A Tallahassee showdown is set: Congressmen Al Lawson and Neal Dunn qualify for fall campaign

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Congressman Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, smiled and waved to reporters as he walked into the Division of Elections office Monday and filed the paperwork to pit Tallahassee’s two congressmen against each other for a November showdown that could possibly determine which party controls Congress after November.

Monday was the first day for qualifying for the August 23 primary to win a place on the general election ballot in November.

Both Lawson, and Congressman Neal Dunn, R-Panama City, have represented congressional districts that intersect in Tallahassee since 2016.

Congressman Al Lawson
Congressman Al Lawson

But Gov. Ron DeSantis considered Lawson’s CD 5 – which ran from Gadsden County to Duval County – an illegally gerrymandered district and had the Legislature redraw it as a Jacksonville-centered seat.  

That put Lawson, who has represented Tallahassee in the Legislature and Congress for 34 years, in a new CD 2 with Dunn.

Earlier coverage: Al Lawson and Neal Dunn will face off in November to represent Tallahassee in Congress

A DeSantis win: Justices hand DeSantis victory in congressional redistricting fight

CD 2 had stretched some 240 miles from the Alabama border to Ocala but now is a wholly Panhandle-contained district, crossing 14 counties from Walton to Madison, including both Dunn's home in Panama City and Lawson's in Tallahassee.

2022 Election: See who has filed and who has qualified for state and local ballots

District voters went for former President Donald Trump by 11 points 2020.

Lawson said DeSantis insisted on eliminating the minority-access seat he held as a way to help California Republican Kevin McCarthy be the next House Speaker.

A surrogate submitted Dunn’s paperwork earlier in the day. Dunn said he respects Lawson and his lengthy record of service but the two “have dramatically different policy views on how to solve America’s problems.”

Lawson has recruited 500 volunteers for what he believes will be a hard-fought campaign.

He said he will highlight the money he secured for north Florida farms, jobs, and infrastructure projects included in the Build Back Better plan that Dunn voted against.

The district includes two urban islands, Panama City and Tallahassee, but is mostly farmland and forests dotted with logging and fishing communities.

Florida governor Ron DeSantis smiles as he walks out to speaks about money he is allocating for infrastructure improvements around Florida, on the front porch of the Ivy House Restaurant in Williston, April 29, 2022.   [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]
Florida governor Ron DeSantis smiles as he walks out to speaks about money he is allocating for infrastructure improvements around Florida, on the front porch of the Ivy House Restaurant in Williston, April 29, 2022. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]

Lawson, who grew up on a farm in Midway, said the area has supported him through three decades of campaigns.

“I know what they’re looking for when they don’t trust big city people. I don’t come up with any preconceived notions of what should be and shouldn’t be. I get out there with the people, that’s why I’ve been successful,” said Lawson.

According to federal campaign finance reports, Dunn has $814,000 on hand for the campaign compared to Lawson's $367,000.

Crist also qualifies

Also qualifying Monday was Congressman Charlie Crist to be a Democratic candidate for governor. Crist’s paperwork was submitted by former Tallahassee Mayor Dorothy Inman-Johnson and her 10-year-old granddaughter, Kayla.

Johnson, who was Tallahassee’s first Black female mayor, said after watching DeSantis work to suppress voters’ rights and divide the state by race, gender, and class, she was supporting Crist because she wanted a better America for Kayla.

“My husband, Reverand Lee Johnson, and I are Baby Boomers. We’ve been through all this divisiveness and racism before. Enough," said Inman-Johnson.

Crist was elected governor as a Republican in 2006, ran as an independent/no party-affiliated candidate for U.S. Senate in 2010, and was elected to congress as a Democrat in 2016.


He leads Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried for the Democratic nomination in the polls, fundraising and endorsements. Latest fundraising reports show Crist has about $6.3 million on hand while Fried has $3.9 million.

Fried had not filed by early afternoon Monday

DeSantis submitted his paperwork early Monday. He reports having about $112 million for the fall campaign. He also leads both Democrats in polling.

Qualifying period ends Friday at noon and then the primary campaigns will begin in earnest.

James Call is a member of the USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida Capital Bureau. He can be reached at jcall@tallahassee.com. Follow on him Twitter: @CallTallahassee

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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Lawson, Dunn ready to battle to be Tallahassee's congressman