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WASHINGTON — Rep. Ron DeSantis, who was endorsed by President Donald Trump over Florida Republicans’ favored candidate, won the GOP gubernatorial primary on Tuesday night, according to an NBC News projection.
It is not yet known whom DeSantis will face in November as the multi-candidate Democratic gubernatorial primary Tuesday night was still too close to call.
DeSantis easily defeated Agriculture Secretary Adam Putnam, thanks to a crucial early endorsement from the president. With more than 70 percent of precincts reporting, DeSantis was leading Putnam 56.5 percent to 36.8 percent, or 676,247 votes to 440,149 votes.
On the Democratic side, the primary contest was close as Gwen Graham, the daughter of the state’s former governor and senator Bob Graham, held a narrow lead in a crowded field that included six men, including two who bankrolled their own candidacies. With 70 percent of precincts reporting, Graham had 32.3 percent to her closest rival, Andrew Gillum, who had 31.2 percent, with 10,000 votes separating them.
Gillum, the black progressive mayor of Tallahassee, is backed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and liberal mega-donors Tom Steyer and George Soros; Graham is seen as a moderate.
The governor’s race in the key swing state is the most expensive in history, with more than $120 million spent in the primary, and both parties will prioritize it November.
Outgoing GOP Gov. Rick Scott is running for Senate and easily won his primary Tuesday night against token opposition. He’ll face off against Democrat Sen. Bill Nelson in November in a race that is expected to cost millions and could determine the balance of power in the Senate.
DeSantis ran as close Trump ally, attracting national attention for a comical ad that went viral in which he taught young children to say “Make America Great Again.”
Putnam’s potential in the Florida Republican Party was once seen as limitless, but that was before Trump took over the party and loyalty to the president — whom DeSantis often defends on Fox News — became a key litmus test for GOP voters.
Trump-backed candidates have won nearly all their primaries this year, but the president had a miss last week in Wyoming after his endorsement failed to deliver the gubernatorial nomination to donor Foster Friess.
Meanwhile, Alan Grayson, the controversial liberal firebrand, is trying to make it back to Congress by challenging Democrat incumbent Rep. Darren Soto with a message focused on impeachment. “Impeach Trump. Grayson will. Soto won’t,” a Grayson TV ad declares. Soto has hit back with ads highlighting Grayson’s criticisms of former President Barack Obama.
In Arizona, voters will decide a nasty Republican Senate feud in which all three candidates are running to the right of the late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., is expected to prevail over two conservatives who have split the anti-establishment vote — Kelli Ward, a vocal McCain foe, and former Sheriff and Trump pardon recipient Joe Arpaio — but only by tacking to the right, which could cause problems for her in what is expected to be a tough race against Democrat Kyrsten Sinema in November.
Trump did not endorse in the GOP Senate primary.
The results could influence Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, who is also up for reelection this year, as he decides whom to appoint to fill McCain’s seat. That seat won’t come up for election until 2020.
Former Arizona Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick’s comeback attempt may be halted by a primary that has become unusually noxious, with her opponent, Matt Heinz, a doctor who ran for the seat before, comparing Kirkpatrick’s political ambition to a “meth addiction.”