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Decision ’18: Democrats’ net gain of 10 Southern U.S. House seats came in the suburbs

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.

McBath

Hurd

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.

Two of the seats that flipped to Democrats were won by African-American candidates — McBath in Georgia and Colin Allred in Texas — and one by a Latina, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who defeated Curbelo.

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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Decision ’18: Last uncalled Southern U.S. House seat heading for recount

With Georgia’s 7th District remaining to be called, Democrats have netted 10 seats in the South

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

(CFP) — The South’s last uncalled U.S. House race, in Georgia’s 7th District, is headed for a recount with the Republican incumbent, Rob Woodall, holding a slender 419-vote lead over his Democratic challenger, Carolyn Bourdeaux.

With that race in the balance, Democrats’ overall gain in the South stands at 10, just a third of the total number of seats that they had targeted heading into the November 6 vote. All of those seats were in urban and suburban areas where the Democratic vote surged.

Bourdeaux

Woodall

Bourdeaux said Friday that she will ask for a recount. Under state law, a losing candidate can seek a recount if the winning margin is less than 1 percent; Woodall’s lead is 0.14 percent.

State election officials have not announced a timetable for the recount. But Georgia uses electronic voting machines without paper ballots, so recounts tend to be finished quickly.

The 7th District is located in Atlanta’s northwest suburbs, in Gwinnett and Forsyth counties.

Across the South, Democrats’ best results came in Virginia, where they ousted Republican incumbents in the 2nd, 7th and 10th Districts, which are located in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., Richmond and Hampton Roads.

Democrats also scored surprise wins in South Carolina’s 1st District, which includes Charleston, and Oklahoma’s 5th District, centered in Oklahoma City.

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.

McBath

Hurd

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 of Virginia, and Carlos Curbelo in Florida. Republicans also lost in Florida’s 27th District, 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. Two of the flipped seats were won by African-American candidates and one by a Latina.

Hurd, who represents a majority Latino district, will be the only African-American Republican in the next 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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Florida Primary: DeSantis wins GOP governor’s nod; Gillum is surprise winner among Democrats

Three Democratic U.S. House incumbents survive; Donna Shalala wins race for Miami seat

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

TALLAHASSEE (CFP) — November’s election for Florida governor will pit a Donald Trump acolyte against a Bernie Sanders-backed Democrat trying to become the first African-American ever elected to lead the Sunshine State.

In the Republican primary, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis easily defeated State Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who started the campaign as the front-runner but saw his chances fade after DeSantis got Trump’s endorsement.

But the biggest surprise of the August 28 vote came on the Democratic side, where Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum came from behind to defeat two self-funding millionaires and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, who comes from a prominent Florida political family.

Meanwhile, three Democratic incumbent U.S. House members who faced primary challenges survived, including 9th District U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, who easily defeated former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, a controversial liberal firebrand trying to make a political comeback.

Also, Donna Shalala, President Bill Clinton’s health secretary, won her primary in a GOP-held district likely to flip in November.

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Florida

In the Republican race for governor, DeSantis, 39, from Palm Coast, beat Putnam by 20 points, carrying all of the state’s large cities.

“I believe there is no limit to what we can accomplish here as long as we have the courage to lead,” he told supporters at a victory party in Orlando. “And I pledge to you as governor to work my but off to accomplish great things for this state.”

DeSantis also offered his thanks to Trump “for viewing me as someone who can be a great leader for Florida.”

The result was a significant stumble for Putnam, 44, who spent 10 years in Congress and two terms as agriculture commission with his eye on the governor’s mansion.

Putnam

Speaking to supporters in Lakeland, Putnam said he would do “any and everything we can” to help DeSantis win in November.

“He’s a veteran, he’s a solid conservative, and he will need our help,” Putnam said.

On the Democratic side, Gillum, who was vastly outspent and did not lead in a single public pre-election poll, took 34 percent to 31 percent for Graham. Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine came in at 20 percent and Palm Beach billionaire real estate investor Jeff Greene at 10 percent.

