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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.
Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis’s ruling clears the way for the state’s August 26 primary
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitcs.com editor
TALLAHASSEE, Florida (CFP) — Just days before Florida’s primary, a state judge has approved a redrawn map for the state’s 27 congressional districts but delayed its implementation until the 2016 elections.
The August 22 ruling by Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis clears the way for the August 26 primary to proceed without the possibility of a special election later in the year under the redrawn map.
The ruling was a victory for the leadership of the GOP-controlled legislature, who maintained that imposing the new map now would have wreaked havoc on the state’s electoral process.
“Thankfully, the court listened to supervisors of elections and the Secretary of State and rejected plaintiffs’ plan, which would have thrown the 2014 elections into chaos and could have resulted in our state being without congressional representation for weeks or even months,” said State Senate President Don Gaetz in a statement.
However, the groups that sued to strike down the map, including the League of Women Voters, say they will appeal the ruling, contending that the changes made by the legislature during a special session earlier in the month didn’t go far enough to fix the unconstitutional gerrymandering that prompted Lewis to strike down the original map.
Lewis ruled that the new map “adequately addresses the constitutional deficiencies” he found in the original map drawn after the 2010 Census.
While conceding that alternatives offered by the plaintiffs might be less gerrymandered, Lewis said the legislature isn’t required “to produce a map that the plaintiffs, or I, or anyone else might prefer.”
“The legislature is only required to produce a map that meets the requirements of the constitution,” Lewis said. He also said the plaintiffs had failed to prove that using the new map this year was “legally and logistically doable.”
In July, Lewis ruled that two districts in northwestern and central Florida — the majority black 5th District and the Republican-leaning 10th District — violated two constitutional amendments Florida voters approved in 2010 designed to limit political gerrymandering.
Under the new rules, districts cannot be drawn to benefit any political party and must be geographically compact. However, the amendments left redistricting in the hands of legislators, rather than turning it over to an independent outside panel.
In the original map, the 5th District, held by Democratic U.S. Rep Corrine Brown, was a majority black district that meandered from Jacksonville over to Gainesville and then down to Orlando. At one point, it is the width of a highway. The 10th District, held by Republican U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster, was anchored in central Florida west of Orlando but had an appendage that wrapped around Orlando to take in GOP voters to the east in Seminole County.
Lewis ruled that the map draw packed black voters into the 5th District to make surrounding districts more Republican and that the appendage was added to the 10th District to help Webster, both of which were unconstitutional.
In the new map, the 5th District still runs from Jacksonville to Orlando, but some black voters in the Orlando area were shifted to adjacent districts and some more rural areas were added south of Jacksonville to make the district geographically wider. The new district is 48 percent black. The new map also removed the appendage from Webster’s district.
Because House districts must have equal population, the changes to those two districts required slight changes in five surrounding districts in central Florida.
The League of Women Voters proposed a different map that would have the 5th District running due west from Jacksonville past Tallahassee — a change that would have required a wholesale revision of the map statewide.
A Democratic alternative rejected by the legislature didn’t as far as the plaintiff’s map, but it would have made the 7th and 10th districts more evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.
Although Florida is evenly divided politically, Republicans enjoy a 17-10 advantage in the state’s congressional delegation, largely due to their control of the redistricting process. The new map is not expected to change the delegation’s partisan balance.
Democrats hope to flip seat from a district President Obama carried
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics editor
CLEARWATER, Florida (CFP) – The death of Republican icon Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young of Florida has opened up a Tampa Bay-area district, giving Democrats one of their best prospects of flipping a seat anywhere in the South.
A slew of Republican and Democratic candidates are considering the race to replace Young, who died October 18 at the age of 82. His death will necessitate a special election to fill the remainder of his current term, with a second election to follow in 2014.
Under Florida law, Republican Governor Rick Scott will decide when the special election will take place. He has not yet set a date.
Young’s 13th House District is one of just three districts in the South held by Republicans that President Barack Obama carried in 2012. The other two are Virginia’s 2nd District, held by Rep. Scott Rigell, and Florida’s 27th District, held by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
After Young announced his retirement just days before he died, two candidates – Democrat Jessica Ehrlich, who ran unsuccessfully against Young in 2012, and Republican Nick Zoller, a political consultant – said they would run in 2014.
In the wake of Young’s death, other candidates have stayed on the sidelines out of respect for the veteran congressman, who had represented the Saint Petersburg area in Congress since 1970.
Zoller told the SaintPetersBlog that he while he still planned to run in 2014, he would not run in the special election, suggesting that Young’s widow, Beverly, be elected to finish his term. Young’s son, Bill Young II, has also been mentioned as a possible Republican candidate to replace his late father.
Much of the speculation on the Democratic side has centered around Alex Sink, Florida’s former chief financial officer, who narrowly lost a race for governor in 2010 to Scott.
Earlier this year, Sink decided against a rematch with Scott but has told local media that she is interested in running in the 13th District. However, Sink does not live in Pinellas County, where the district in located. She lives in neighboring Hillsborough County, and it is unclear whether ambitious Pinellas Democrats would allow her to parachute in without a fight.