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Rubio, Murphy to face off in Florida U.S. Senate race

Wasserman Schultz beats back Bernie-allied rival; Corrine Brown out

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

florida mugGAINESVILLE, Florida (CFP) — U.S. Senator Marco Rubio handily won renomination in Florida’s Republican primary and will face Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy in a race that will help determine which party controls the Senate.

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio

Rubio took 72 percent in the August 30 vote, easily defeating businessman Carlos Beruff, who garnered just 18 percent. On the Democratic side, Murphy was the clear winner, taking 60 percent of the vote, compared to just 18 percent for his main challenger, U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson.

The bad news for Grayson continued, as his wife’s attempt to keep his 9th District U.S. House seat in the family sputtered in the Democratic primary.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz

Meanwhile, in South Florida’s 23rd District, Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz  beat back a challenge from Tim Canova, turning aside an effort by angry Bernie Sanders supporters to force her from Congress over accusations that she, as chair of the Democratic National Committee, showed favoritism to Hillary Clinton in the presidential race.

Wasserman Schultz took 57 percent to 43 percent for Canova, who spent more than $3 million trying to unseat the veteran congresswoman.

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown

However, another veteran Democrat was not as fortunate. U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, who was indicted on corruption charges in July, was defeated in the 5th District primary by Al Lawson, a former state legislator from Tallahassee, in what was likely the last chapter in a 34-year-long political career.

Lawson won 48 percent to 40 percent for Brown.

A redraw of state’s congressional map, ordered by the Florida Supreme Court, substantially altered Brown’s district, forcing her to run in  a swath of new territory outside of her Jacksonville base. Federal prosecutors have also accused Brown of conspiring with her chief of staff to convert a scholarship fund into a private slush fund used to pay for her political promotion and personal expenses. She has denied the charges.

Rubio initially decided to give up his Senate seat to pursue the Republican presidential nomination. But after his White House aspirations fizzled, he reversed course, prompting the departure of three of the four major candidates then in the race, all but Beruff.

Speaking to supporters in Kissimmee, the senator dismissed Murphy as an “old-fashioned liberal” handpicked for the Senate by Democratic leaders and a dilettante whose wealth family has given him “everything he’s every wanted.”

“If Patrick Murphy wants to be a U.S. Senator, he’s going to have to earn it by beating the son of a bartender and a maid who came to this country in search of a better life,” he said, employing details from his own biography that were a staple of his run for president.

But speaking to his supporters in Palm Beach County, Murphy criticized Rubio for his poor attendance in the Senate while he was running for president.

“Marco Rubio is the worst of Washington because he puts himself first every time,” Murphy said. “He gave up on his job. He gave up on Florida.”

Murphy also pounced on Rubio’s statement on CNN a day before the primary that he would not commit to serving his full Senate term, saying “no one can make that commitment because you don’t know what the future’s going hold in your life personally or politically.”

Murphy retorted: “Guess what, senator. I’ve got two words for you. I can.”

In his battle against Grayson, Murphy — who was a registered Republican until 2012, when he switched parties to run for Congress — had the backing of virtually all of the Democratic establishment, including the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson

U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson

Party leaders were fearful that a victory by the outspoken Grayson — who regularly subjects reporters to profanity-laden tirades and once had to apologize after calling a female lobbyist “a K Street whore” — would spell disaster in November.

During the primary campaign, Grayson also faced domestic abuse allegations made by his ex-wife. He denied ever hitting her, but the story prompted two liberal groups — Democracy for America and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee — to reverse their endorsements.

In the end, Grayson not only lost to Murphy by more than 40 points but also barely edged out a lesser known candidate, political newcomer Pam Keith, for second place. Keith had snagged a surprise endorsement from one of Florida’s largest newspapers, The Miami Herald.

In addition to helping torpedo Brown in the 5th District, the new map made the 2nd District, which takes in the middle of the Florida Panhandle, more Republican, prompting Democratic U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham to retire.

