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Florida Primary Includes Trump Defender, Female Trailblazer

Aug 28, 2018

A conservative Republican congressman supported by President Donald Trump and the daughter of a former governor who is seeking to become the first female chief executive were trying to fend off other challengers Tuesday in primaries to choose nominees for the seat being vacated by Gov. Rick Scott.

Trump endorsed U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis in the Republican primary for governor over Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

That endorsement was the key reason why Josie Parke, 68, an interior designer in Coral Gables, chose DeSantis in Florida's primary election Tuesday.

"I believe in Trump's policies and while I don't love the way he opens his mouth too much, sometimes saying things that are not quite appropriate, I do believe that in his heart he really means well. He's doing things the way I like," said Parke, a Republican.

Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham is trying to fend off four challengers as she seeks to become Florida's first female governor and to take the seat her father, Bob Graham, held from 1979 to 1987.

"I think 2018 will be the year of the women," said Democrat Gregory Koger, a University of Miami political science professor who also was voting in Coral Gables, and who chose Graham. "And I think that as a female she can help turn out a lot of voters, make people feel enthusiastic and provide a nice contrast in the race."

Voters are also picking the nominees for two Cabinet positions — attorney general and agriculture commissioner — and several congressional seats. And while Scott has to win a Republican primary for U.S. Senate before he takes on Democratic. Sen. Bill Nelson, it's a foregone conclusion that he will defeat California businessman Roque "Rocky" De La Fuente, who has mounted simultaneous Senate bids in multiple states and has no visible campaign in Florida.

DeSantis entered the race in January, a month after Trump tweeted that he would make "a GREAT governor." He then appeared on Fox News more than 100 times, usually defending the president. Trump held a rally for him in Tampa, and suddenly he was considered the favorite over Putnam, who raised more money, campaigned longer, built support among the party establishment and ran a traditional grassroots campaign.

DeSantis is a former Navy lawyer who won his seat in 2012 running as a Washington outsider. He also ran for Senate in 2016, earning the endorsement of conservative groups, but then dropped out when Republican Sen. Marco Rubio shut down his presidential campaign and decided to run for re-election.

Putnam was elected to the state House in 1996, when he was just 22 years old, to the U.S. House in 2000, and to his current job in 2010. He had become one of the most powerful Republicans in Congress before deciding to run for agriculture commissioner

Graham, a Tallahassee attorney who worked for the local school district, is in a crowded race that also includes former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, billionaire real estate investor Jeff Greene, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Orlando-area businessmen Chris King. Graham has said women have a better temperament to lead, adding that she has a unique perspective on issues including abortion rights and sexual harassment.

In an upset, Graham defeated incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland in a GOP-leaning district in 2014, but decided not to run for re-election after the Legislature redrew her district to make it more firmly Republican.

She is a moderate Democrat who has had to withstand criticism from Democratic opponents for voting for the Keystone XL Pipeline and siding with Republicans on changes to President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.

Levine used the enormous wealth he built through a company that provided media to the cruise industry to build his name recognition. He aired 30 different television ads, ranging from calls for gun safety to a call to clean up Lake Okeechobee and prevent algae blooms. He called for an expansion of gambling and said his mix of political and business experience made him equipped to govern the state. As mayor, he helped decriminalize marijuana, tried to raise the minimum wage in Miami Beach and pushed to fight climate change.

Greene made his fortune in real estate and spent close to $30 million in a bid for office in 2010, only to lose a U. S. Senate primary to Kendrick Meek. He tried to use the Democrats' dislike of Trump in the primary even though he was until recently a member of Trump's Mar-a-Lago country club. He also made education a key issue.

Gillum is favored by many Democrats who call themselves progressives, earning the endorsement of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. He proposed raising corporate income taxes and pointed out that he fought the National Rifle Association as Tallahassee's mayor.

King spent more than $4 million on his campaign, but consistently trailed in polls.

In other races, state Rep. Matt Caldwell, state Sen. Denise Grimsley, former state Rep. Baxter Troutman and former Army Col. Mike McCalister are vying for the Cabinet seat Putnam is leaving because of term limits. The Democratic primary is a contest between Homestead Mayor Jeffrey Porter, lobbyist Nikki Fried and environmentalist Roy Walker.

State Rep. Sean Shaw, the son of a former Supreme Court justice, is facing Tampa lawyer Ryan Torrens for the Democratic nomination for attorney general. The Republican primary pits state Rep. Frank White against former judge Ashley Moody. Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi is leaving office due to term limits.

In congressional races, four incumbent members of Congress are leaving their seats, setting up primaries to replace them, and three incumbents — Republican Matt Gaetz and Democrats Al Lawson and Darren Soto — face serious challenges from within their own parties.