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Democratic and Republican campaign arms are targeting 25 Southern seats
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
WASHINGTON (CFP) — The U.S. House campaign arms for both parties have released their first list of targets for 2020, with Southern Democrats playing an unfamiliar role they haven’t enjoyed in recent cycles — on defense, protecting their 2018 gains.
Next year’s congressional battles in the South will take place almost entirely in the suburbs. Nearly all of the 25 districts being targeted by both parties contain suburban areas around large cities, territory where Democrats made major gains last November and hope to make more.
The National Republican Congressional Committee — trying to claw its way back into a majority after a disappointing 2018 — is targeting 12 Democrat-held seats across the South, 10 of which are held by by freshmen who flipped seats, including three seats in Virginia, two each in Texas and Florida, and seats won in breakthroughs in Oklahoma, South Carolina and Georgia.
Among the targets are eight Democratic freshmen who supported Nancy Pelosi’s bid for House speaker — a vote that is sure to be front and center on TV screens when 2020 rolls around.
Only two veteran Democrats, both in Florida, are on the GOP’s target list — Charlie Crist in the Clearwater-based 13th District, and Stephanie Murphy in the 7th District in metro Orlando. Both districts look competitive on paper, although neither Crist nor Murphy had much trouble in 2018.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is targeting 13 Republican-held seats across the South, an audacious list that includes nine veteran GOP incumbents, some with decades of experience.
And while Democrats will have to defend a bumper crop of incumbents, just two of the Southern Democratic targets are freshman Republicans — Ross Spano in Florida’s 15th District and Chip Roy in Texas’s 21st District.
Defending long-term incumbents is usually easier that defending freshmen seeking a second term, which could give
Republicans an advantage overall in the South in 2020.
The GOP has another advantage — while its targets are nearly evenly split between districts that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton carried in 2016, 12 of the 13 Democratic targets are in districts Trump carried, which will be more difficult to flip. (The lone exception is Will Hurd in Texas’s 23rd District.)
Democrats are also unlikely to replicate the wave they enjoyed in 2018, which carried them to victory in some rather unlikely places.
Still, Republicans find themselves with the unexpected — and unwelcome — prospect of spending energy and money to reclaim seats in such normally red areas as Oklahoma City, Charleston and the suburbs of Atlanta, Houston and Dallas.
Among the Republican freshman targeted, Spano, whose district stretches inland from the suburbs of Tampa, may be vulnerable in 2020 after admitting that he borrowed money from two friends that he then plowed into his election campaign, which is a violation of federal campaign finance laws.
He blamed bad advice from this then-campaign treasurer; Democrats are pushing for an investigation.
Roy, a former top aide to U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, won by just two points in 2018. His district includes suburbs of Austin and San Antonio and rural areas to the west.
One seat on the Democrats’ list, Georgia’s 7th District in Atlanta’s northwest suburbs, will be open, thanks to the pending departure of Rob Woodall, who decided to retire after winning by just 400 votes in 2018. Another seat, North Carolina’s 9th District, is vacant due to an ongoing dispute over allegations of absentee ballot fraud.
Democrats have decided to forgo, at least for now, targeting two seats that they tried and failed to flip in 2018 — Arkansas’s 2nd District in metro Little Rock, held by French Hill, and West Virginia’s 3rd District, which takes in the southern third of the state, held by Carol Miller.
However, they are once again trying to flip Kentucky’s 6th District, in and around Lexington, where Andy Barr held off a spirited challenge from Democratic newcomer Amy McGrath, who raised a whopping $8.6 million.
McGrath hasn’t said if she’s running again. Senate Democrats have been encouraging her for forgo a rematch with Barr and instead challenge Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The toughest sled for Democrats will be taking out nine veteran Republicans they have targeted, including five in Texas alone.
Among the Texas targets are five men who between them have more than 60 years of seniority: John Carter in the 31st District in the northern Austin suburbs; Kenny Marchant in the 24th District in Dallas-Ft. Worth; Mike McCaul in the 10th District that stretches from Austin toward Houston; and Pete Olson in 22nd District in Houston’s western suburbs.
