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As many as seven seats could be in play after a court-ordered redraw
By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
GAINESVILLE, Florida (CFP) — The weather may not be the only thing that’s hot this summer in Florida.
Thanks to new House map ordered by the Florida Supreme Court, as many as seven of the state’s 27 U.S. House seats might be in play as the filing period for congressional races begins June 24.
Republicans appear poised to take away one seat that’s now Democratic; Democrats are likely to capture two GOP-held seats. Further complicating the mix are the departure of four sitting House members who are all running for an open Senate seat.
Although Florida is a quintessential swing state, Republicans hold a 17-10 advantage in the congressional delegation, thanks to maps drawn by the GOP-controlled legislature.
The Supreme Court struck down the previous map on the grounds that it violated a state constitutional amendment prohibiting gerrymandering. The new map ordered by the high court had a domino effect on districts statewide, although it put relatively few safe seats into play.
Here are seven seats to watch in November:
Florida 2: This seat, anchored in the Florida Panhandle around Tallahassee, is currently held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham. The 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. The GOP seems poised to pick up a seat here.
Florida 5: This seat, which belongs to Democratic U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, was the primary offender in the Supreme Court ruling that the House map was unconstitutional. As drawn by legislators, it began in Jacksonville and snaked down to Orlando–at one point, the width of a highway–to maximize its black population.
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. But Brown is running again, and it remains to be seen whether the changes will be enough to sink her. She faces the additional hurdle of two Democratic primary challengers in the reconfigured district.
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. The question will be whether any brand-name Democrats will file to take on the 11-term lawmaker. If not, he’s probably headed back to Washington.
Florida 10: This Orland0-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. This seat will most likely flip Democratic.
Florida 13: This swing district in the Tampa Bay area, now held by Republican U.S. Rep. David Jolly, was also redrawn to add a portion of St. Petersburg with a large minority population, making it more Democratic. Rather than try to defend it, Jolly opted to run for the U.S. Senate.
The big name in this race is 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. Crist would seem to be the favorite here, although his recent lack of electoral success should give Republicans some hope.
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. Murphy is giving it up to run for the U.S. Senate, which has put this seat at the top of the GOP’s target list. Depending on who emerges from crowded primaries on both sides, this race should be a toss-up come November.
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, is likely to face a rematch against the man he beat in 2014, former Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, although Garcia is going to have to get past Annette Taddeo in the primary.
In what was seen as a major snub of Garcia, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the fundraising arm of House Democrats, is backing Taddeo, a party leader from Miami who was the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in 2014.
Democrats need to make a net gain of four seats in order to secure a majority in the Florida delegation. If the 2nd, 10th, and 13th districts flip as expected, that would give Democrats a net gain of one seat. So they would have to defeat Mica, keep Brown’s seat and take the toss-up seats in the 18th and 26th districts in order to flip control their way.
That would seem to be a tall order, although the unpredictability of the presidential race could make the improbable probable.
GOP favored in 7 of 9 Southern contests; Democrats have a shot at 2
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
(CFP) — The 2016 election will feature nine contests across 14 Southern states, all of which are currently held by Republicans. And there appears to be precious little opportunity for Democrats to make inroads in the GOP’s regional hegemony.
Florida and North Carolina appear to be the best shots Democrats have to reverse the region’s GOP tide, although the decision by Marco Rubio to run for re-election significantly bolsters Republican chances in the Sunshine State. Louisiana is another possibility if the 24-candidate free-for-all in the Pelican State’s all-party jungle primary creates an unexpected Democratic opportunity. The other six races are foregone conclusions, barring some unforeseen Republican calamity.
Republicans currently hold 24 of the 28 Southern Senate seats, including both seats in 11 out of the 14 Southern states.
