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Democrats will need to flip 11 Southern seats or make make up the difference elsewhere
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
(CFP) — With President Trump’s approval ratings at historically low levels, Democrats have high hopes of taking back the U.S. House in 2018. But those hopes are tempered by a giant geographic obstacle standing in their way — namely, the South.
To reclaim the House, Democrats need to flip 24 seats, shifting about 10 percent of the seats that Republicans now hold. And nearly half of the GOP caucus — 114 seats — is from the South, where Republican House members outnumber Democrats by 3-to-1.
So a 10 percent shift in the South would require winning 11 seats, in a region where Democrats won just two seats in 2016 (both in Florida and neither yet safe.) If Democrats fall short of that total, they will need to shift an even higher percentage of seats throughout the rest of the country — as much as 19 percent if they come up empty in the South.
And as Democrats plot and plan to add to their meager total of 40 Southern House seats, two recent special elections for open seats offer decidedly mixed omens on their chances for overturning the GOP’s hegemony.
In South Carolina’s 5th District, the swing away from Trump’s 2016 numbers in the special election was nearly 20 percent — not enough for Democrat Archie Parnell to win but a much bigger scare than Republicans had expected. Indeed, if that 20-point swing could be replicated across the South in 2018, 42 GOP-held seats could potentially be in play, more than Democrats would need to return Nancy Pelosi to the speaker’s chair.
But the results in the other race, in Georgia’s 6th District, pour substantial caution on such irrational exuberance. Republican Karen Handel kept the seat by running slightly ahead of Trump, in a race where Democrats spent a whopping $30 million and still came up short.
And this district in the northern Atlanta suburbs is exactly the kind of place where Democrats will need to compete to claw away at Republican dominance in the South next year — increasingly diverse, maturing suburbs whose upscale, educated voters, though conservative by inclination, are somewhat wary of Trump’s stewardship of the GOP brand.
If Democrats couldn’t win this race for an open seat in a low-turnout special election with a highly energized base and a president with historically low approval ratings, flipping these seats in 2018 will be a tall order indeed, particularly given Trump’s solid base of support in the South.
So where can Democrats start? Their first targets will be three majority Latino districts in metro Miami, all of which have large numbers of Cuban-American voters. Trump lost two of these districts and only narrowly won the third.
Veteran GOP U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is retiring, and Republicans will be hard pressed to keep her seat in a district Trump lost by 20 points. But in the other two districts, Democrats will have to unseat incumbents Carlos Curbelo, who has gone out of this way to distance himself from Trump, and Mario Diaz-Balart, who has been winning congressional elections with relative ease since 2002.
Democrats are also likely to target four other Southern districts where Hillary Clinton defeated Trump last year, which include three seats in Texas and one in Virginia. The GOP, however, has held three of these districts, in varying configurations, for decades.
The Virginia seat, in the Washington D.C. suburbs, is held by Barbara Comstock, who first won it in 2014 and was narrowly re-elected in 2016. Even at this early date, she has already drawn six Democratic challengers in a district that, like the rest of Virginia, has become more hospitable to Democrats over the last decade.
In Texas, the climb for Democrats will be steeper. Clinton won the 32nd District in suburban Dallas, but that seat is held by Pete Sessions, a GOP titan who won by 52 points in 2016. She also won the 7th District in suburban Houston, where John Culberson ran well ahead of Trump to win by 12 points.
While Democrats appear eager to try to unseat both (Culberson already has seven challengers and Sessions nine), these districts have long Republican pedigrees reminiscent of Georgia’s 6th District, which was once represented by Newt Gingrich. Former President George H.W. Bush began his political career in the 7th District in 1967; former President George W. Bush’s Dallas home is in the 32nd.
Democrats may have more luck in Texas’s 23rd District, which stretches from the suburbs of San Antonio across rural West Texas. This district is part of an ongoing legal fight over the state’s 2013 redistricting map, and a panel of federal judges is considering changes that could make it more difficult for Republican Will Hurd to hang on for a third term.
