fewer than 1.3 million in the 2016 primary. Unlike 2016, when there were primaries for U.S. Senate that helped drive up turnout, there were no statewide races on the August 2020 ballot.
This year also has been tough on House incumbents. The eight defeats double 2018’s total and are the most since 1974 to lose in a year when the nation’s congressional districts hadn’t just been redrawn to reflect a new census, which happens every 10 years.
The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating Spano for alleged campaign finance violations. The House Ethics Committee was looking into allegations that Spano borrowed more than $100,000 from two friends and then loaned the money to his campaign. But it paused the review when the criminal investigation began.
Franklin said he contested the nomination in Spano's district because he was fearful Democrats might capitalize on allegations against the incumbent to flip the seat in November.
“Politically, ideologically we’re pretty close on the issues, but with the ethics and the investigations hanging over him it just really made the seat vulnerable, and that was my concern,” Franklin said.
The district sits east of Tampa in central Florida and has traditionally voted Republican. Franklin, a businessman and Lakeland city commissioner, now faces Democrat Alan Cohn, a former television journalist who had raised about $600,000 for the race as of July 29.
In north Florida, Kat Cammack won a crowded GOP primary to replace her former boss, outgoing Republican U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho.
The 32-year-old Cammack owns a political consulting firm and previously served as Yoho’s deputy chief of staff and his former campaign manager. She prominently featured her connection to Yoho during the campaign.
Cammack won in a Republican field of 10 candidates in the firmly Republican district that runs from Ocala to just south of Jacksonville.
“It's a very humbling experience winning a 10-way primary,” she said. “It's a sign that there's a next generation of conservatives coming up and we're ready to start a new squad on Capitol Hill.”
Florida will also elect a new member of Congress in a strongly GOP district in southwest Florida, where U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney is stepping down after two terms. Nine Republicans faced off in the primary to replace him in a race that was too close to call Wednesday. Mail-in ballots from overseas voters, such as those in the military, can be returned up to 10 days after election night, and they could narrow the margin and prompt an automatic recount of ballots.
In Broward County, Sheriff Gregory Tony claimed victory in the Democratic primary over his predecessor, who was fired after the Parkland massacre. Tony replaced Scott Israel in 2019 after Gov. Ron DeSantis dismissed Israel over his handling of the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 dead.
In a Palm Beach County congressional district, far right conservative Laura Loomer won the Republican primary to face Democratic U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel. The district is firmly Democratic, and Frankel has been a political fixture there for decades.
While President Donald Trump has raised questions about the potential for fraud in voting by mail, he later walked back his comments, at least as far as Florida was concerned, and requested a mail-in ballot of his own.
Democrats now have the registration edge in Florida, but independents can, as usual, make all the difference. As of June 30, Florida had nearly 4.9 million active Republican voters and more than 5.1 million active Democratic voters.
The state has nearly 3.8 million voters who either are not registered with a party or are registered with a minor party.
James Collins, 69, a retiree in Fort Lauderdale, said that because he was “a bit apprehensive because of the pandemic," he went to his polling station early in the morning Tuesday, donning vinyl gloves and a face mask.
“No one was there except the poll workers. It was very quick,” Collins said.
AP writers Bobby Caina Calvan in Tallahassee and Tamara Lush in St. Petersburg contributed to this report.