Until the 2018 cycle, these Texas seats had been thought safely Republican. But Carter and Marchant won by just 3 points in 2018; McCaul won by 4 points and Olson by 5 points.
Democrats are also going after Brian Mast in Florida’s 18th District north of Palm Beach; and, in North Carolina, George Holding, in the 2nd District around Raleigh, and Ted Budd, in 13th District between Charlotte and Greensboro.
The freshmen that Democrats will have to defend including two in the Miami area, Donna Shalala in the 27th District, and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in the 26th District; Lucy McBath in Georgia’s 6th District in Atlanta’s northeast suburbs; Kendra Horn in the Oklahoma City-based 5th District; and Joe Cunningham, who represents the South Carolina Low Country in the 1st District.
Three freshmen Democrats in Virginia are also on the list — Elaine Luria, who represents the 2nd District in Hampton Roads; Abigail Spanberger, who represents the 7th District in the Richmond suburbs, and Jennifer Wexton, whose 10th District includes the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.
The Republican target list also includes two Texas freshman: Colin Allred, who represents the 32nd District in metro Dallas, and Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, who represents the 7th District in metro Houston.
All of these freshmen, except for Spanberger and Cunningham, voted for Pelosi for speaker.
Among the GOP targets, Shalala and Wexton are likely in the least danger, as both represent districts Hillary Clinton carried easily in 2016. Horn, McBath and Cunningham — whose 2018 wins were among the biggest surprises of the election cycle — are likely in the most jeopardy.
Democrats’ success in 2018 was largely the result of raising enough money to be competitive in GOP-held districts, in many cases even outraising incumbents who didn’t take their races seriously enough.
Democratic freshmen being targeted in 2020 should have no problem raising money; neither will challengers to Republican incumbents who had close calls in 2018. Members of the majority party also tend to have easier access to campaign money than the party out of power.
Still, 2020 will no doubt see Republicans loaded for bear, with two years to regroup and build up their treasuries, leaving voters facing loud, expensive and contentious races across the South.
Heading into 2020, Republicans hold 101 seats among delegations in the 14 Southern states; Democrats have 50, with one vacant seat in North Carolina.
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Three Democratic U.S. House incumbents survive; Donna Shalala wins race for Miami seat
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
TALLAHASSEE (CFP) — November’s election for Florida governor will pit a Donald Trump acolyte against a Bernie Sanders-backed Democrat trying to become the first African-American ever elected to lead the Sunshine State.
In the Republican primary, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis easily defeated State Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who started the campaign as the front-runner but saw his chances fade after DeSantis got Trump’s endorsement.
But the biggest surprise of the August 28 vote came on the Democratic side, where Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum came from behind to defeat two self-funding millionaires and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, who comes from a prominent Florida political family.
Meanwhile, three Democratic incumbent U.S. House members who faced primary challenges survived, including 9th District U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, who easily defeated former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, a controversial liberal firebrand trying to make a political comeback.
Also, Donna Shalala, President Bill Clinton’s health secretary, won her primary in a GOP-held district likely to flip in November.
In the Republican race for governor, DeSantis, 39, from Palm Coast, beat Putnam by 20 points, carrying all of the state’s large cities.
“I believe there is no limit to what we can accomplish here as long as we have the courage to lead,” he told supporters at a victory party in Orlando. “And I pledge to you as governor to work my but off to accomplish great things for this state.”
DeSantis also offered his thanks to Trump “for viewing me as someone who can be a great leader for Florida.”
The result was a significant stumble for Putnam, 44, who spent 10 years in Congress and two terms as agriculture commission with his eye on the governor’s mansion.
Speaking to supporters in Lakeland, Putnam said he would do “any and everything we can” to help DeSantis win in November.
“He’s a veteran, he’s a solid conservative, and he will need our help,” Putnam said.
On the Democratic side, Gillum, who was vastly outspent and did not lead in a single public pre-election poll, took 34 percent to 31 percent for Graham. Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine came in at 20 percent and Palm Beach billionaire real estate investor Jeff Greene at 10 percent.
Florida does not have primary runoffs, so Gillum won the nomination without a runoff.
Combined, Levine and Greene put more than $20 million of their own money into the race, to no avail.