Here is the 2016 rundown:
Alabama: Republican U.S. Senator Richard Shelby is running for a seventh term. Democrats aren’t putting up a fight, letting their nomination go to a marijuana rights activist. Given that a Democrat hasn’t won a Senate race in the Yellowhammer State since 1990, Shelby is virtually assured of another term, at the end of which he’ll be 88 years old. RATING: SAFE GOP
Arkansas: Republican U.S. Senator John Boozman is seeing a second term, despite suffering an aortic aneurysm in 2014 that kept him away from Washington for two months. The Democrats were unsuccessful in getting their top pick, former Governor Mike Beebe, to run, though they did manage to recruit a credible challenger in Conner Eldridge, a former federal prosecutor from Fayetteville. Still, a statewide race is a hard slog these days for a Democrat in the Natural State. RATING: PROBABLY GOP
Florida: Republican U.S. Senator Marco Rubio’s decision to reverse course and seek re-election significantly improved Republican prospects for keeping this seat. Rubio will face U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy from Jupiter, who won the primary over liberal firebrand Alan Grayson with support from the Democratic establishment. Rubio has to be considered a favorite here, but if Hillary Clinton turns out to have coattails in the Sunshine State, this could be a race in November. RATING: GOP FAVORED
Georgia: Republican U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson is running for re-election, despite publicly disclosing that he has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Peach State Democrats have recruited Jim Barksdale, the owner of an Atlanta investment firm, to take on Isakson. However, that strategy didn’t work in 2014 with Michelle Nunn, and there is little indication that Isakson is in trouble this time around. RATING: PROBABLY GOP
Kentucky: Now that Republican U.S. Senator Rand Paul ended his presidential run, he will be a prohibitive favorite for re-election. Democrats have managed to recruit a high-profile challenger with deep pockets, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray. But in a state that hasn’t sent a Democrat to the Senate since 1992, Gray will have a big mountain to climb. RATING: PROBABLY GOP
Louisiana: After losing a bid for governor, Republican U.S. Senator David Vitter announced he would not seek re-election to the Senate, leaving his seat up for grabs. A gaggle of 24 candidates are seeking the seat, running in the state’s all-party jungle primary in November, with the top two advancing to a December runoff.
Democrats running include Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell and Caroline Fayard, a New Orleans lawyer. The Republican side of the ballot includes two sitting U.S. House members, Charles Boustany of Lafayette and John Fleming of Minden; State Treasurer John Kennedy; Joseph Cao, a Vietnamese-American who represented the New Orleans area in Congress from 2009 to 2011; and Rob Maness, who made a spirited but unsuccessful Tea Party-backed bid for the Senate in 2014. White racist David Duke also filed on the GOP ticket.
While Republicans should be favored to keep this seat, Vitter’s loss to a Democrat in the governor’s race shows a flip for the Democrats is possible, if they can unite behind a high-profile challenger. Democrats could also benefit by having fewer candidates dividing up their vote in the primary. RATING: PROBABLY GOP
Oklahoma: Republican U.S. Senator James Lankford is facing voters for the second time in two years after being elected to serve out the remainder of former U.S. Senator Tom Coburn’s term in 2014. Given that Lankford cruised to victory with 68 percent of the vote last time and Democrats haven’t won a Senate race in Oklahoma in 25 years, this race is a foregone conclusion. RATING: SAFE GOP
North Carolina: Republican U.S. Senator Richard Burr is running for a third term, and he dodged a major bullet when former Democratic U.S. Senator Kay Hagan, who was bounced from the Senate in 2014, decided not to run against him. Instead, he will face Deborah Ross, a former state legislator and Duke University law professor. North Carolina is a state where Democrats can still win statewide races, but Ross starts from well behind. RATING: PROBABLY GOP
South Carolina: Republican U.S. Senator Tim Scott, the only black Republican in the Senate, is facing voters for the second time in two years, after being appointed in 2013 to replace former U.S. Senator Jim DeMint. This time, he’s running for a full term in his own right, and he has not drawn a major challenger. He took 61 percent of the vote in 2014; count this race as a slam dunk. RATING: SAFE GOP
Decision comes after the Florida Supreme Court orders changes likely to make Jolly’s district more Democratic
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
ST. PETERSBURG, Florida (CFP) — In the wake of a Florida Supreme Court decision ordering changes in the state’s U.S. House map, Republican U.S. Rep. David Jolly has decided to jump into the open U.S. Senate seat in 2016, rather than face re-election in what will likely be a more Democratic district.