After those Clinton-won districts, the next set of seats Democrats might logically target are those where Trump’s winning margin was less than 10 points and where it would take less than a 10-point swing from the 2016 congressional results to put the seat in Democratic hands. But that list contains a scant eight seats — four in Texas, two in North Carolina and one each in Florida and Virginia. None of them are open at this point.
After that, the pickings get even slimmer — places like Arkansas’s 2nd District, where a Democrat can carry Little Rock only to get swamped by the Republican vote in the suburbs, and Florida’s 3rd District, where liberal-leaning Gainesville is subsumed in a sea of more traditional, conservative Southern voters. To be competitive in these districts, Democrats would have to commit to putting resources into races where chances of victory would appear, at the moment, to be rather remote.
So if Democrats can’t move the playing field into these second and third tiers, they have a reasonable shot at just seven Republican-held Southern seats, five of which have been in GOP hands for decades and all but one of which is likely to have an incumbent. And any anti-Trump tide that helps them in other parts of the country will likely not crest as high in the South.
With a lot of angry voters and a lot of luck, Democrats may indeed swing enough seats in 2018 to win control of the House. But as Republicans try to stop them, their ace in the hole is their dominance across the South, which should give them plenty of reason for confidence.
But 5 GOP lawmakers in other potential swing districts help pass new health care law
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
WASHINGTON (CFP) — Five Republican members of the U.S. House defied party leaders and President Donald Trump to oppose a bill to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a new blueprint for U.S. health care, but five other GOP lawmakers holding potentially vulnerable seats took a different tack and voted to go along with the American Health Care Act.
Two of the Southern GOP no votes on May 4 came from Will Hurd of Texas and Barbara Comstock of Virginia, who both represent districts that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016. A third lawmaker from a district Clinton carried, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, also voted no but is retiring in 2018.
Hurd, whose district stretches across a wide swath of West Texas, issued a statement after the vote saying the plan pushed by GOP leaders “does not address the concerns of many of my constituents, including adequate protections for those with pre-existing conditions and the challenges faced by rural healthcare providers.”
Comstock, whose district is anchored in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, said in a statement that her “goals on healthcare reform are to provide patient-centered reforms that provide better access to high quality, affordable care and cover pre-existing conditions without lifetime limits. ”
“I did not support the AHCA today because (of) the many uncertainties in achieving those goals,” she said.
The other two Republicans who voted against the bill, Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Walter Jones of North Carolina, did so not out of any fear of Democratic competition but because they believe the repeal measure doesn’t go far enough.
“As recently as a year ago, Republicans argued that mandates were unconstitutional, bailouts were immoral and subsidies would bankrupt our country,” Massie said in a statement after the vote. “Today, however, the House voted for a healthcare bill that makes these objectionable measures permanent.”
Jones had earlier said the attempt by House Republican leaders to push an Obamacare bill repeal through the House on a rushed schedule was “shameful,” and he called for scrapping the bill in its entirety and starting over.
Of the 138 Southern Republicans in the House, 133 voted in favor of the AHCA. Five of those members represent districts where Democrats could conceivably use their votes for the new health care law to try to unseat them. In fact, if any one of them had voted no, the bill — which passed by just a single vote — would have failed, which will allow Democrats to make the argument that each of them bears responsibility for its passage.
This group of members who supported the bill includes two of the region’s most vulnerable House Republicans, Carlos Curbelo and Brian Mast, both from Florida. Curbelo represents a district in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties that Clinton carried; Mast’s district, which includes St. Lucie, Martin and northern Palm Beach counties, has changed parties in three of the last four election cycles.
In a statement, Mast said the GOP health care plan “returns control of health care from Washington back to you and restores access to quality, affordable options that are tailored to your individual needs.” He also pushed back against Democratic criticism that a provision in the new law allowing states to waive mandates for coverage of pre-existing conditions would imperil coverage for the sickest Americans.
“This bill mandates that people cannot be denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions and allocates almost $140 billion in additional funding that will subsidize coverage for people with pre-existing conditions to ensure they costs are low,” Mast said. “Those claiming otherwise are the same people who said ‘if you like your doctor, you can keep you doctor,” and they’re putting partisan politics ahead of the people in our community.”