Florida does not have primary runoffs, so Gillum won the nomination without a runoff.

Combined, Levine and Greene put more than $20 million of their own money into the race, to no avail.

Gillum was outspent by all of his major competitors, although he did get an infusion of cash near the end of the campaign from liberal megadonorrs George Soros and Tom Steyer. He was also endorsed by Sanders, the self-styled democratic socialist who ran an insurgent presidential campaign in 2016.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum

“There were just a few people who said that this moment would not be possible,” Gillum told cheering supporters in Tallahassee. “And then there were a few more who believed this day was possible.”

“This thing is not about me. It never has been. It never will be,” he said. “This race is about every single one of you.”

Gillum’s victory upsets the political equation on both sides. Democrats had been hoping for a DeSantis win, seeing him as a weaker candidate against Graham, who had a moderate record during her one term in Congress. Now, both campaigns will have to adapt to a race pitting the most conservative candidate in the race against the most liberal.

Gillum is also the first African American candidate in either party to win a gubernatorial nomination in Florida and would become the state’s first black governor if he beats DeSantis in November.

One cloud on the horizon for Gillum is an ongoing FBI investigation into corruption in Tallahassee city government. He has insisted that he is not implicated in the probe, although photographs have surfaced of the mayor traveling with two FBI agents who were working undercover.

Gillum, like DeSantis, won all of the state’s major cities. The key to his victory was a collapse in Graham’s vote in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, where she didn’t break 20 percent.

Graham

Speaking to her supporters in Orlando, Graham pledged her support to Gillum, relating a phone call she had with the primary winner.

“I said, ‘Now Andrew, go out and win this damn thing because this is too important to the state of Florida,” said Graham, the daughter of former governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham.

In the U.S. Senate race, both Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and Republican Governor Rick Scott easily won their party’s nominations for the fall election, setting up what is likely to be the nation’s most expensive Senate race this year.

In U.S. House races, three Democratic incumbents also easily turned back primary challengers.

In the 5th District, a majority-minority district that stretches across North Florida from Jacksonville to Tallahassee, U.S. Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee took 60 percent of the vote to defeat former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown.

In the 9th District in metro Orlando, Soto easily dispatched Grayson, 66 percent to 44 percent. Grayson was trying to make a comeback after giving up the seat in 2016 to make an ill-fated bid for the U.S. Senate.

In another Orlando-area district, the 7th, U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy crushed Chardo Richardson, an attorney who was running as a “progressive” alternative to Murphy, taking 86 percent of the vote.

Tuesday’s primaries also set up fall matches for four battleground seats that Democrats are trying to take away in their quest to win control of the House.

In the 27th District in Miami-Dade County, Shalala, a Clinton cabinet secretary and former president of the University of Miami, took the first step in her quest to launch a political career at age 77, winning with 32 percent of the vote in a field of five candidates.

She will face Republican Maria Elvira Salazar, a former Spanish-language TV news anchor, who won the GOP race with 41 percent of the vote.

The district, which includes Miami Beach and parts of Miami, is open due to the retirement of veteran Republican U.S. Rep. Ilena Ros-Lehtinen, who has held it for 30 years. Hillary Clinton beat Trump in the district by nearly 20 points in 2016, making this one of the Democrats best pickup opportunities nationally.

However, the population of the district is more than 70 percent Latino and includes Miami’s politically potent Cuban community. Salazar is a Cuban-American born in Miami; Shalala, of Lebanese descent, was born in Ohio and moved to Miami in 2001.

In the 16th District centered on the southern side of Tampa Bay, Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan of Sarasota is seeking a seventh term in a district Trump carried by 11 points. He will face Democrat David Shapiro, a Sarasota lawyer who easily won his party’s nomination.

Shapiro has raised more than $1.3 million for the race to try to make it competitive, according to Federal Elections Commission campaign finance reports. However, Buchanan has raised $2.2 million.

In the 18th District along the Treasure Coast and northern Palm Beach County, the Democratic nominee will be Laura Baer, an attorney from Palm Beach Gardens who served as a senior adviser to secretaries of state Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. She will now take on Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Mast from Palm City in a swing district that switched parties in 2012 and 2016.

