| Florida Times-Union
U.S. Rep. Al Lawson is being challenged by a Republican novice in an election season when Lawson is being a visible cheerleader for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
The two-term congressman seems well-positioned to keep his Fifth Congressional District seat representing an area stretching from Jacksonville to west of Tallahassee where Democrats outnumber Republicans more than two to one.
But the first-time candidate standing in his way casts the contest as his chance to make a difference for people feeling overlooked by politicians.
“I was obviously very green,” said Gary Adler, an interior designer and Jacksonville business owner described as “pro life, pro gun, pro Trump” on his campaign’s Facebook page. “I thought hell, we can’t continue down the same road of insanity.”
Adler has been traveling the district’s eight counties – parts or all of Duval, Baker, Columbia, Hamilton, Madison, Jefferson, Leon and Gadsden – talking to Republican groups and trying to build support outside his party.
His message includes tax reform and job growth, federal tax credits to encourage donations to private and vocational schools and more competition among health insurance and drug manufacturers.
But Lawson has been reaching out to people in the same places, some of them communities where he started cultivating supporters before his first election to the Florida Legislature 38 years ago. He has held the House seat since 2016, when he defeated former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown in a party primary and overpowered a Republican challenger.
In a district with lots of farmland and poor families, Lawson has talked about using his role on the House of Representatives Agriculture Committee to “make sure we feed the hungry, take care of farmers and fight for school programs to feed kids.”
Lawson has talked about his involvement with legislation that eased food stamp benefit rules during the coronavirus pandemic and steered stimulus money to the University of North Florida, Jacksonville University, Edward Waters College and Florida State College at Jacksonville.
“I want to make sure our people get fed and the kids have their opportunity,” he said during an online candidate forum set up in Jacksonville by a civic coalition called Collective Voice Partners.
Adler has denounced efforts to defund police agencies in the wake of national protests and expressed broad support for law enforcement. Lawson has cosponsored the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would ban police use of chokeholds, create a national registry of police misconduct and offer grant money for local commissions to explore different approaches to public safety.
The jump into campaigning is a significant change for Adler, 60, who worked on other candidates’ campaigns during his youth in the Atlanta area but had not pursued an office since moving to Jacksonville in the 1980s. He outperformed rival Roger Wagoner in the GOP primary in August to reach the general election.
He has operated Adler Interior Design since 1992.
During a years-long dispute with a couple who had hired him, Adler was the subject of an investigation by the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation that led to him being arrested in February on a misdemeanor charge involving being an unlicensed contractor. The charge was dismissed after Adler’s attorney argued that the statute of limitations had expired almost a year earlier.
Adler and his clients both filed lawsuits before his arrest and are still working through the dispute.
The political website fivethirtyeight.com, whose stock in trade is projecting race results, estimates Adler’s chance of unseating Lawson at less than one in 100.
Besides seeking his own reelection, Lawson, 72, has been visibly campaigning for Biden, whom he endorsed in May. Lawson, who is Black, has been part of Biden events ranging from an online “African American roundtable” in Jacksonville he hosted five months ago to in-person campaigning at a Biden victory center in Tallahassee this month and a virtual meeting in September to encourage Black voters in rural communities to get involved in Biden’s campaign to replace President Donald Trump.
“We need new leadership,” Lawson said.
Steve Patterson: (904) 359-4263