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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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Republicans still have 2-to-1 advantage and hold the line in North Carolina, upper South
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com
(CFP) — With all races now decided, Democrats have made a net gain of 10 U.S. House seats across the 14 Southern states in the November 6 election.
While that total was an improvement over their results in 2014 and 2016, Democrats flipped only about a third of the seats they targeted, and Republicans will still hold a 2-to-1 advantage in Southern seats when Congress reconvenes in January.
Democratic gains were centered in suburban areas around major cities, including Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, Richmond, Miami, the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. and the Hampton Roads area of southeastern Virginia. They also carried a district that contains metro Oklahoma City and another that includes Charleston and the Low Country of South Carolina.
However, Democrats went 0-for-4 in targeted seats in North Carolina, 2-for-9 in Florida and 2-for-8 in Texas. They also fell short in targeted races in the upper South states of Arkansas, Kentucky and West Virginia, where Republicans continue to hold 12 out of 13 House seats.
Among those losses was in Kentucky’s 6th District, where Democrat Amy McGrath could not pull out a victory despite raising an astounding $7.8 million, more than any other Southern challenger in this election cycle.
Democrats did win five of the six GOP-held Southern seats that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016; the lone exception was in Texas’s 23rd District, in West Texas, where Republican Will Hurd won a narrow victory. Democrat Lucy McBath also ousted Republican Karen Handel in Georgia’s 6th District, where Donald Trump won by just 1.5 points in 2016.
Four Republican House members, with a combined 48 years of service, went down in the Clinton districts, including Pete Sessions and John Culberson in Texas, Barbara Comstock in Virginia, and Carlos Curbelo in Florida. Republicans also lost in Florida’s 27th District in Miami-Dade, which U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen had held for 30 years before deciding to retire.
Democrats kept all of the 40 seats they held going into the election. With the 10 Democratic gains, Southern Republicans will hold 102 seats to 50 for Democrats when Congress reconvenes in January.
In the last Congress, just 13 white Democrats who were not Latino or Asian represented Southern districts. That number will go up to 20 in January, as seven white Democrats displaced Republicans.
Hurd, who represents a majority Latino district, will be the only African-American Republican in the new House. Three Southern Republicans are Latino — Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, Bill Flores of Texas, and Alex Mooney of West Virginia, whose mother is Cuban.
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Lack of Latino connection, combined with 2018’s worst political gaffe, could keep Florida’s 27th District in GOP hands
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
MIAMI (CFP) — Miami Democrats may be about to learn that hard way that even in a race where the odds seem decidedly in your favor, your candidate and her campaign matter. A lot.
On paper, Florida’s 27th U.S. House District should have been an easy layup for Democrats. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a fixture in Cuban-American politics for more than three decades, was retiring. Hillary Clinton carried the district by 20 points, giving the 27th the distinction of being the location of Donald Trump’s worst loss in a Republican-held congressional district anywhere in the country. And younger Cuban voters have been showing less fealty to the GOP in recent election than did their ferociously anti-communist elders.
Yet, despite all that, when the smoke clears on November 6, there is a very good chance that the new congresswoman from the 27th District will be a Republican, and a race Democrats thought they couldn’t lose will be lost.
So what happened? Donna Shalala happened.
After months of ambitious Miami-Dade Democrats plotting and jockeying for position in what was assumed to be a wide-open race for a sure seat in Congress, Shalala big-footed her way into the contest in March, deciding to enter elective politics at age 77 after a career spent in academia and eight years as Bill Clinton’s health secretary and two years as head of his foundation.
She instantly became the “big name” in the race and the favorite. Three Democratic rivals withdrew; another switched to a congressional race in another district.
Among the candidates who withdrew was popular State Senator José Javier Rodríguez, and his departure left Democrats with a handicap that has since turned into an albatross — he had been the only Latino Democrat running in a district in which seven out of 10 residents, and nearly six in 10 voters, are Latino.
In the end, the Democratic primary in August came down to a race between Shalala and State Rep. David Richardson, the first openly gay man to serve in the Florida legislature. She won, but with only 31 percent of the vote against a field of four rivals.
Meanwhile, in the Republican primary, Maria Elvira Salazar — running against eight rivals — was taking 40 percent of the vote, and her total vote was nearly 1,700 more than Shalala’s total, even though more people had voted in the Democratic primary than the Republican primary.
Salazar is no Trump-loving ideologue. As a journalist for 35 years, she has pushed back against the president’s characterization of the news media as the enemy of the people, and she is for immigration reform and a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers and against separating migrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border.
And perhaps more significantly, Salazar has three qualities Shalala can’t match: She’s a Latina. She speaks Spanish. And she has deep roots in Miami, where she was born and has been in the living rooms of her Latino constituents as an anchor and reporter on Spanish-language television.
Shalala’s inability to speak Spanish has given Salazar the advantage of being able to speak to Latino constituents in the district in their own language. And while someone entering a race in March probably can’t be expected to be fluent in October, those constituents probably found it telling that Shalala has lived in a bilingual city for 17 years, and served as president of its namesake university, without bothering to enough Spanish to give a simple speech. (Even George W. Bush speaks enough Spanish to make do in a pinch.)
More inexplicable was the decision by Shalala’s campaign not to begin running Spanish language ads until mid-October, an egregious oversight in a district where Spanish is ubiquitous.
The same Barbara Lee who said, after Cuban dictator Fidel Castro died, “we need to stop and pause and mourn his loss.” The same Barbara Lee who wrote lobbied against placing sanctions on the socialist dictatorship in Venezuela, many of whose victims have sought refuge in Miami.
Shalala’s campaign managed to extricate themselves from Lee actually appearing, but the damage was already done. When Pelosi and Shalala arrived at a Miami restaurant for the October 18 event, they were greeted by protestors calling them “communists” and “witches” — and much worse that isn’t printable here.