After a nasty campaign with substantial spending by outside groups, Republicans chose Neal Dunn, a Panama City urologist, over Mary Thomas, a state government lawyer from Tallahassee. Dunn took 41 percent to 39 percent for Thomas, who was trying to become the first Indian-American woman ever elected to Congress.

After Grayson gave up his 9th District to run for the Senate, both his wife, Dena Grayson, and one of his top aides, Susannah Randolph, launched campaigns to succeed him. But State Senator Darren Soto beat them both in the Democratic primary, which is tantamount to election in the heavily Democratic Orlando-based district.

Grayson took 36 percent of the vote, compared to 18 percent each for Randolph and Dina Grayson.

In the 18th District, which Murphy gave up to run for the Senate, Democrats selected Randy Perkins, a multimillionaire businessman from Delray Beach, while Republicans went with Brian Mast, an Army veteran who lost both his legs while serving as a bomb disposal specialist in Afghanistan.

The 18th District, which takes in parts of Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast, is likely to be a genuine toss-up in November.

The 26th District, which takes in the Florida Keys and southwest Miami-Dade County, will feature a rematch between Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo and the man he beat in 2014, former Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia.

While Curbelo was unopposed in the GOP primary, Garcia eaked out an 800-vote win over  Annette Taddeo in the Democratic primary.

State of the Races: U.S. House 2016

Only 11 seats are in play across the region; Democrats may make small gains

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

southern states sm(CFP) — Heading toward the November election, just 11 of the South’s 154 U.S. House seats look to be at all in play, a measly 7 percent.

Indeed, in 10 states, no seats are likely to change parties, although results from Louisiana’s late November primary may add to the list. In three of the four states with seats in play–North Carolina, Florida and Virginia–the competitive races are largely the result of new court-ordered House maps, which have disturbed the political equilibrium.

Currently, Republicans hold 116 seats in the South, compared to just 38 for Democrats, or about 75 percent. That GOP dominance is unlikely to budge much.

Overall, Democrats appear poised to pick up at least two seats in Florida and one in Virginia, while Republicans are favored to pick up at least one seat in Florida. There are three seats–two in Florida and one in Texas–that are out-and-out toss-ups. Thus, a net gain of five seats for Democrats in the South would be a good night.

Here are the 11 races to watch:

Dunn

Dunn

Florida 2: This seat, anchored in the Florida Panhandle around Tallahassee, is currently held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham. In redrawing the Sunshine State’s map, the Florida Supreme Court removed a chunk of black voters and part of Tallahassee from the district in order to redraw the adjacent 5th District, making what had been a swing seat substantially more Republican. Graham, the only Democrat to take away a Republican seat anywhere in the South in 2014, looked at her odds and decided not to run again, for good reason. Republicans nominated Panama City urologist Neal Dunn, who should have little problem here. RATING: GAIN GOP

Lawson

Lawson

Florida 5: This seat, held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, was the primary offender in the Supreme Court ruling that the House map was unconstitutional. Over Brown’s strenuous objections, the justices ordered an extreme makeover; the district now starts in Jacksonville and heads due west to Tallahassee, making it less black and more Republican. Brown, who has been indicted on federal corruption charges, was bounced in the primary by Al Lawson, a former state lawmaker from Tallahassee. The GOP had some hope of a takeaway with Brown in the race, but those hopes were likely dashed with her primary loss. RATING: PROBABLY DEM

Murphy

Murphy

Mica

Mica

Florida 7: Republican U.S. Rep. John Mica is running again in this district in suburban Orlando. But he now has some of the Democratic voters who used to be in Brown’s 5th District, making this district much less safe that it was. He will face political newcomer Stephanie Murphy, a college professor and former national security professional, who was the only Democrat to file against Mica. RATING: PROBABLY GOP

Demings

Demings

Florida 10: This Orlando-area district, now held by Republican U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster, was made substantially more Democratic in the redraw–so much so that Webster opted to run for re-election in the adjacent 11th District, where U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent is retiring. Democrats nominated former Orlando Police Chief Val Demings, who should have little problem in November. RATING: GAIN DEM