Also voting yes were John Culberson of Texas, whose metro Houston House district was carried by Clinton; Mario Diaz-Balart, whose majority Latino district in metro Miami and southwest Florida went for Trump by less than 2 points; and Ted Budd of North Carolina, whose Greensboro-area district went for Trump by 9 points.
In a statement, Diaz-Balart conceded the AHCA was “far from perfect.” But he said the House needed to act because Obamacare “is collapsing,” leaving just one insurance provider in two of the three counties he represents.
“Knowing the people I represent could very well lose their coverage … is disturbing,” he said. “It would be irresponsible for Congress not to act in order to prevent this from happening.”
Budd also conceded in a statement that “the legislative process is a human process with all the flaws that entails. The results of that process are never perfect, and this bill isn’t either.”
“What I believe it will do is significantly reduce insurance premiums in our state, and help put the individual insurance marketplace on a more sound financial footing,” he said.
Also voting yes was Pete Sessions of Texas, whose metro Dallas district was also won by Clinton. However, Sessions, who has been in the House since 1997 and won re-election by more than 50 points in 2016, is not considered vulnerable to a Democratic challenge.
All 40 of the Democrats representing districts in the South voted against the AHCA.
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.
Trump must beat Clinton in Florida and North Carolina, and avoid any other Southern surprises, to win
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
(CFP) — In 2012, Republican Mitt Romney blew across the South, carrying 12 of the 14 Southern states — 10 of them by double-digit margins — and losing another, Florida, by just a single point.
Heading into Tuesday’s election, Donald Trump’s quest for the White House may hinge on how well he can hang on to Romney’s Southern support, amid signs that Hillary Clinton is poised to do better in the region than Barack Obama did four years ago.
Pre-election polls show that both Florida, which Obama carried in 2012, and North Carolina, which he did not, are toss-ups between Clinton and Trump.
The news is better for Clinton in Virginia, where polls show her with a clear lead in a state Obama carried in both 2008 and 2012.
Together, those three states have 57 electoral votes, out of the 270 needed to win.
Florida and North Carolina are more important to Trump than to Clinton: She could lose both and still win in the Electoral College, but if he loses either of them, his route to victory is likely cut off.
A key metric in Florida will be how many Latino voters turn out and how much Clinton can benefit from Trump’s anti-immigration stance and incendiary comments about Latinos, particularly Mexicans.
About 15 percent of the Florida electorate is Latino, about 1.8 million voters, and about a third of those voters are Cuban-Americans, normally a reliably Republican group. But Trump’s support in that community — necessary for a Republican to win statewide — remains a question mark.
Much of the GOP Cuban-American political leadership in Miami has refused to endorse Trump, including U.S. Reps. Carlos Curbelo, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart. Lieutenant Governor Carlos López-Cantera has also kept his distance from Trump, although he did appear at an event in Miami with the GOP nominee back in October.
With Florida and North Carolina up for grabs, an equally intriguing question heading into election night is the degree to which Trump might be in trouble in other unexpected places in the South.
For instance, three media polls taken last week in Georgia showed that the race between Clinton and Trump in Georgia was a statistical tie. Georgia has not gone for a Democrat for president since 1992, when Clinton’s husband, Bill, won narrowly in a three-way race.
Priorities USA, a Clinton-allied Super PAC, had been airing ads in Georgia, although the Clinton campaign itself has not moved resources into the state.
Polls in mid-October also showed a closer-than-expected race in Texas, where Trump’s weakness among Latino voters seemed to be having an effect. However, more recent polling in Texas has shown Trump reestablishing a lead.
Because most Southern states are perceived to be solid Republican territory, there has been little public polling in most of them, save for Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, and Texas.
However, some national polling has shown Trump’s support weaker across the South than what Romney managed to put up four years ago. So, in an election that has seen its share of surprises, there is no way until the votes are counted to know if there might be other Southern surprises lurking in the presidential race.
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.