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Democrat Al Lawson says he has 'good relationships' across new GOP-leaning district

Al Lawson
Steve Cannon/AP
Congressman Al Lawson (D-Tallahassee) speaks on the Florida Senate floor on March 31, 2010. In addition to his time in Congress, his decades-long political career includes years of service in the state House and Senate.

North Florida Democratic Congressman Al Lawson is seeking reelection in a district that looks a lot different than the one he represents right now, but it covers a region he knows well.

"I've been fortunate to have good relationships in many of the counties," said Lawson, whose career in public service began in 1982 when he was first elected to represent Panhandle communities in the state legislature.

Lawson has qualified to run for the state's 2nd Congressional District — which covers the entirety of 14 Panhandle counties, including Bay and Leon. He's facing incumbent U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn (R-Panama City).

Several counties in the new District 2 are in Lawson's congressional district or were in districts he's represented in the state House and Senate. “It’s always been kind of conservative in those areas," he said. "I’ve had Republican opposition before and was very successful.”

Florida Congressional District 2 - 2022 Midterms.jpg - Screenshot
Florida's newly-drawn 2nd Congressional District covers the entirety of 14 counties in the Panhandle, including Bay and Leon Counties.

The newly-drawn Panhandle district favors Republicans, unlike Lawson's Congressional District 5. In an effort to win over GOP voters, Lawson is highlighting his accomplishments over the course of his decades-long career in public service.

“It shouldn’t be that it’s a difference between Democrats and Republicans," Lawson said. "It’s about: What have you done for families? What have you done for education? What have you done for infrastructure? What have you done for small businesses?”

Lawson's district stretches from Gadsden County to eastern Duval County, picking up voters in parts of Jacksonville and in Tallahassee, where he resides.

Republican lawmakers carved the district into four separate districts earlier this year, as part of the once-a-decade map-drawing process. Lawson's district was adopted by the state Supreme Court in 2016 after voting rights groups successfully challenged the 2012 map.

The map Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law places two congressional incumbents — Lawson and Dunn — into the same district ahead of the November midterm elections.

Lawson says some of his accomplishments in Washington D.C. include: securing COVID-relief dollars for small businesses and families and funding for Florida State University and Florida A & M University. "It's hard to believe when you look at all the resources that you got that you've got an opponent who voted against all of it."

Former President Donald Trump won the newly-drawn district by 11 percentage points in 2020, said redistricting data analyst Matthew Isbell. “Republicans still have the very strong advantage in the district," he said. "That said, Al Lawson is by far the strongest Democrat the party could possibly hope for.”

The candidate qualifying period in Florida ends at noon on Friday. With that deadline fast approaching, Lawson says he doesn't believe he'll face a primary challenger.

Lawson says his campaign is working on hiring a manager and assembling hundreds more volunteers. "I’m going to be successful in this race because I’m going to be working hard."

In a statement, Dunn blamed Democrats in Washington D.C. for the nation’s current economic struggles. “Inflation is at a 40-year high, gas and energy prices are skyrocketing, and businesses are struggling to overcome supply chain and workforce woes," he wrote. “I look forward to the coming months where we will have an opportunity to talk about those policies, and I am confident the voters in this district are far more aligned with my views than Al Lawson’s."

Dunn also noted that he's known Lawson many years. "I respect him and his lengthy service to the community."

Valerie Crowder hosts and produces state and local newscasts during All Things Considered. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.