Crist

Crist

jolly-sm

Jolly

Florida 13: This swing district in the Tampa Bay area will feature a high voltage smackdown between Republican U.S. Rep. David Jolly and former Florida Governor Charlie Crist, the Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat who is trying to make a political comeback after losing the governor’s race in 2014. The redraw of Florida’s map added a portion of St. Petersburg with a large minority population to this district, making it more Democratic. Facing long odds, Jolly first opted to run for the U.S. Senate before deciding to try to keep his seat. With Jolly out, this would have been a Democratic pick-up. That’s still probable but much less certain with the incumbent back in the race. RATING: PROBABLY DEM

Perkins

Perkins

Mast

Mast

Florida 18: This seat, which includes part of Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast, is a classic swing district now held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, who gave it up to run for the U.S. Senate. Democrats selected Randy Perkins, a multimillionaire businessman from Delray Beach, while Republicans went with Brian Mast, an Army veteran who lost both his legs while serving as a bomb disposal specialist in Afghanistan. Both are political newcomers in what is likely to be a high-profile fight to the finish. RATING: TOSS-UP

garcia-sm

Garcia

curbelo-sm

Curbelo

Florida 26: Like the 18th District, this seat, which includes southwest Miami-Dade County and the Florida Keys, has gone back and forth between the parties in recent cycles. The incumbent, Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, will face a rematch against the man he beat by less than 5,800 votes in 2014, former Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia. RATING: TOSS-UP

Gallego

Gallego

Will Hurd

Hurd

Texas 23: This massive district, which stretches across a vast expanse of West Texas from the San Antonio suburbs to near El Paso, has changed hands in the last three elections. The incumbent is U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, who is that rarest of creatures, a black Republican representing a majority Latino district. His Democratic challenger is the man Hurd beat in 2014, former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego. Hurd’s winning margin last time was just 2,400 votes, indicating just how equally divided this district is. With a 55 percent Latino population and Donald Trump at the head of the GOP ticket, Hurd may be battling for his life. RATING: TOSS-UP

mceachin-sm

McEachin

wade-sm

Wade

Virginia 4: A new map drawn by a federal court added Richmond and Petersburg to this southeast Virginia district, making it substantially more Democratic. The incumbent, Republican U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes, left this seat to run in the redrawn 2nd District, leaving an open seat that’s ripe for a Democratic pick-up. Republican Henrico County Sheriff Mike Wade will face off against Democratic State Senator Donald McEachin, also of Henrico County. A win by McEachin in the redrawn district would add a second African-American congressman to the state’s delegation. RATING: GAIN DEM

dittmar-sm

Dittmar

garrett-sm

Garrett

Virginia 5: Democrats have hopes of taking this seat, which is open because of the retirement of Republican U.S. Rep. Robert Hurt. But this district, which stretches through central Virginia from the North Carolina border to the Washington, D.C. suburbs, has a Republican lean. GOP State Senator Tom Garrett from Buckingham County is facing Democrat Jane Dittmar, the former chair of the Albermarle County Board of Supervisors. RATING: PROBABLY GOP

Comstock

Comstock

bennett-sm

Bennett

Virginia 10: This district, which starts in the western D.C. suburbs and stretches out to West Virginia, is held by Republican U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock and is at the top of the Democrats’ wish list. Although Comstock won handily in 2014, this is a district full of suburban swing voters who Democrats are hoping will be turned off by a Trump-led GOP ticket. She faces Democrat LuAnn Bennett, a real estate developer who is the ex-wife of former U.S. Rep. Jim Moran. RATING: PROBABLY GOP

New U.S. House map sets off scramble in Florida

As many as seven seats could be in play after a court-ordered redraw

By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

florida mugGAINESVILLE, 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:

Graham

Graham

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.

Brown

Brown

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.

Mica

Mica

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.

Webster

Webster

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.

Crist

Crist

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.

Murphy

Murphy

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.