Gillum was outspent by all of his major competitors, although he did get an infusion of cash near the end of the campaign from liberal megadonorrs George Soros and Tom Steyer. He was also endorsed by Sanders, the self-styled democratic socialist who ran an insurgent presidential campaign in 2016.
“There were just a few people who said that this moment would not be possible,” Gillum told cheering supporters in Tallahassee. “And then there were a few more who believed this day was possible.”
“This thing is not about me. It never has been. It never will be,” he said. “This race is about every single one of you.”
Gillum’s victory upsets the political equation on both sides. Democrats had been hoping for a DeSantis win, seeing him as a weaker candidate against Graham, who had a moderate record during her one term in Congress. Now, both campaigns will have to adapt to a race pitting the most conservative candidate in the race against the most liberal.
Gillum is also the first African American candidate in either party to win a gubernatorial nomination in Florida and would become the state’s first black governor if he beats DeSantis in November.
One cloud on the horizon for Gillum is an ongoing FBI investigation into corruption in Tallahassee city government. He has insisted that he is not implicated in the probe, although photographs have surfaced of the mayor traveling with two FBI agents who were working undercover.
Gillum, like DeSantis, won all of the state’s major cities. The key to his victory was a collapse in Graham’s vote in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, where she didn’t break 20 percent.
Speaking to her supporters in Orlando, Graham pledged her support to Gillum, relating a phone call she had with the primary winner.
“I said, ‘Now Andrew, go out and win this damn thing because this is too important to the state of Florida,” said Graham, the daughter of former governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham.
In the U.S. Senate race, both Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and Republican Governor Rick Scott easily won their party’s nominations for the fall election, setting up what is likely to be the nation’s most expensive Senate race this year.
In U.S. House races, three Democratic incumbents also easily turned back primary challengers.
In the 5th District, a majority-minority district that stretches across North Florida from Jacksonville to Tallahassee, U.S. Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee took 60 percent of the vote to defeat former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown.
In the 9th District in metro Orlando, Soto easily dispatched Grayson, 66 percent to 44 percent. Grayson was trying to make a comeback after giving up the seat in 2016 to make an ill-fated bid for the U.S. Senate.
Tuesday’s primaries also set up fall matches for four battleground seats that Democrats are trying to take away in their quest to win control of the House.
In the 27th District in Miami-Dade County, Shalala, a Clinton cabinet secretary and former president of the University of Miami, took the first step in her quest to launch a political career at age 77, winning with 32 percent of the vote in a field of five candidates.
She will face Republican Maria Elvira Salazar, a former Spanish-language TV news anchor, who won the GOP race with 41 percent of the vote.
The district, which includes Miami Beach and parts of Miami, is open due to the retirement of veteran Republican U.S. Rep. Ilena Ros-Lehtinen, who has held it for 30 years. Hillary Clinton beat Trump in the district by nearly 20 points in 2016, making this one of the Democrats best pickup opportunities nationally.
However, the population of the district is more than 70 percent Latino and includes Miami’s politically potent Cuban community. Salazar is a Cuban-American born in Miami; Shalala, of Lebanese descent, was born in Ohio and moved to Miami in 2001.
In the 16th District centered on the southern side of Tampa Bay, Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan of Sarasota is seeking a seventh term in a district Trump carried by 11 points. He will face Democrat David Shapiro, a Sarasota lawyer who easily won his party’s nomination.
Shapiro has raised more than $1.3 million for the race to try to make it competitive, according to Federal Elections Commission campaign finance reports. However, Buchanan has raised $2.2 million.
In the 18th District along the Treasure Coast and northern Palm Beach County, the Democratic nominee will be Laura Baer, an attorney from Palm Beach Gardens who served as a senior adviser to secretaries of state Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. She will now take on Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Mast from Palm City in a swing district that switched parties in 2012 and 2016.
Curbelo been a rare critic of Trump within the House Republican Caucus as he tries to hang on in a district Hillary Clinton won by 16 points.
Republicans also picked nominees for three open GOP-held seats that they will be favored to retain in November.
