U.S. congressman facing campaign finance probe struggles in Florida primary battle
By Susan Cornwell WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Freshman U.S. Representative Ross Spano was struggling to hold his seat in Congress against a challenger in a Florida Republican primary on Tuesday, amid a federal investigation into campaign finance violations from two years ago. Spano trailed Scott Franklin, a businessman and member of the Lakeland City Commission, by 51.3% to 48.7% in the contest in Florida's 15th Congressional District, according to preliminary results from Florida's secretary of state
By Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Freshman U.S. Representative Ross Spano was struggling to hold his seat in Congress against a challenger in a Florida Republican primary on Tuesday, amid a federal investigation into campaign finance violations from two years ago.
Spano trailed Scott Franklin, a businessman and member of the Lakeland City Commission, by 51.3% to 48.7% in the contest in Florida's 15th Congressional District, according to preliminary results from Florida's secretary of state. Both men are conservative Republicans.
Franklin, 55, a former Navy pilot, ran campaign ads highlighting the Justice Department's investigation into Spano's 2018 campaign. Spano, 54, has acknowledged mistakes with respect to loans to his 2018 campaign but says they were unintentional.
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 was leading in the district's Democratic primary.
Non-partisan election analysts say it maintains a Republican lean.
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.
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.
Despite the federal campaign finance investigation that was disclosed last year, Spano had the support of House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy and others in the Republican leadership.
But last week, another Florida Republican, Representative Matt Gaetz, warned the party against nominating Spano, saying he could not be re-elected in the autumn because of the campaign finance questions that have dogged him since just after he entered Congress in November 2018.
“Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats are going to savage Ross Spano,” Gaetz, an ally of President Donald Trump, told callers in a tele-town hall, according to the Tampa Bay Times. “He’s a drag. He’s a drain. He won’t help the president get re-elected.”
In Florida's 21st Congressional District, home to Trump's Mar-a-Lago club, far-right activist Laura Loomer was leading in the Republican primary. She has been kicked off social media platforms for anti-Muslim comments and endorsed by former Trump adviser Roger Stone.
Whoever wins the Republican primary is likely to face an uphill fight against Democratic Representative Lois Frankel in November.
(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Scott Malone, Sonya Hepinstall and Peter Cooney)
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