Donna Shalala, a former secretary of health and human services under President Bill Clinton, was projected to win the Democratic primary for a Florida U.S. House seat seen as key to both parties' chances of taking control of Congress.

The 77-year-old Shalala, a former president of the University of Miami, defeated four other candidates to win the nomination for Florida's 27th District. She received 32 percent of the vote, while her closest challenger, state Rep. David Richardson, received 28 percent of the vote.

On the Republican side, longtime Spanish-language TV journalist Maria Elvira Salazar defeated eight other GOP candidates -- including former Miami-Dade County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro and former Doral city council member Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera, who briefly seized the spotlight with her claim that she was abducted by aliens as a child.

Rodriguez Aguilera's profile was raised even further last week when the Miami Herald newspaper endorsed her in the primary, praising her "boots-on-the-ground ideas and experience" while admitting she was "an unusual candidate."

Shalala and Salazar are competing to succeed retiring Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who has represented the district since 2013.

The seat is widely viewed as one of the best chances for a Democratic pickup this November. Voters there backed Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by 20 percentage points in the 2016 presidential election.

Shalala, making her first run for elected office, has said she is confident Democrats will flip the seat no matter which Republican is nominated, citing voters opposed to President Trump.

"There's no question about it. In all their experience, Trump is their worst nightmare," she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.