In a statement announcing his campaign July 20, Jolly, 42, who won his House seat in a special election in 2014, said he would run “on an unwavering platform that will reject the politics of division and class warfare that have defined the current administration.”
Lolly also called for creating “a new economy founded on the principle that individuals and families, not government bureaucrats, create success.”
Jolly currently represents Florida’s 13th District seat in Pinellas County, in the Tampa Bay area. He succeeded the late GOP U.S. Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young, who held the seat for more than 42 years before his death in 2013.
Jolly’s win frustrated Democratic hopes of picking up one of only three Republican-held seats in the South that President Obama carried in 2012. He went on to re-election in the 2014 general election and was expected to run again in 2016.
But the Florida Supreme Court threw a monkey wrench into those plans July 9, ruling that the Republican-controlled state legislature unconstitutionally gerrymandered the map to help the GOP’s electoral prospects. The high court ordered the state legislature to redraw eight districts, including Jolly’s.
The Supreme Court objected to the legislature’s decision to shift African-American voters in St. Petersburg into the neighboring 14th District, across the bay in Tampa, to make the 13th more Republican-friendly, which justices said violated a requirement that districts be geographically compact wherever possible.
Shifting those voters back would have made Jolly’s swing district harder to retain.
The Supreme Court’s ruling might also force another U.S. House member into the Senate race on the Democratic side.
The court ruled that the 5th District — an oddly shaped district that snakes through northeast and central Florida from Jacksonville to Orlando to pick up black voters and is at one point the width of a highway — must be redrawn in an east-west configuration from Jacksonville towards the Panhandle.
That change is likely to shift the Panhandle-based 2nd District , held by U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, D-Tallahassee, to the south, which would make it more Republican and more difficult for her to carry. That prompted Democratic strategists to talk up a possible Graham Senate bid, although the congresswoman herself has remained non-committal.
The Republican-turned-indepenent-turned-Democrat lost statewide races for the U.S. Senate in 2012 and for governor in 2014.
High court gives state legislature 100 days to draw new map to fix problems with eight districts
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
GAINESVILLE, Florida (CFP) — The Florida Supreme Court has struck down the state’s map of congressional districts, ruling that the Republican-controlled state legislature unconstitutionally gerrymandered the map to help the GOP’s electoral prospects.
In a 5-to-2 ruling issued July 9, the high court agreed with a lower court ruling last year that the 2011 redistricting process had been “tainted” by partisan gerrymandering, which was outlawed by Florida voters in a constitutional amendment passed in 2010.
The trial court had ordered changes in two districts, but the Supreme Court went further, ruling that eight of the state’s 27 districts were improperly drawn and giving legislators 100 days to come up with a new map that complies with the anti-gerrymandering amendment. The new map will be in place for the 2016 elections.
While the high court did not order the entire map to be redrawn, reworking the eight districts in question is likely to have an impact on many of the surrounding districts, particularly in northeast Florida, where justices ordered an oddly shaped, black plurality district represented by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown to be completely reconfigured.
Responding to testimony in the trial court that showed Republican legislators and consultants had met behind closed doors to draw the congressional maps, the Supreme Court majority also encouraged the legislature “to conduct all meetings in which it makes decisions on the new map in public and to record any non-public meetings for preservation.”
There was no immediate word from legislative leaders as to when a special legislative session might be convened to redraw the congressional map.
The ruling was a victory for the League of Women Voters and Common Cause, which filed suit to overturn the maps. Pamela Goodman, the president of the league, called the decision a victory “against devious political scheming.”
“The Florida Supreme Court took the Florida Legislature to the woodshed,” she said in a statement. “Their egregious behavior using partisan political operatives in the redistricting process was appropriately reprimanded.”
The Republican-controlled legislature decided not to appeal the trial court’s ruling in 2014, which led to a special session of the legislature to make minor changes in the map. But the League of Women Voters appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that those changes didn’t go far enough.
The eight districts found to be unconstitutional are equally split between Democrats and Republicans. But the changes ordered by the court are giving Democrats hopes of making inroads in Florida’s congressional delegation. Despite the state’s even political split, Republicans hold a 17-to-10 advantage among House members.
