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Only 11 seats are in play across the region; Democrats may make small gains
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
(CFP) — Heading toward the November election, just 11 of the South’s 154 U.S. House seats look to be at all in play, a measly 7 percent.
Indeed, in 10 states, no seats are likely to change parties, although results from Louisiana’s late November primary may add to the list. In three of the four states with seats in play–North Carolina, Florida and Virginia–the competitive races are largely the result of new court-ordered House maps, which have disturbed the political equilibrium.
Currently, Republicans hold 116 seats in the South, compared to just 38 for Democrats, or about 75 percent. That GOP dominance is unlikely to budge much.
Overall, Democrats appear poised to pick up at least two seats in Florida and one in Virginia, while Republicans are favored to pick up at least one seat in Florida. There are three seats–two in Florida and one in Texas–that are out-and-out toss-ups. Thus, a net gain of five seats for Democrats in the South would be a good night.
Here are the 11 races to watch:
Florida 2: This seat, anchored in the Florida Panhandle around Tallahassee, is currently held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham. In redrawing the Sunshine State’s map, the Florida Supreme Court removed a chunk of black voters and part of Tallahassee from the district in order to redraw the adjacent 5th District, making what had been a swing seat substantially more Republican. Graham, the only Democrat to take away a Republican seat anywhere in the South in 2014, looked at her odds and decided not to run again, for good reason. Republicans nominated Panama City urologist Neal Dunn, who should have little problem here. RATING: GAIN GOP
Florida 5: This seat, held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, was the primary offender in the Supreme Court ruling that the House map was unconstitutional. Over Brown’s strenuous objections, the justices ordered an extreme makeover; the district now starts in Jacksonville and heads due west to Tallahassee, making it less black and more Republican. Brown, who has been indicted on federal corruption charges, was bounced in the primary by Al Lawson, a former state lawmaker from Tallahassee. The GOP had some hope of a takeaway with Brown in the race, but those hopes were likely dashed with her primary loss. RATING: PROBABLY DEM
Florida 7: Republican U.S. Rep. John Mica is running again in this district in suburban Orlando. But he now has some of the Democratic voters who used to be in Brown’s 5th District, making this district much less safe that it was. He will face political newcomer Stephanie Murphy, a college professor and former national security professional, who was the only Democrat to file against Mica. RATING: PROBABLY GOP
Florida 10: This Orlando-area district, now held by Republican U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster, was made substantially more Democratic in the redraw–so much so that Webster opted to run for re-election in the adjacent 11th District, where U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent is retiring. Democrats nominated former Orlando Police Chief Val Demings, who should have little problem in November. RATING: GAIN DEM
Florida 13: This swing district in the Tampa Bay area will feature a high voltage smackdown between Republican U.S. Rep. David Jolly and former Florida Governor Charlie Crist, the Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat who is trying to make a political comeback after losing the governor’s race in 2014. The redraw of Florida’s map added a portion of St. Petersburg with a large minority population to this district, making it more Democratic. Facing long odds, Jolly first opted to run for the U.S. Senate before deciding to try to keep his seat. With Jolly out, this would have been a Democratic pick-up. That’s still probable but much less certain with the incumbent back in the race. RATING: PROBABLY DEM
Florida 18: This seat, which includes part of Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast, is a classic swing district now held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, who gave it up to run for the U.S. Senate. Democrats selected Randy Perkins, a multimillionaire businessman from Delray Beach, while Republicans went with Brian Mast, an Army veteran who lost both his legs while serving as a bomb disposal specialist in Afghanistan. Both are political newcomers in what is likely to be a high-profile fight to the finish. RATING: TOSS-UP
Florida 26: Like the 18th District, this seat, which includes southwest Miami-Dade County and the Florida Keys, has gone back and forth between the parties in recent cycles. The incumbent, Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, will face a rematch against the man he beat by less than 5,800 votes in 2014, former Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia. RATING: TOSS-UP
