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DeSantis Congressional map puts two US House incumbents in same race

A portion of a multicolored map of Florida.
Florida's newly-drawn 2nd Congressional District covers the entirety of 14 counties in the Panhandle, including Bay and Leon Counties.

Two North Florida congressional incumbents from opposite political parties are running against each other in this year's midterm elections after state lawmakers placed them in the same U.S. House district.

Tallahassee Democratic Congressman Al Lawson is running against Panama City Republican Congressman Neal Dunn after Republican lawmakers carved up Lawson’s District 5 and expanded the size of Dunn's District 2.

The newly-drawn District 2 stretches the entirety of 14 Panhandle counties. The two most densely populated areas are Democratic-leaning Leon County and Bay County, which is solid Red.

The new district leans Republican. Voters who live within the new district’s boundaries chose former President Donald Trump by 11 percentage points in 2020, said Matthew Isbell, a redistricting data analyst. “Republicans still have the very strong advantage in the district," Isbell said. "That said, Al Lawson is by far the strongest Democrat the party could possibly hope for.”

Isbell says that’s in part because of Lawson’s decades-long career in public service, including terms in the statehouse and Senate and in Congress. Lawson was first elected to the state House in 1982 and later to the state Senate. He says that he has experience winning over conservative voters by campaigning hard and focusing on the issues that matter to them.

Lawson isn’t facing a primary challenger either, meaning the two candidates are guaranteed to run against each other in the midterm elections. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 8.

“It shouldn’t be that it’s a difference between Democrats and Republicans. 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? Those should be the issues.”

Republican Congressman Neal Dunn of Panama City has represented District 2 since 2017. He's known Lawson a lot longer than that, Dunn said. "I’ve known Al for over 20 years. I like him. There was a time when he was my state senator. And I supported him.”

Dunn says running against someone he likes and respects isn't easy. “That’s painful. It’s a tough thing to do."

In Congress, Dunn and Lawson have mostly been on opposite sides of the issues. A ProPublica analysis shows the two disagreed on votes 69% of the time in the last Congress under former President Donald Trump. And they’ve disagreed on votes 56% of the time since President Joe Biden took office.

“I think the policies that honestly, he’s supported as a congressman are not the policies that are the ones certainly not my policies. I don’t think they’re the policies that will be favored by the district at large either.”

Bay County GOP Chairman Debbie Wood says the fact that Dunn isn’t facing a Republican primary challenger is indicative of strong support among conservative voters in the district.

“The people in the Panhandle, in this district are happy with him or else they would find someone to run against him. So he’s making the well majority of the people very happy with the way he’s handling things.”

Valerie Crowder is a freelance journalist based in Tallahassee, Fl. She's the former ATC host/government reporter for WFSU News. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.