Dunn beats Lawson in Florida’s only incumbent-on-incumbent race

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TAMPA, Fla. — Rep. Al Lawson, a north Florida Democrat whose district was dismantled this year at the urging of Gov. Ron DeSantis, on Tuesday lost his bid to remain in Congress after he was defeated by Republican Rep. Neal Dunn.

Lawson’s loss was one in a series of defeats for Florida Democrats across the state and may signal that the state is now firmly a red state.

The battle between Dunn and Lawson was the only incumbent-on-incumbent matchup in Florida.

The loss could end the political career of the 74-year-old Lawson, which spans decades and stretched back to a time when Democrats were in firm control of the state. He opted to challenge Dunn even though the once-a-decade redistricting process placed him in a seat that went for President Donald Trump over Joe Biden by 11 points in 2020.

Dunn, a 69-year-old surgeon who came into Congress the same year as Lawson, had maintained that he was a “better fit” for the district and hammered Lawson with ads that tied him to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Biden.

Dunn outraised Lawson more than two-to-one while Lawson’s pleas for help were rebuffed by national Democrats scrambling to cling on to their majority in the House.

Lawson first ran for Congress in 2016 after the state Supreme Court put in place a minority access district that stretched from just west of Tallahassee to Jacksonville. Florida picked up an extra congressional seat during reapportionment and the GOP-controlled Legislature initially drew up a map that would have largely kept Lawson’s seat intact.

But DeSantis vetoed the map, eventually passed by state legislators, and instead pushed through one his office drew up that redistributed roughly 360,000 Black voters in Lawson’s district into four different districts. Lawson’s hometown of Tallahassee — and all of Democratic heavily Leon County — was placed in Dunn’s district.

The dismantling of Lawson’s seat was part of a revamp that is expected to let Republicans pick up as many as four additional seats in Congress. Other changes pushed by the governor turned two other seats held by Democrats into GOP-leaning ones.

Lawson blasted DeSantis over the redistricting changes and called it “unlawful and unconstitutional.”

Civil rights and voting rights groups have challenged the state’s current congressional map but the litigation currently under way in both federal and state court is not expected to be resolved until sometime in 2023.

Despite the odds against him, Lawson pushed ahead with a campaign contending he “still had it in his blood.”

He tried to appeal to north Florida voters by stressing his ability to win federal funding for hometown projects as well as hitting Dunn over his vote in opposition to a new law that expands health care benefits for veterans.