Brian Mast vs. Lauren Baer: U.S. House 18 race to get national focus

Democrat Lauren Baer and Republican incumbent Brian Mast rolled to their respective party nominations in Florida’s 18th congressional district Tuesday, setting up what will be one of the most pivotal races in the country this fall.

Baer, a former U.S. State Department advisor during the Obama administration, beat back a challenge by attorney and U.S. Navy veteran Pam Keith. Baer is attempting to become the first same-sex married member of Congress.

LIVE RESULTS: See the winners and losers in all the Palm Beach County race

Shortly after news of her victory broke at her campaign headquarters in Jupiter, she joined cheering supporters and gave her wife, Emily Meyers, a kiss.

“I believe in my heart of hearts that our community deserves a representative who is going to vote in all of our interests, not for special interests,” said Baer, a Palm Beach Gardens attorney whose extended family owns and operates Baer’s Furniture. “I believe we deserve a representative who is going to speak the truth in the district and then vote that way in Washington.”

Mast, a U.S. Army veteran who lost both of his lower legs during an explosion in Afghanistan, defeated a pair of GOP rivals to set up his fall race against Baer.

“It’s an honor to represent you in Washington,” he told his supporters. “I fight for our water. I fight for our veterans. It’s either a choice between more of the same or less of the same.”

In other congressional races, U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings won the Democratic Party’s nomination in District 20, which covers parts of Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and the Glades. Hastings, a former federal judge, has served in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1993. He’ll face a write-in candidate on Nov. 6.

U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch won re-nomination in District 22, which covers parts of West Palm Beach and the southern portion of Palm Beach County. Deutch has represented District 22 since 2010. He’ll face Nicolas Kimaz, who won a three-person GOP primary race.

Nothing less than control of the House will be on the line when Mast and Baer square off in District 18, which both Republicans and Democrats believe they have a chance to win.

Democrats need to pick up two dozen seats to wrest control of the House. At least that many districts are ones former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton carried in her unsuccessful quest for the presidency in 2016, raising Democratic hopes that they can regain the majority.

Winning control of the House would mean Democrats, not Republicans, would control the speakership and chair House committees, giving Democrats the power to launch impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.

Trump, of course, won’t be any congressional ballot, but he’ll loom large nonetheless, particularly if Special Counsel Robert Mueller, appointed to investigate potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, issues a report before voters go to the polls on November 6.

Republicans view the president as an unconventional president and an effective steward of a roaring economy. Democrats view him as a coarse, bigoted charlatan who colluded with Russians, violated election laws to win the presidency and obstructed the investigation into that possible collusion.

Democrats will likely face intense pressure from their base to move against Trump if its much-hoped-for “blue wave” washes away the GOP’s House majority.

For Republicans, victory in District 18, which covers northern portions of Palm Beach County and all of Martin and St. Lucie counties, would make it that much more difficult for Democrats to take a majority the GOP has held since 2015.

It didn’t take the GOP long to fire a salvo at Baer.

“New Yorker Lauren Baer was flown into Florida by Nancy Pelosi to run for Congress,” National Republican Congressional Committee Spokeswoman Maddie Anderson said in a statement released shortly after Tuesday’s primary results came in. “Voters in Florida’s 18th District have a clear choice: an out of touch liberal whose first vote in Congress would be to make Pelosi Speaker of the House, or Brian Mast — a war hero who came to Congress to continue to serve his country.”

A statement released by the Baer campaign made it clear she’ll attempt to tie Mast to Trump, pointing out that the congressman voted with the president 90 percent of the time.

“It is time to have a representative who will hold this administration accountable, not just vote the party line,” Baer said.

Keith said during a primary debate that Trump’s “lawless” presidency was the most important issue facing district voters.

Baer said the top topic was health care.

Mast, a U.S. Army veteran who lost both lower legs during an explosion in Afghanistan, defended the vote, saying Obamacare had proven to be ineffective at limiting costs and making sure people had a variety of health care options.

With Baer criticizing Mast on health care, his GOP opponents, Mark Freeman and Dave Cummings, attacked him for announcing support for some forms of gun control, including an assault weapons ban.

Mast’s announcement had come on the heels of the mass shooting in Parkland. He argued that citizens did not need access to the types of weapons he used in combat, a position he held to even as he was attacked by Cummings and Freeman.

Mast kept his focus on the toxic algae bloom that fouled waters in the Treasure Coast.

Staff writers Sarah Peters and George Bennett contributed to this report.

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