In the 6th District in metro Jacksonville, which DeSantis gave up to run for governor, Republicans chose Mike Waltz, an aide to former Vice President Dick Cheney. In November, he will face Democrat Nancy Soderberg, a former Bill Clinton aide who served as deputy U.N. ambassador.
In Southwest Florida’s 15th District, where Republican U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross retired, State Rep. Ross Spano won the Republican nomination and will now face Democrat Kristen Carlson, former general counsel for the Florida Department of Citrus.
Charlie Crist makes a comeback in Florida, but John Mica falls; Republicans keep open seats in Florida, Louisiana
(CFP) — Democrats made a slight, two-seat net gain in Southern Republican U.S. House seats in the November 8 election, taking down two Republican incumbents in Florida but coming up short in targeted GOP-held seats in Virginia and Texas.
Republicans also picked up an open seat along Florida’s Treasure Coast and kept an open seat in Louisiana, where two Republicans will face each other in a December 10 runoff.
Republicans still hold a commanding lead over Democrats in House seats in the South, 113 to 40, with another seat in Louisiana still to be determined.
The night’s most prominent casualty was Republican U.S. Rep. John Mica, who lost his bid for a 12th term to Democrat Stephanie Murphy in Florida’s 7th District, which takes in central Orlando and the city’s northern suburbs.
Murphy, making her first bid for office, beat Mica by a margin of 51-49 percent.
A redraw of Florida’s U.S. House map ordered by the Florida Supreme Court added Democratic voters to Mica’s district, forcing him to run in a constituency in which 30 percent of the voters were new.
The new map also had an effect in Florida’s 13th District, in Pinellas County, where Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist resurrected his political career by knocking off Republican U.S. Rep. David Jolly.
Crist, who served as Florida governor from 2007 to 2011 as a Republican, won by a 52-48 percent margin after the Supreme Court added Democratic areas of St. Peterburg into what had been a swing district.
Jolly had initially decided to abandon a re-election bid in the new district and run for the U.S. Senate. But he changed course after U.S. Senator Marco Rubio changed his mind about running for a second term.
Hurd managed to survive in this majority Latino district, even with Donald Trump at the head of his party’s ticket. In fact, Hurd managed to increase his victory margin by about 1,300 votes over 2014.
Curbelo defeated former Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia by a 53-41 percent margin in Florida’s 26th District, which includes part of Miami-Dade County and the Florida Keys.
His margin of victory was a significant improvement from 2014, when Curbelo defeated by Garcia by just 5,800 votes.
Comstock defeated Democrat LuAnn Bennett by a 53-47 percent margin in Virginia’s 10th District, which starts in the western D.C. suburbs and stretches out to West Virginia.
Democrats had hoped that Trump’s candidacy would be a drag on Comstock in this suburban district in a state Hillary Clinton won. But Comstock had no difficulty.
In Florida’s 18th District, a swing seat that includes parts of Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast, Republicans picked up the seat vacated by Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, who made an unsuccessful run for the Senate.
Republican Brian Mast, an Army veteran who lost both his legs while serving as a bomb disposal specialist in Afghanistan, defeated Democrat Randy Perkins, a multimillionaire businessman from Delray Beach. Mast’s margin of victory was 54-43 percent.
Republicans also kept one of their two seats in Louisiana that opened up when the incumbents ran for the Senate. In the 3rd District, which takes in the southwest part of the state, Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle from Breaux Bridge and Clay Higgins, a law enforcement officer from Lafayette, both cleared the field in the state’s all-party “jungle” primary and will face off in the December 10 runoff.
In Louisiana’s 4th District, which takes in the northwest part of the state, Republican State Rep. Mike Johnson of Bossier Parish will face Democrat Marshall Jones, an attorney from Shreveport, in the runoff, which will be the last pickup opportunity for Democrats.
Court-ordered redraws of congressional maps affected a number of races in both Florida and Virginia.
In Florida, Republicans picked up the 2nd District seat in the Panhandle, which became more Republican under the new map. Panama City urologist Neal Dunn defeated Democrat Walt Dartland by a margin of 67-30 percent.
However, the GOP lost the 10th District seat in Orlando, which became more Democratic. Former Orlando Police Chief Val Demings carried this seat for the Democrats over Republican Thuy Lowe by a margin of 65-35 percent.
