TALLAHASSEE – Alleged death threats. Court battles. Stabbing attacks between rival Republicans.
Things get chaotic in what the GOP considers to be one of the best pickup options in Florida. And it doesn’t look like confirmation from former President Donald Trump will change that.
“A lot of embarrassing drama,” sums up Audrey Henson, who is vying for Florida’s open 13th congressional district, about what happened.
Henson, a former CEO of a nonprofit who also helps run a construction company, is one of three GOP candidates applying for the seat. The list also includes Anna Paulina Luna, an Air Force veteran and former model with connections to the MAGA world, and Amanda Makki, an attorney and former assistant to US Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). The latter two both ran for the 2020 seat in the GOP primary, with Luna defeating Makki before eventually losing to the Democratic Representative. Charlie Crist.
The fight was wide open after Crist decided against re-election and instead made an offer for the governor. Crist’s departure sparked a scramble for both parties, even if the district is set to change when Florida lawmakers pass a new congressional card in early 2022.
With several Democrats competing in the race, it’s the Republican side that is getting the most attention so far – and not just because Trump offered early support.
The constant question is whether the fierce Republican power struggles – which now includes St. Petersburg, a former retirement haven that has evolved into a more artistic community – will jeopardize the Republicans’ chance of reclaiming a place that has long been in her column was more than four decades before a court-ordered redistribution changed its outlines in 2016.
Luna made headlines this summer when she claimed her potential Republican rivals were planning to kill her. And at some point she suggested that Makki was also involved in the plan – which prompted Makki to refer to Luna as “unstable” and to promise that she would spend the first time exposing Luna as “wrong” to once Support Barack Obama.
Against this increasingly bitter backdrop, Luna gained a key ally when Trump endorsed her earlier this month after a 45-minute meeting between the two at Trump’s Bedminster resort.
But Trump’s blessing did little to deter other Republicans. Instead, it led to accusations and finger pointing, including from longtime Trump ally Roger Stone, who predicted that Trump would withdraw his endorsement once he learned more about Luna.
“I can’t imagine who could have urged the president to support such a person, and I wonder if he knows what happens if someone hasn’t told the president the whole truth about what leads to action – where he does might be ashamed not to know all the facts, ”Stone wrote devastatingly online Piece. Stone said in an email that he is not professionally involved in the race but has supported another potential candidate for the race. Stone’s friend Matt Tito was also cited by Luna’s initial injunction as someone who may also be part of the conspiracy against her.
The GOP contenders’ decision to prolong an ugly political battle isn’t surprising given expectations that the Republican seat will be won – and will likely remain so after state lawmakers redrew the district in early 2022 .
Crist, a former governor who began his political career in Pinellas County as a Republican, only won the seat last year by six percentage points ahead of Luna. President Joe Biden, who lost Florida altogether, has ousted Trump in the district by four points.
“This has never been a safe seat,” said Matthew Isbell, a Democratic data advisor, who envisions a scenario in which the seat – which is currently underpopulated – is reconfigured in such a way that it becomes even more difficult. “As long as the Republicans don’t nominate a completely deranged person, they have a chance.”
But Makki has labeled Luna “irresponsible” and “dangerous” for claiming that her rivals have plans to murder her.
Luna first made the allegations when she filed for an injunction against William Braddock, a little-known candidate who briefly ran for the 13th district seat before retiring. Luna made her allegation against Braddock based in part on a tape recording in which Braddock told a Conservative activist that he would be given a “Russian and Ukrainian killer squad” to make her disappear.
Makki was implicated in the allegation based on text messages Braddock alleged that Makki was helping him “turn them off”. But Makki said she didn’t know him and called the efforts to get her involved in the case “crazy”.
A district judge said last week Luna could not issue a permanent injunction against Braddock because there was only one documented case of harassment. But the judge warned Braddock that his actions were “inappropriate” and “offensive” according to media reports about the hearing.
Luna called the result “shocking,” but said the evidence showed why she took the threat seriously.
Makki claims that Luna’s background – which includes her last name change two years ago and her earlier statements of support for Obama – was not fully known when Luna won the primary after receiving support from Trump starwarts.
“Last year’s primary voters didn’t know who the real Anna Paulina Luna was,” said Makki, who, like Stone, predicts that Trump will withdraw his approval once he finds out more about her. “They didn’t know her name. They didn’t know her background. This time they’ll know who she really is.”
Luna scoffs at the notion that Trump is letting her down across the board.
“No matter what these people say, the president is not going to change his support for me,” Luna said. “I’ll be right next to him every step of the way.”
Luna has also beaten up rival Makki as someone who is “not a team player” to attribute the district to Republicans and resorted to verbal abuse instead.
“If President Trump supported someone above me, I would get out,” Luna said.
Makki’s previous association with Murkowski would likely be seen as a blow to her in the Trump world, but she insists she’s a loyal supporter and noted that she supported legal efforts to get Biden’s win in Wisconsin right after the 2020 election to contest. Trump backed a challenger for Murkowski in June, who was one of seven Republican senators who voted to oust the president during his second impeachment trial.
As the heat increased between Makki and Luna, Henson joined the race. Her timing was far from ideal and came just days before Trump endorsed Luna. Her selling point is that unlike Makki and Luna – who both moved to Pinellas County in recent years – she’s a longtime Pinellas County resident and business owner.
She said she wanted “nothing to do” with the drama surrounding the race, but added that she would not be dissuaded by Trump’s endorsement of Luna.
“I fully support the president,” said Henson. “I’ve spoken to 2,000 voters in the past 17 days. You want someone who puts pinellas first. That’s what the race is about. “