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Tuesday, May 19, 2020

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

You’re no doubt spending most of your day thinking about how not to contract COVID-19, but it’s already mid-May and the battle for control of the U.S. House of Representatives is well under way.

Here’s one race to watch: Florida’s 13th Congressional District, which includes St. Petersburg and Clearwater in the Tampa Bay area.


Once a reliably red district, it now leans purple. Voters there twice delivered solid victories for George W. Bush, then backed Sen. John McCain from the red side. Then they went twice for the blue candidate, Barack Obama (an 11-point winner in 2012) and Hillary Clinton (who won by just 3 points). President Trump, however, carried Pinellas County, which makes up about 80 percent of the district.

Voters in the district have been far less fickle when it comes to House members. A Democrat was elected there in 1973, when the district was created, but the next seven lawmakers elected were all Republicans. That string ran until 2017, when voters picked a man who was then a Republican, became an independent and morphed again into a Democrat.

That man is Rep. Charlie Crist, who served as governor from 2007 to 2011, and he’s running for re-election, but he faces a half-dozen Republicans vying for the seat. The top of the GOP heap is Amanda Makki, at least judging from the near-daily attacks she’s facing.

In January, it was reported that a supporter of GOP rival George Buck accused Ms. Makki of being a “terrorist” and even held a sign protesting her at a campaign event. Ms. Makki was born in Iran but came to the U.S. as an infant, which, apparently, opens her to such attacks.

Ms. Makki has a fascinating life story. Her parents fled the oppressive religious regime in Iran to come to America. Her mother delivered Yellow Pages phone books to put her husband through medical school, helping him become a surgeon.

Against steep odds, Ms. Makki landed a job in the Bush administration working at the Pentagon just weeks after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. From there, she earned her law degree, becoming one of the youngest partners at one of the nation’s premier law firms.

Ms. Makki became the frontrunner in the 13th District primary after filing to run in June, scooping up $740,000 in contributions, far more than the other contenders. She has also racked far more endorsements than the others in the Aug. 18 GOP primary.

“Amanda’s life is the story of the American dream, and her commitment to our conservative principles, passion to serve and willingness to fight for what is right are exactly what the people of South Pinellas County are looking for in their next congressman,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican.

Added Whip Steve Scalise, Louisiana Republican: “Amanda’s grit and determination are exactly what we need to keep fighting against the radical, socialist agenda pushed by House Democrats. The constituents of this district deserve better than a Democrat who doesn’t represent their values — they deserve Amanda Makki.”

The Iranian-American would be uniquely positioned to fight back against the anti-Israel Muslim Democrats — Reps. Rashid Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, two members of “The Squad” alongside Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.

But Ms. Makki faces a tough intraparty battle, facing off with a conservative with a sizable social media following named Anna Paulina Luna, who has drawn support from some lawmakers, including an endorsement by Rep. Matt Gaetz. Ms. Luna, a 30-year-old Air Force veteran with more than 250,000 followers on Instagram and who often poses with sizable guns, is also endorsed by Charlie Kirk, Turning Point USA founder and co-chairman of Students for Trump.

“I’m sure as hell not a politician,” she said in a video announcing her candidacy that includes her firing guns. “I won’t ever stand here and lie to you.”

And whoever comes through the GOP battle will face a powerful force in Mr. Crist, who took nearly 58 percent of the vote in 2018 and is unopposed in his party primary. Mr. Crist raised $229,500 in the first three months of 2020 and $1.8 million for the full cycle, closing March with $2.9 million cash on hand.

Still, Mr. Crist will face an enthusiastic Republican base in the district, especially because he voted for both articles of impeachment against Mr. Trump. And Mr. Crist is firmly in the camp of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who calls the shots for the Democratic caucus — another turn-off for moderates and independents.

So keep your eye on this race. If Republicans are going to flip the House, it’ll be in districts like Florida 13.

Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at josephcurl@gmail.com and on Twitter @josephcurl.


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