Florida Republicans boot out congressman facing campaign finance probe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Freshman U.S. Representative Ross Spano was ousted by a challenger in the Florida Republican primary Tuesday amid a federal investigation into campaign finance violations from two years ago.

Spano conceded defeat to Scott Franklin, a businessman and commissioner from the city of Lakeland. Spano has acknowledged mistakes with respect to campaign loans in 2018 but says they were unintentional.

“I’d like to thank the voters for giving me the honor and privilege of serving them in Congress for the last two years,” Spano said in a statement emailed by his campaign manager.

Spano is the eighth member of Congress to lose his seat in primaries this year, joining four other Republicans and three Democrats.

Florida, Wyoming and Alaska all held primaries on Tuesday for seats in Congress. The outcomes will set the stage for elections in November to determine the balance of power in Washington, where the House of Representatives has a Democratic majority and the Senate is Republican-run.

Former Representative Cynthia Lummis, who belonged to the conservative House Freedom Caucus, won Wyoming’s Senate Republican primary Tuesday with 59% of the vote despite a crowded field, the New York Times said.

The primary winner is likely to become the next U.S. senator from the solidly Republican western state, where Senator Mike Enzi is retiring this year.

Back in Florida, Franklin edged Spano by 51.3% to 48.7%, according to results from the secretary of state. Both men are conservative Republicans.

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Franklin, 55, a former Navy pilot, had attacked Spano with campaign ads highlighting the Justice Department’s investigation into Spano’s 2018 campaign.

Franklin told Reuters he thought he won on a message that Republicans were “in jeopardy” of losing the seat in November if Spano were the nominee.

Franklin also said he was helped by endorsements from the local sheriff Grady Judd and Republican Representative Matt Gaetz, an ally of President Donald Trump who had warned Republicans not to nominate Spano again.

Florida’s 15th District, which stretches east of Tampa, has been represented by a Republican for 25 years, and Spano won it by 6 points two years ago. But Democrats have named it as one of their top two targets in Florida for November. Former television news anchor Alan Cohn won the district’s Democratic primary.

Non-partisan election analysts say it maintains a Republican lean.

The mayor of Miami-Dade County, Carlos Gimenez, won the Republican primary in Florida’s 26th Congressional District, which Republicans hope to snatch back from Democrats in November.

Democratic Representative Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, an immigrant from Ecuador, flipped the seat two years ago.

Gimenez, who is Cuban-born, was endorsed by President Donald Trump, even though Gimenez had said in 2016 that he would vote for Democrat Hillary Clinton. The Cook Political Report labels the 26th District a “toss-up” on Nov. 3.

In Florida’s 23rd Congressional District, Democratic Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz easily fended off her third primary challenge in as many elections, defeating progressive community activist Jen Perelman.

In Florida’s 21st Congressional District, home to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club, far-right activist Laura Loomer won the Republican primary. But whoever wins is likely to face an uphill fight against Democratic Representative Lois Frankel in November.

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