Texas 23: This massive district, which stretches across a vast expanse of West Texas from the San Antonio suburbs to near El Paso, has changed hands in the last three elections. The incumbent is U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, who is that rarest of creatures, a black Republican representing a majority Latino district. His Democratic challenger is the man Hurd beat in 2014, former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego. Hurd’s winning margin last time was just 2,400 votes, indicating just how equally divided this district is. With a 55 percent Latino population and Donald Trump at the head of the GOP ticket, Hurd may be battling for his life. RATING: TOSS-UP
Virginia 4: A new map drawn by a federal court added Richmond and Petersburg to this southeast Virginia district, making it substantially more Democratic. The incumbent, Republican U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes, left this seat to run in the redrawn 2nd District, leaving an open seat that’s ripe for a Democratic pick-up. Republican Henrico County Sheriff Mike Wade will face off against Democratic State Senator Donald McEachin, also of Henrico County. A win by McEachin in the redrawn district would add a second African-American congressman to the state’s delegation. RATING: GAIN DEM
Virginia 5: Democrats have hopes of taking this seat, which is open because of the retirement of Republican U.S. Rep. Robert Hurt. But this district, which stretches through central Virginia from the North Carolina border to the Washington, D.C. suburbs, has a Republican lean. GOP State Senator Tom Garrett from Buckingham County is facing Democrat Jane Dittmar, the former chair of the Albermarle County Board of Supervisors. RATING: PROBABLY GOP
Virginia 10: This district, which starts in the western D.C. suburbs and stretches out to West Virginia, is held by Republican U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock and is at the top of the Democrats’ wish list. Although Comstock won handily in 2014, this is a district full of suburban swing voters who Democrats are hoping will be turned off by a Trump-led GOP ticket. She faces Democrat LuAnn Bennett, a real estate developer who is the ex-wife of former U.S. Rep. Jim Moran. RATING: PROBABLY GOP
Graham is challenging two-term GOP Rep. Steve Southerland in a district Democrats think they can flip in 2014
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
TALLAHASSEE, Florida (CFP) — Possessing one of the most storied names in Florida politics and Washington media circles, Democrat Gwen Graham has launched a bid for a GOP-held House seat in northern Florida that’s a prime target for Democrats in 2014.
Graham, 50, is the daughter of former U.S. Senator Bob Graham, who was also elected Florida’s governor during a political career that spanned nearly four decades. She is also a member of the Graham family that for decades owned the Washington Post. (The Post’s legendary publisher, Katherine Graham, was Gwen Graham’s aunt by marriage.)
She is seeking the 2nd District seat now held by Rep. Steve Southerland, 47, who was a Panama City funeral director with no political experience when he defeated incumbent Democrat Allen Boyd in the Tea Party wave of 2010.
The district sprawls across 17 counties in the Big Bend area of the Florida Panhandle, including Panama City and part of Tallahassee.
Mitt Romney carried the district with 52 percent of the vote in 2012. However, this district is perhaps the last “yellow dog” Democratic district left in Florida – the type of place where Graham’s father always ran strong — with a majority of its voters registered as Democrats.
Southerland held the seat with just 53 percent of the vote in 2012, giving Democrats hope that they can flip the seat in the 2014 cycle.
Graham, who has never sought political office before, is billing herself as “an independent voice standing up for North Florida.” Not surprisingly, in a district with large numbers of federal workers and military families, she has hammered Southerland over the government shutdown, even calling on him to donate his salary to charity during the standoff.
“Like so many in Washington, Congressman Southerland has forgotten that Congress exists to solve problems, not be an arena for political sport,” she said.
For his part, Southerland has defended the Republican strategy of trying to tie government funding to repeal of Obamacare. He was co-author of a measure that would have delayed implementation for Obamacare for a year in return for a funding measure.
“I have heard the people of North and Northwest Florida loud and clear,” Southerland said. “They don’t want an interruption in the vital services they expect from their government, but they do want to delay Obamacare.”
Southerland is already getting heavy-duty help in his re-election, with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor appearing at a fundraiser for him in August.
One key question for Graham is whether she will face a primary challenge from former State Senator Alfred Lawson, who nearly toppled Boyd in a primary in 2010 and won the party’s nomination for the seat over a more conservative Democrat in 2012.
The racial makeup of the district would be a key in a primary. Nearly 25 percent of the 2nd Districts residents are black, which means black voters will make up a sizeable portion of the Democratic electorate. Lawson is black; Graham is white.