After news broke of Lee’s aborted visit, Salazar and Shalala met in a Spanish-language debate, where Shalala had to rely on an interpreter for the particulars of a rather vigorous denunciation from her Republican rival — a scene that summed up all that has gone wrong for Democrats in the 27th District.
There is a curious echo here: A woman with an impeccable resume handed a Democratic nomination on the basis of her presumed invincibility, only to see it turn to ashes thanks to personal deficiency and questionable strategy.
After 2016, Democrats waxed wistful of the might-have-beens if Vice President Joe Biden or another big name Democrat had challenged Hillary Clinton for the nomination in 2016. If Shalala loses, we will see the same wistfulness for a different outcome with Rodríguez, or even Richardson who, although not Latino, has won election twice to a majority-Latino Florida House seat.
Perhaps Shalala will squeak through in the end. If so, she’ll have some serious fences to mend, not to mention a new language to learn.
But if she loses, Miami Democrats will have created a new Republican political star who will be exceedingly difficult to dislodge.
Your candidate and her campaign matter. A lot.
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Her departure opens up a prime opportunity for Democrats to pick up a GOP-held seat
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
MIAMI (CFP) — U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the dean of Florida’s House delegation, will not seek re-election in 2018 to her 27th District seat in Miami-Dade County, drawing down the curtain on three decades of service that have made her an icon in the state’s politically powerful Cuban-American community.
The decision means Republicans will now have to defend a seat from a district which Donald Trump lost by 20 points in 2016 but which had continued to return Ros-Lehtinen to office term after term.
“It’s a great job. But there comes a time when you say, you know, even though this is a wonderful life, and even though I’m doing what I love to do, there’s so many other wonderful things,” she said at a May 1 news conference announcing her retirement.
Ros-Lehtinen, a moderate Republican who has found herself at odds with Trump and other members of her own party, also insisted her departure is unrelated to the current political climate in Washington.
“I know it would be a great narrative to say people aren’t civil with each other and that there’s just a lot of infighting,” she said. “But I’ve been there so many years, I don’t recall a time when there hasn’t been infighting.”
“I’m not frustrated by that.”
Ros-Lehtinen, 64, who was born in Cuba and moved to Miami with her parents at the age of 7, won a House seat in a 1989 special election to fill the vacancy created by the death of Claude Pepper, who himself was a political icon in Miami. She became the first Cuban-American ever elected to Congress and the first Republican woman elected to Congress from Florida.
She has faced little opposition since that first election. However, as the Cuban-American community in Miami has become less monolithically Republican in the last 20 years and district lines have been been altered, the GOP has held on to the district largely because of Ros-Lehtinen’s popularity.
Still, in 2016, she won by just 10 points, as Hillary Clinton was pasting Trump in her district. Democrats were expected to try to contest the seat in 2018, although Ros-Lehtinen expressed confidence that she would have won if she had she run again.
Ros-Lehtinen has left signficant daylight between herself and Trump, refusing to endorse him and opposing both his plans to repeal and replace Obamacare and build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. As the mother of a transgender son, she has also been a champion for LGBT equality in Congress.
The 27th is one of just six Southern House seats held by Republicans that Clinton carried, and her margin there was the largest win in any GOP-held district in the country. Ros-Lehtinen’s departure means Democrats will have an opportunity to pick up the seat.
The race to replace Ros-Lehtinen will be a wide open affair, likely drawing a number of Cuban-American politicians from both parties into the mix. Among the Republicans being mentioned is Lieutenant Governor Carlos López-Cantera, who has run statewide and is closely allied with the state’s two top Republicans, Governor Rick Scott, and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio.
Several state legislators are also eyeing the race, which may mean that the field won’t begin to fill out until the legislature adjourns later in May.
Florida congresswoman says Obamacare replacement would leave too many of her constituents uninsured
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
MIAMI (CFP) — U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has become the first House Republican to break ranks with her party’s leadership to oppose a new plan to repeal and replace Obamacare.
R0s-Lehtinen, who represents the 27th District in Miami-Dade County, announced her decision to oppose the bill March 14 on her Twitter feed:
“I plan to vote NO on the current ACHA bill. As written the plan leaves too many from my SoFla district uninsured. As AHCA stands, it will cut much needed help for SoFla’s poor (and) elderly populations. Need a plan that will do more to protect them.”
ACHA stands for the American Health Care Act, which is the formal name of the GOP bill.
In a subsequent statement, Ros-Lehtinen said that after studying the bill and hearing from her constituents, she concluded “too many of my constituents will lose insurance and there will be less funds to help the poor and elderly with their health care.” However, she made it clear that she would support changes in the existing Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.
“I voted to repeal Obamacare many times because it was not the right fix for our broken healthcare system and did not live up to its promise to the American people, but this plan is not the replacement South Florida needs,” she said. “We should work together to write a bipartisan bill that works for our community and our nation without hurting the elderly and disadvantaged among us.”
Democrats have not participated in crafting the Republican health care replacement bill, being pushed by House Speaker Paul Ryan. The plan has also run into opposition from his own caucus, both from more conservative members who feel it keeps too many features of Obamacare and more moderate members who fear its impact on Americans who have managed to gain coverage under the existing plan.
Ros-Lehtinen falls into the latter category. She is also one of only six Southern Republicans who represent a House district that Democrat Hillary Clinton carried in the presidential election last year.
Clinton carried the district by nearly 20 points, her largest margin of victory in any Southern GOP-held district. The majority-Latino district is anchored by Miami’s Cuban-American community.
Ros-Lehtinen became the first Cuban-American to serve in Congress when she was elected in 1989. She has broken with her party leadership in the past, most notably in her support for same-sex marriage.
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.