Qualifying period begins for Florida congressional races

Published on April 24, 2024 at 9:48 am

The weeklong qualifying period for candidates to qualify for congressional races got underway this week at the state Division of Elections.

Although most candidates mailed or electronically filed their paperwork this week, a handful of candidates or their representatives also dropped off applications in person at the Division of Elections’ office in downtown Tallahassee.

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Gary Barve, who sported a ball cap embroidered with “Trump,” completed the required paperwork in person shortly after the qualifying period kicked off at noon. Barve, a Republican, is hoping to take on incumbent U.S. Rep. Jared Moskowitz in Congressional District 23, which includes parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties.

“I just wanted to get it done as soon as possible,” said Barve, who in the past several years also has opened campaign accounts for city council in Santa Clara, California, and the U.S. Senate in Virginia.

Barve said he drove to Tallahassee from Pompano Beach on Sunday to submit paperwork that included a $10,440 qualifying fee for candidates affiliated with a political party. The cost to qualify as an independent is $6,960.

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As of Monday afternoon, primary challengers had submitted paperwork to take on at least four incumbent Republicans — U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn in North Florida’s District 2, which includes Tallahassee; U.S. Rep. Bill Posey in District 8 in the Space Coast; U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan in District 16, which includes parts of Hillsborough and Manatee counties, and U.S. Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar in District 27 in Miami-Dade County — as well as U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat serving in Broward County’s District 25.

Qualifying runs through noon Friday for Florida congressional seats and the U.S. Senate seat held by U.S. Sen. Rick Scott. Qualifying for state legislative races runs from June 10 to June 14.

This week’s qualifying period also applies to candidates running for state attorney, public defenders and judges for Florida’s judicial circuits, along with state appeals-court judges and county judges.

Much of the action in Florida’s congressional races will take place in primary match-ups. Former President Donald Trump recently targeted Republican U.S. Rep. Laurel Lee, who backed Gov. Ron DeSantis in his White House bid but switched her support to Trump after DeSantis bowed out of the race in January.

“Any great MAGA Republicans looking to run against Laurel Lee in Florida’s 15th Congressional District? IF SO, PLEASE STEP FORWARD!” Trump wrote last month on Truth Social.

As of Monday afternoon, Lee hadn’t drawn any Republican challengers for the district that includes parts of Hillsborough, Pasco and Polk counties.

Meanwhile, the Florida Democratic Party has started to run ads online and on billboards to attract candidates for thus-far uncontested congressional and legislative seats

Qualifying kicked off Monday as a lawsuit challenging congressional maps approved by the legislature in 2022 continues working its way through the courts.

A three-judge federal panel in March rejected a constitutional challenge to the redistricting plan that Gov. Ron DeSantis pushed through the Legislature in 2022, saying opponents did not prove lawmakers acted with “racially discriminatory purpose.”

The decision was the second time in less than four months that courts have upheld the map in cases focused on the overhaul of a North Florida district that in the past elected a Black Democrat. The state’s 1st District Court of Appeal on Dec. 1 backed the plan — a decision that has been appealed to the Florida Supreme Court.

The federal-court lawsuit, filed by plaintiffs such as Common Cause Florida and the Florida NAACP, alleged that the map involved intentional discrimination and violated the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment and 15th Amendment. The 14th Amendment ensures equal protection, while the 15th Amendment prohibits denying or abridging the right to vote based on race.

The North Florida district, Congressional District 5, in the past elected Black Democrat Al Lawson. The former configuration of the district stretched from Jacksonville to Gadsden County, west of Tallahassee, and incorporated areas with sizable numbers of Black voters.

DeSantis vetoed a redistricting plan passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature and muscled through a replacement that placed District 5 in the Jacksonville area. White Republicans won all North Florida congressional seats in the November 2022 elections.

DeSantis argued that keeping a district similar to the former shape of Congressional District 5 would be an unconstitutional racial gerrymander.

The legislatively configured boundaries for the state’s 28 congressional districts leave few contests that are expected to be competitive after the state’s Aug. 20 primary election. Republicans currently hold 20 of Florida’s 28 seats.

The University of Virginia’s Center for Politics’ Sabato’s Crystal Ball lists Congressional District 13 in Pinellas County, currently held by Republican Anna Paulina Luna, and Salazar’s Miami-Dade seat as “likely Republican.” The rest of the congressional seats held by Republicans are considered “safe Republican,” and all of the seats held by Democrats are tagged as “safe Democratic.”

Cook Political Report also considers Luna’s district as “likely Republican.” Cook has a similar rating for Congressional District 9 in Central Florida, currently held by Democrat Darren Soto, and for Moskowitz’s Broward district. The “likely” label means the races “are not considered competitive at this point but have the potential to become engaged,” according to Cook’s website.

No Florida seat under Cook’s rating falls under the more competitive banners of “lean” or “toss up.”

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