However, the GOP hung on to another redrawn seat in the 5th District, where Republican State Senator Tom Garrett from Buckingham County defeated Democrat Jane Dittmar, the former chair of the Albermarle County Board of Supervisors, by a margin of 58-42 percent.
Democrats looking for pickups in Florida, Texas and Virginia
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
(CFP) — Heading into the November 8 election, fewer than a dozen U.S. House seats across the South are in play, and most of those are the result of court-ordered redraws of congressional maps in Florida and Virginia.
If the night goes well, Democrats could pick up a net total of seven GOP-held seats — three each in Florida and Virginia and one in Texas. But if Republican incumbents manage to pull out close races, the shift could be just one seat, the 4th District in Virginia that seems certain to change hands because of the new map.
Either way, the Republican advantage over Democrats in U.S. House seats, now 116 to 38, should not budge much.
In Florida, the redraw of the map (click here to see map) should allow Republicans to pick up the 2nd District, based in the Panhandle and now held by U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, who opted not to run after the district became substantially more Republican.
But Democrats are almost certain to counter that GOP gain by taking the Orlando-based 10th District, which under the new map is more Democratic.
Republican fortunes in Florida will come down to three incumbents facing tough fights for re-election — John Mica in the 7th District, which includes parts of Orlando and its northern suburbs; David Jolly in the 13th District in and around St. Petersburg; and Carlos Curbelo, in the 26th District, which includes part of Miami-Dade County and the Florida Keys.
Democrats are defending a seat in the 18th District, along the Treasure Coast, which U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy gave up to run for the U.S. Senate.
In Virginia, the new map affected two Republican-held districts, the 4th and the 5th. The 4th is expected to go Democratic, but Republicans are hoping to keep the 5th.
In addition to those seats, Republican U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock , whose 10th District seat meanders from the Washington, D.C. suburbs toward West Virginia, has become a top Democratic target.
In Texas, Republican U.S. Rep. Will Hurd is also in a tough fight in the 23rd District, which includes a vast expanse of West Texas from the San Antonio suburbs to near El Paso. In a district with a 55 percent Latino population, Hurd is facing significant headwinds with Donald Trump at the top of his party’s ticket.
Here is a rundown of the key U.S. House races around the South:
Florida 5: This seat opened up after the incumbent, Democratic U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, was defeated in the primary by Al Lawson, a former state lawmaker from Tallahassee. This district was radically redrawn and now starts in Jacksonville and heads due west to Tallahassee, making it less black and more Republican. Still, Lawson is a heavy favorite over Republican Glo Smith.
Florida 7: 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 faces political newcomer Stephanie Murphy, a college professor and former national security professional who has benefited from more than $3 million in outside funding poured into the race by Democrat-aligned groups.
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 carry this seat over Republican Thuy Lowe.
Florida 13: This swing district in the Tampa Bay area features a high voltage smackdown between 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.
Florida 18: This seat, which includes part of Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast, is a classic swing district. With Murphy out, 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.
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, Curbelo, faces a rematch against the man he beat by less than 5,800 votes in 2014, former Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia.
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, Hurd, 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.
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 unsuccessfully 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 would add a second African-American congressman to the state’s delegation.
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.
Virginia 10: This district starts in the western D.C. suburbs and stretches out to West Virginia. 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.
Wasserman Schultz beats back Bernie-allied rival; Corrine Brown out
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
GAINESVILLE, Florida (CFP) — U.S. Senator Marco Rubio handily won renomination in Florida’s Republican primary and will face Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy in a race that will help determine which party controls the Senate.
Rubio took 72 percent in the August 30 vote, easily defeating businessman Carlos Beruff, who garnered just 18 percent. On the Democratic side, Murphy was the clear winner, taking 60 percent of the vote, compared to just 18 percent for his main challenger, U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson.
The bad news for Grayson continued, as his wife’s attempt to keep his 9th District U.S. House seat in the family sputtered in the Democratic primary.