The Supreme Court ruled that Brown’s north-south district — which snakes through northeast and central Florida from Jacksonville to Orlando to pick up black voters and is at one point the width of a highway — should be redrawn in an east-west configuration from Jacksonville towards the Panhandle. The current black voting age population in the district is 48 percent.
While moving the district could create an opening for a minority candidate in the Orlando area, it might also present problems for U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, D-Tallahassee, whose 2nd District includes areas along the Georgia border that would be shifted into the 5th District.
Brown, one of just three African-Americans in Florida’s congressional delegation, had joined with Republicans in the legislature in defending the map. She blasted the high court’s decision in a statement, saying it was “seriously flawed and entirely fails to take into consideration the rights of minority voters.”
While Brown did not indicate if she might file a federal lawsuit to stop the court-mandated redistricting, she did say that “as a people, African-Americans have fought too hard to get to where we are now, and we certainly are not taking any steps backwards.”
In the 13th District, which takes in most of Pinellas County, the Supreme Court held that the legislature’s decision to shift African-American voters in St. Petersburg into the neighboring 14th District, across the bay in Tampa, to make the 13th more Republican-friendly violated a requirement that districts be geographically compact wherever possible.
Shifting those voters back into the 13th District could make life more difficult for Jolly, who won the seat in a special election last year. But Jolly’s office issued a statement after the ruling saying he was not concerned about the prospect that his district might be redrawn.
“The courts and the legislature will determine next steps, and Congressman Jolly will remain focused solely on doing his job and serving all of Pinellas County,” the statement said. “If he continues to do the job he was elected to do, the politics will take care of itself.”
Here are the other districts that are affected by the Supreme Court’s ruling:
21st District and 22nd District – These two districts, in Palm Beach and Broward counties in South Florida, run parallel to each other, one along the Atlantic Coast and the other inland. The Supreme Court agreed with the plaintiffs that these two districts would be more geographically compact if they were made wider and stacked on top of each other, although the high court stopped short of ordering the legislature to adopt that configuration. The 21st District is represented by U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton; the 22nd District by U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach.
25th District – The court’s objection to this district was that legislators split Hendry County, a rural county with a majority minority population, between the 25th District and the adjacent 20th District, instead of putting the county entirely in the 25th. The legislature argued that it split the county to comply with the Voting Rights Act, but the high court said legislators had not proven that putting the county in a single district would compromise the electoral prospects of minority voters. The district, which would become more Democratic if all of Hendry County is included, is represented by U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami.
26h District and 27th District – The court objected to the legislature’s decision to split the city of Homestead, south of Miami, between these two districts, which had the effect of creating two Republican-leaning districts, rather than one safe district for each party. The high court ordered the legislature to put all of Homestead in one district. District 26 is represented by U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami; District 27 by veteran U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami. Whichever of them gets Homestead will have to deal with more Democratic voters, although Ros-Lehtinen said she had “no worries” about the prospect that her district lines might shift.
Sink’s decision to bow out of the 13th District race leaves Democrats scrambling for a last-minute candidate
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
ST. PETERSBURG, Florida (CFP) — Less than three weeks before Florida’s filing deadline, Democrat Alex Sink has announced that she won’t seek a rematch with Republican U.S. Rep. David Jolly in the state’s 13th U.S. House District, leaving her party scrambling to find a new candidate.
Jolly narrowly defeated Sink in a March special election for the St. Petersburg-based seat, despite an all-out effort on her behalf by national Democratic officials.
“After reflection with my family, I have made a personal decision not to run,” Sink said in a statement. “I remain totally convinced that a Democrat can and will win this congressional seat in the fall, and I look forward to helping the Democratic nominee.”
Although Republicans hold an edge in party registration in the 13th District, it is one of just three GOP-held congressional districts in the South that President Barack Obama carried in 2012, making it a top Democratic target. The seat became vacant when Republican U.S. Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young, who held it for more than 42 years, died last October.
Jolly, 41, a former Washington lobbyist and Young aide, is seeking a full term in November. The filing deadline for Democrats who want to run against Jolly is May 2.
Sink, 65, Florida’s former chief financial officer, was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2010, narrowly losing to Gov. Rick Scott. Although she didn’t live in the district, she was recruited to run by national party officials. Once she got into the race, other Democrats in Pinellas County stepped aside.
