TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (NSF) - Tuesday's elections in Florida were the first held under a congressional redistricting plan that won final approval from the Florida Supreme Court late last year, and the first true test of the state's "Fair Districts" constitutional amendments.
The new map, proposed by voting rights organizations including the League of Women Voters of Florida, came after courts ruled that plans crafted by the Legislature in 2012 and 2014 violated a voter-approved ban on political gerrymandering.
The new map contributed to the retirement of several incumbents and forced a handful of others --- including U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, running in U.S. House District 5 --- to campaign in areas where they had not run in the past. But for most, the changes, aimed at not favoring incumbents or political parties, appeared to hold little consequence.
Brown won't return to Washington after being defeated Tuesday night by Democratic challenger Al Lawson, ending the Jacksonville lawmaker's more than two decades in Congress.
Brown, who is under federal indictment, was Florida's only incumbent member of Congress --- from either party --- to lose Tuesday evening, based on preliminary election results.
Congressman Dan Webster, a political veteran from Central Florida who has served in public office for nearly four decades, handily defeated Justin Grabelle in the GOP primary in District 11. Webster opted to leave District 10, which now leans Democratic under the new map. to vie for the seat being vacated this year by retiring U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent, who backed his aide, Grabelle, in the race.
As results rolled in Tuesday evening, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat who resigned from her post as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee amid controversy this summer, fought off a challenge from Nova Southeastern University law professor Tim Canova.
The battle over District 23, which includes parts of Broward and Miami-Dade counties, was viewed by some as a replay of the contest between presidential contenders Hillary Clinton, the eventual Democratic nominee, and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders. Clinton backed Wasserman Schultz, who has represented the region for more than a decade, while Canova had the support of Sanders.
Some of the winners in Tuesday's primaries will almost certainly wind up in Florida's congressional delegation this fall.
In a Central Florida race to replace Democratic U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, who lost a U.S. Senate primary Tuesday, state Sen. Darren Soto defeated Grayson's wife, Dena, and Susannah Randolph, a long-time community organizer and former district director for Grayson.
Soto, an Orlando lawyer who is of Puerto Rican descent, will face off against Wayne Liebnitzky, a Republican entrepreneur from St. Cloud, in November. Registered Democrats have an 11 percentage-point advantage over registered Republicans in the newly drawn District 9. Nearly one in three of the registered voters are Hispanic, and 13 percent are black.
Val Demings, a former Orlando police chief viewed as a rising star by Democrats, easily won a primary in Webster's revamped District 10. Demings --- whose supporters included U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. --- captured more than 57 percent of the vote in the race against Bob Poe, a former Florida Democratic Party chairman, state Sen. Geraldine Thompson and lawyer Fatima Rita Fahmy. She will face Republican Thuy Lowe in November.
On the Republican side, state Rep. Matt Gaetz defeated a slew of Republican candidates duking it out for a rare open congressional seat in Northwest Florida's District 1, which abuts the Alabama border. Home to a large number of military installations and retired veterans, District 1is one of the most conservative congressional districts in the country.
The seat, vacated by U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, drew a crowded slate of GOP candidates united on almost all fronts except who should be the fifth member of Congress in more than six decades to represent the region. Gaetz --- whose father Don, is a former state Senate president --- received more than 36 percent of the vote. Gaetz's challengers included state Sen. Greg Evers, a farmer who opted to leave the chamber early in a bid for Congress. Gaetz will face Democrat Steven Specht in November.
In nearby District 2, Panama City surgeon Neal Dunn narrowly edged out Tallahassee lawyer Mary Thomas in the GOP primary. The three-way match-up also included former U.S. Attorney Ken Sukhia. The newly crafted districted is tilted far enough to the conservative side that U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, a first-term Democrat from Tallahassee, decided not to seek re-election and is now focusing on a 2018 bid for governor.
"Our win tonight answers North Florida's plea for a conservative leader that has the real-word experience needed to take on Washington," Dunn said in a prepared statement after results rolled in.
Tuesday night also determined a November matchup in District 18, a largely Treasure Coast swing seat that opened when Congressman Patrick Murphy, a Democrat, jumped into the U.S. Senate race.
Republican Brian Mast --- a U.S. Army Ranger wounded in Afghanistan --- defeated a number of challengers, including Martin County School Board member Rebecca Negron, who is married to incoming state Senate president Joe Negron, and former state Rep. Carl Domino, an investment manager who was defeated by Murphy in 2014. Mast will face-off against Democrat Randy Perkins, who founded the disaster-recovery business AshBritt and who loaned his campaign at least $2 million.