Meanwhile, in South Florida’s 23rd District, Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz beat back a challenge from Tim Canova, turning aside an effort by angry Bernie Sanders supporters to force her from Congress over accusations that she, as chair of the Democratic National Committee, showed favoritism to Hillary Clinton in the presidential race.
Wasserman Schultz took 57 percent to 43 percent for Canova, who spent more than $3 million trying to unseat the veteran congresswoman.
However, another veteran Democrat was not as fortunate. U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, who was indicted on corruption charges in July, was defeated in the 5th District primary by Al Lawson, a former state legislator from Tallahassee, in what was likely the last chapter in a 34-year-long political career.
Lawson won 48 percent to 40 percent for Brown.
A redraw of state’s congressional map, ordered by the Florida Supreme Court, substantially altered Brown’s district, forcing her to run in a swath of new territory outside of her Jacksonville base. Federal prosecutors have also accused Brown of conspiring with her chief of staff to convert a scholarship fund into a private slush fund used to pay for her political promotion and personal expenses. She has denied the charges.
Rubio initially decided to give up his Senate seat to pursue the Republican presidential nomination. But after his White House aspirations fizzled, he reversed course, prompting the departure of three of the four major candidates then in the race, all but Beruff.
Speaking to supporters in Kissimmee, the senator dismissed Murphy as an “old-fashioned liberal” handpicked for the Senate by Democratic leaders and a dilettante whose wealth family has given him “everything he’s every wanted.”
“If Patrick Murphy wants to be a U.S. Senator, he’s going to have to earn it by beating the son of a bartender and a maid who came to this country in search of a better life,” he said, employing details from his own biography that were a staple of his run for president.
But speaking to his supporters in Palm Beach County, Murphy criticized Rubio for his poor attendance in the Senate while he was running for president.
“Marco Rubio is the worst of Washington because he puts himself first every time,” Murphy said. “He gave up on his job. He gave up on Florida.”
Murphy also pounced on Rubio’s statement on CNN a day before the primary that he would not commit to serving his full Senate term, saying “no one can make that commitment because you don’t know what the future’s going hold in your life personally or politically.”
Murphy retorted: “Guess what, senator. I’ve got two words for you. I can.”
In his battle against Grayson, Murphy — who was a registered Republican until 2012, when he switched parties to run for Congress — had the backing of virtually all of the Democratic establishment, including the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Party leaders were fearful that a victory by the outspoken Grayson — who regularly subjects reporters to profanity-laden tirades and once had to apologize after calling a female lobbyist “a K Street whore” — would spell disaster in November.
During the primary campaign, Grayson also faced domestic abuse allegations made by his ex-wife. He denied ever hitting her, but the story prompted two liberal groups — Democracy for America and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee — to reverse their endorsements.
In the end, Grayson not only lost to Murphy by more than 40 points but also barely edged out a lesser known candidate, political newcomer Pam Keith, for second place. Keith had snagged a surprise endorsement from one of Florida’s largest newspapers, The Miami Herald.
In addition to helping torpedo Brown in the 5th District, the new map made the 2nd District, which takes in the middle of the Florida Panhandle, more Republican, prompting Democratic U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham to retire.
After a nasty campaign with substantial spending by outside groups, Republicans chose Neal Dunn, a Panama City urologist, over Mary Thomas, a state government lawyer from Tallahassee. Dunn took 41 percent to 39 percent for Thomas, who was trying to become the first Indian-American woman ever elected to Congress.
After Grayson gave up his 9th District to run for the Senate, both his wife, Dena Grayson, and one of his top aides, Susannah Randolph, launched campaigns to succeed him. But State Senator Darren Soto beat them both in the Democratic primary, which is tantamount to election in the heavily Democratic Orlando-based district.
Grayson took 36 percent of the vote, compared to 18 percent each for Randolph and Dina Grayson.
In the 18th District, which Murphy gave up to run for the 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.
The 18th District, which takes in parts of Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast, is likely to be a genuine toss-up in November.
The 26th District, which takes in the Florida Keys and southwest Miami-Dade County, will feature a rematch between Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo and the man he beat in 2014, former Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia.
While Curbelo was unopposed in the GOP primary, Garcia eaked out an 800-vote win over Annette Taddeo in the Democratic primary.
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