Outside Democratic and Republican groups poured more than $9 million into the special election, which was seen as a bellweather of their political prospects heading into November’s mid-term election.
The main fault line in the campaign was Obamacare, which Sink embraced and Jolly opposed.
Jolly, a Washington lobbyist and former House aide, defeats Democrat Alex Sink in 13th District special election
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpoiltics.com editor
ST. PETERSBURG, Florida (CFP) — Republican David Jolly has won a special election for Florida’s vacant 13th U.S. House District, narrowly beating Democrat Alex Sink and dashing Democratic hopes of taking away what had been seen as a vulnerable GOP seat.
Jolly won 48.5 percent in the March 11 race, compared to 46.6 percent for Sink, a margin of less than 3,500 votes. Libertarian Lucas Overby carried 4.8 percent.
National Democratic officials had pulled out all the stops for Sink, including visits by Vice President Joe Biden and Bill Clinton. The main fault line in the campaign was Obamacare, which Sink embraced and Jolly opposed.
Jolly, 41, is a Washington lobbyist and former aide to the late U.S. Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young, who held the St. Petersburg-based seat for more than 42 years before his death in October.
Sink, 65, is the state’s former chief financial officer. She was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2010, narrowly losing to Gov. Rick Scott.
Sink does not live in the district. But after she was recruited to run by national party officials, other Democrats in Pinellas County stepped aside.
Outside Democratic and Republican groups had poured more than $9 million into the race, which was seen as a bellweather of their political prospects heading into November’s mid-term election.
While Republicans hold a lead in party registration in the 13th District, President Barack Obama narrowly carried it in both 2008 and 2012. The district is one of only three Republican-held seats in the South that went for Obama in 2012.
Jolly will have to defend the seat in November, and he told Fox News that he expects Democrats to come at him just as hard.
“This will be just as close of a race,” he said.
In her concession speech, Sink did not say if she plans to seek the seat again in November.
Republican David Jolly wins primary and will face Democrat Alex Sink in March 11 special election in the 13th District
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
ST. PETERSBURG, Florida (CFP) — Republican lobbyist David Jolly has defeated two other GOP rivals to claim his party’s nomination for the open 13th District U.S. House seat in Florida, which Democrats have high hopes of capturing in a March 11 special election.
Jolly, 41, won 45 percent of the vote in the January 14 primary, beating out Florida State Rep. Kathleen Peters and retired Marine Corps General Mark Bircher. He will now face Democrat Alex Sink in the special election to replace the late U.S. Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young, who died in October.
The district, which takes in most of Pinellas County, including St. Petersburg and Clearwater, is one of just three House seats in the South that President Barack Obama carried in 2012.
Democrats have high hopes that Sink, the party’s nominee for governor in 2010, will be able to flip the seat, which Young, an institution in Tampa Bay-area politics, had held since 1970.
Jolly is a former aide to Young, who left Capitol Hill to become a lobbyist. Peters made his lobbying an issue during the campaign, painting him as a Washington insider.
The race also divided Young’s family. His widow, Beverly, supported Jolly, but his son, Bill Young II, backed Peters.
Bircher had the support of Allen West, a Tea Party favorite and former congressman from Palm Beach County.
Peters came in second, with 31 percent; Bircher, third, with 24 percent.
Sink, 65, a former bank executive, was elected as Florida’s chief financial officer in 2006. In 2010, she ran for governor, narrowly losing to Republican Rick Scott.
Earlier this year, Sink decided against a rematch with Scott but decided to for the 13th District seat after Young’s death, even though at the time she lived outside the district in neighboring Hillsborough County.
Despite parachuting into the district, Sink avoided a primary fight after St. Petersburg attorney Jessica Ehrlich dropped out of the race and other Pinellas Democrats opted not to run.
Given Obama’s victory in the district, and the fact that Sink carried Pinellas County in her race for governor, Democrats are hoping to make a pickup.
The outcome in such a closely divided bellweather district may be an early indication of how much problems with the rollout of Obamacare have hurt Democrats ahead of the 2014 elections.