PerspectivesA.G. Gancarski Jacksonville Today Contributor
The Florida Capitol Complex is viewed, Tuesday, March 29, 2022, in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

OPINION | Duval Democrats, Republicans take different paths to August primaries

Published on June 16, 2024 at 6:00 pm
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Twentieth century poet Robert Frost famously observed that two roads diverged, and he took the one less traveled.

Though Frost was the first poet to help inaugurate a U.S. president 63 years ago, he likely wasn’t thinking about party politics when he wrote “The Road Not Taken.” But what we’re seeing in Northeast Florida are two parties taking radically different roads to the state House this year.

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First, the Republicans. 

In Duval and elsewhere, they’re largely avoiding messy primaries against incumbents. While open seats are a different story  — see: the heated races to succeed Sen. Travis Hutson, House Speaker Paul Renner, and Rep. Cyndi Stevenson in St. Johns and points south — there’s no intraparty challenge looming for incumbent reps like Jessica Baker, Dean Black and Wyman Duggan.

While the same can’t be said for Congressman John Rutherford, who is getting primaried from the right by someone he already trounced before in an August primary, Republicans are by and large uniting ahead of November, a positive sign for them — as if they needed much help in a state where they are threatening to have a million-person registration edge by Election Day.


They’re fragging each other for the scraps they have in the Legislature, with one incumbent senator and two state representatives facing challenges.

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One of the challenges is somewhat less than serious: Francky Jeanty. 

Sen. Tracie Davis, who is positioned to lead the Democratic caucus, has every advantage: more than $270,000 banked, compared to just over $2,500 from Jeanty. Considering that she had roughly two-thirds of the vote against former City Councilman Reggie Gaffney in the primary two years ago, one might surmise that a challenge to her is doomed from the start. 

Yet she will have to spend time this summer campaigning nonetheless. That’s good news for political consultants, at least, as she’s going to have to burn a big chunk of money on mailers and the like. 

The most competitive primary race is what is now a closed battle in House District 13, where firebrand Rep. Angie Nixon, D-Jacksonville, will face off with a more transactional politician in former School Board member and City Council member Brenda Priestly Jackson.

This could be close in the end. 

Those familiar with Nixon’s thinking assert that she is worried that business interests and charter school groups will help to fund attacks on her, and Priestly Jackson likely will welcome that help, given her sluggish fundraising so far. (Nixon had roughly $75,000 to spend between her political committee and her campaign account as of the end of May; Priestly Jackson had roughly $10,000.)

Some of Priestly Jackson’s support has come from former Republican colleagues on the City Council, including Randy DeFoor and a political committee associated with Rory Diamond. Diamond is often talked up as a GOP mayoral candidate in 2027, so his help in a Democratic primary seems like one of those things Nixon could spotlight, if Diamond actually has enough name recognition to matter in a mail piece.

The other wrinkle in this race: Terrance Jordan, an unaffiliated candidate whose presence will ensure only Democrats get to vote in the District 13 race. His motivations for running are unclear — he couldn’t wait to get off the phone when I asked him why he’s running as an NPA. It’s hard to tell whether he’s a more likely plant for Priestly Jackson or Nixon, though Priestly Jackson said she expected someone to close the primary and noted, for whatever reason, that Jordan was a member of Gen X when I asked her about it.

While it’s great that he may have bought Nirvana’s Nevermind when it came out, running a campaign with no chance of winning and no particular platform historically has no utility to voters. It’s hard to get enthusiastic about what is essentially a ghost campaign, and those of us who have seen this show before know how these NPA/write-in campaigns go, often mysteriously terminated after the primary wraps.

In House District 14, meanwhile, Rep. Kim Daniels, D-Jacksonville, will face competition: Therese Wakefield-Gamble and Lloyd Caulker are both on the ballot against the veteran evangelist-turned-politician, and NPA Briana Hughes has closed the primary. (And in case you wondered: No, Hughes didn’t respond when I called to ask why she’s running.)

Daniels got 44% of the vote in the primary two years ago, with former City Council member Garrett Dennis offering the most resistance. Though the “Demonbuster” is largely persona non grata in a Democratic Party with little use for her brand of social conservatism, it’s difficult to imagine either of her politically inexperienced opponents overcoming a decade and a half of political capital in a matter of weeks before the August primary.

Once August is over, November awaits — and the two parties will have different approaches there too.

Republicans aren’t bothering to play in HD 13 or HD 14, but a group of Democrats will challenge Reps. Baker, Black, Duggan, Sam Garrison of Clay County and Rep, Kiyan Michael, R-Jacksonville.

Time will tell how strong the underfunded campaigns of people like Charlie Browne, Ben Sandlin, Gary McManus, Rachel Grage, and Bryson Morgan will be. The hope among some Democrats is that these political newcomers will find a way to boost Democratic turnout in November, perhaps giving President Biden and likely U.S. Senate nominee Debbie Mucarsel-Powell a puncher’s chance of pulling upsets in November. 

But ultimately, it’s all but certain (barring some career-killing scandal for one of the incumbent Republicans) that Duval will be represented by two Democrats and five Republicans after the fall elections, a spread that reflects creative maps from the Legislature more than the Democratic plurality in Jacksonville. 

author image Jacksonville Today Contributor email A.G. Gancarski has been the Northeast Florida correspondent for Florida Politics since 2014. He writes for the New York Post and National Review also, with previous work in the American Conservative and Washington Times and a 15+ year run as a columnist in Folio Weekly.

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