Taddeo

Taddeo

Garcia

Garcia

Curbelo

Curbelo

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 U.S. Rep. David Jolly, facing a newly drawn district, switches to U.S. Senate race

Decision comes after the Florida Supreme Court orders changes likely to make Jolly’s district more Democratic

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

florida mugST. 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.

U.S. Rep. David Jolly

U.S. Rep. David Jolly

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’s entry into the Senate race adds to a crowded Republican field that already includes U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and Lieutenant Governor Carlos López-Cantera.

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.

U.S. House nominee Gwen Graham

U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham

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.

Former Florida Governor Charlie Crist has announced he will seek the Democratic nomination for Jolly’s seat if the legislature, as expected, draws his St. Petersburg home into the district.

The Republican-turned-indepenent-turned-Democrat lost statewide races for the U.S. Senate in 2012 and for governor in 2014.

Florida Supreme Court strikes down state’s congressional map

High court gives state legislature 100 days to draw new map to fix problems with eight districts

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

florida mugGAINESVILLE, 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.

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown

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 two biggest changes ordered by the high court are in the 5th District, represented by Brown, D-Jacksonville, and the 13th District, held by U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-St. Petersburg.

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.”

U.S. Rep. David Jolly

U.S. Rep. David Jolly

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.

Gwen Graham, daughter of former Democratic Senator Bob Graham, runs for House seat in Florida

Graham is challenging two-term GOP Rep. Steve Southerland in a district Democrats think they can flip in 2014

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

florida mugTALLAHASSEE, Florida (CFP) — Possessing one of the most storied names in Florida politics and Washington media circles, Democrat Gwen Graham has launched a bid for a GOP-held House seat in northern Florida that’s a prime target for Democrats in 2014.

graham

Gwen Graham

Graham, 50, is the daughter of former U.S. Senator Bob Graham, who was also elected Florida’s governor during a political career that spanned nearly four decades. She is also a member of the Graham family that for decades owned the Washington Post. (The Post’s legendary publisher, Katherine Graham, was Gwen Graham’s aunt by marriage.)

She is seeking the 2nd District seat now held by Rep. Steve Southerland, 47, who was a Panama City funeral director with no political experience when he defeated incumbent Democrat Allen Boyd in the Tea Party wave of 2010.

The district sprawls across 17 counties in the Big Bend area of the Florida Panhandle, including Panama City and part of Tallahassee.

Mitt Romney carried the district with 52 percent of the vote in 2012. However, this district is perhaps the last “yellow dog” Democratic district left in Florida – the type of place where Graham’s father always ran strong — with a majority of its voters registered as Democrats.

Southerland held the seat with just 53 percent of the vote in 2012, giving Democrats hope that they can flip the seat in the 2014 cycle.

Graham, who has never sought political office before, is billing herself as “an independent voice standing up for North Florida.” Not surprisingly, in a district with large numbers of federal workers and military families, she has hammered Southerland over the government shutdown, even calling on him to donate his salary to charity during the standoff.

“Like so many in Washington, Congressman Southerland has forgotten that Congress exists to solve problems, not be an arena for political sport,” she said.

Rep. Steve Southerland

Rep. Steve Southerland

For his part, Southerland has defended the Republican strategy of trying to tie government funding to repeal of Obamacare. He was co-author of a measure that would have delayed implementation for Obamacare for a year in return for a funding measure.

“I have heard the people of North and Northwest Florida loud and clear,” Southerland said. “They don’t want an interruption in the vital services they expect from their government, but they do want to delay Obamacare.”

Southerland is already getting heavy-duty help in his re-election, with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor appearing at a fundraiser for him in August.

One key question for Graham is whether she will face a primary challenge from former State Senator Alfred Lawson, who nearly toppled Boyd in a primary in 2010 and won the party’s nomination for the seat over a more conservative Democrat in 2012.

The racial makeup of the district would be a key in a primary. Nearly 25 percent of the 2nd Districts residents are black, which means black voters will make up a sizeable portion of the Democratic electorate. Lawson is black; Graham is white.

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