Dist. 5 U.S. Rep. Lawson challenges U.S. Rep. Dunn in Dist. 2 race after court rejects redistricting injunction

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Two North Florida Congressmen will likely face off in November after Gov. Ron DeSantis shifted the region’s battle lines.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson will challenge Republican U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn in Florida’s 2nd Congressional District. Lawson’s announcement came Thursday, a week to the day after the Florida Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to the state’s new congressional map before the Midterms. The new map, drawn by officials in DeSantis’ Office, eliminates Lawson’s current 5th Congressional District seat that spans from his hometown of Tallahassee to Jacksonville.

The Court’s decision creates an uphill battle for Lawson, 73, who has served in the House since being elected in 2016. Lawson’s current district is the only one of five North Florida districts that leans Democratic. But all five districts lean Republican under the new map.

Dunn, 69, is a Panama City urologist who was also first elected to Congress the same year as Lawson. Dunn has gained popularity since taking office in the 2nd Congressional District – the largest in the state – in 2017.

Lawmakers passed the DeSantis-drawn map when negotiations on cartography failed during the Regular Session, forcing a Special Session. Analysts in the Florida Senate and House had maintained minority access seats were protected by the state constitution, per a 2015 Florida Supreme Court ruling that enacted the map in place the last three election cycles.

The 2015 ruling introduced the outgoing configuration of CD 5 that DeSantis wanted off the map. However, the Governor argued that, by preserving a minority access district in North Florida, lawmakers produced a map drawn with race as a predominant motivator in violation of the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

A lawsuit alleging the new map violates the Fair Districts amendment to Florida’s Constitution by diminishing the ability of Black constituents to elect a Representative of their choice remains ongoing. However, any impact will likely have to wait for a full trial to unfold, something that could take years.

The existing CD 5 map snakes through parts of Tallahassee and cuts to the western edge of Gadsden County before following the Florida-Georgia border and spilling into Jacksonville. Meanwhile, the existing CD 2 spans from Bay County to Levy and Marion counties and includes the parts of Tallahassee that CD 5 avoids.

Everything between DeFuniak Springs and Madison – including all of Holmes and Washington counties – falls into the new CD 2.

Lawson never faced a serious General Election opponent in any of his three wins beginning in 2016, when the Tallahassee-Jacksonville district kicked in. He previously ran unsuccessfully for the House in 2010 and 2012. 

Meanwhile, Dunn defeated Democratic opponents in 2016 and 2018 by securing more than two-thirds of the vote and picked up no challenger in 2020.

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