In the 26th District which takes in parts of Miami-Dade and the Florida Keys, Democrats chose Debbie Murcasel-Powell, a consultant for non-profit groups, to face Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo.

Curbelo been a rare critic of Trump within the House Republican Caucus as he tries to hang on in a district Hillary Clinton won by 16 points.

Republicans also picked nominees for three open GOP-held seats that they will be favored to retain in November.

In the 6th District in metro Jacksonville, which DeSantis gave up to run for governor, Republicans chose Mike Waltz, an aide to former Vice President Dick Cheney. In November, he will face Democrat Nancy Soderberg, a former Bill Clinton aide who served as deputy U.N. ambassador.

In Southwest Florida’s 15th District, where Republican U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross retired, State Rep. Ross Spano won the Republican nomination and will now face Democrat Kristen Carlson, former general counsel for the Florida Department of Citrus.

And the 17th District, a rural district south of Orlando, Republicans chose State Senator Craig Steube, while Democrats chose April Freeman, a TV producer and political consultant from Cape Coral.

Analysis: South is the GOP’s ace in the hole in stopping Democratic takeover of U.S. House

Democrats will need to flip 11 Southern seats or make make up the difference elsewhere

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

(CFP) — With President Trump’s approval ratings at historically low levels, Democrats have high hopes of taking back the U.S. House in 2018. But those hopes are tempered by a giant geographic obstacle standing in their way — namely, the South.

To reclaim the House, Democrats need to flip 24 seats, shifting about 10 percent of the seats that Republicans now hold. And nearly half of the GOP caucus — 114 seats — is from the South, where Republican House members outnumber Democrats by 3-to-1.

So a 10 percent shift in the South would require winning 11 seats, in a region where Democrats won just two seats in 2016 (both in Florida and neither yet safe.) If Democrats fall short of that total, they will need to shift an even higher percentage of seats throughout the rest of the country — as much as 19 percent if they come up empty in the South.

And as Democrats plot and plan to add to their meager total of 40 Southern House seats, two recent special elections for open seats offer decidedly mixed omens on their chances for overturning the GOP’s hegemony.

In South Carolina’s 5th District, the swing away from Trump’s 2016 numbers in the special election was nearly 20 percent — not enough for Democrat Archie Parnell to win but a much bigger scare than Republicans had expected. Indeed, if that 20-point swing could be replicated across the South in 2018, 42 GOP-held seats could potentially be in play, more than Democrats would need to return Nancy Pelosi to the speaker’s chair.

Handel

But the results in the other race, in Georgia’s 6th District, pour substantial caution on such irrational exuberance. Republican Karen Handel kept the seat by running slightly ahead of Trump, in a race where Democrats spent a whopping $30 million and still came up short.

And this district in the northern Atlanta suburbs is exactly the kind of place where Democrats will need to compete to claw away at Republican dominance in the South next year — increasingly diverse, maturing suburbs whose upscale, educated voters, though conservative by inclination, are somewhat wary of Trump’s stewardship of the GOP brand.

If Democrats couldn’t win this race for an open seat in a low-turnout special election with a highly energized base and a president with historically low approval ratings, flipping these seats in 2018 will be a tall order indeed, particularly given Trump’s solid base of support in the South.

So where can Democrats start? Their first targets will be three majority Latino districts in metro Miami, all of which have large numbers of Cuban-American voters. Trump lost two of these districts and only narrowly won the third.

Veteran GOP U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is retiring, and Republicans will be hard pressed to keep her seat in a district Trump lost by 20 points. But in the other two districts, Democrats will have to unseat incumbents Carlos Curbelo, who has gone out of this way to distance himself from Trump, and Mario Diaz-Balart, who has been winning congressional elections with relative ease since 2002.

Democrats are also likely to target four other Southern districts where Hillary Clinton defeated Trump last year, which include three seats in Texas and one in Virginia. The GOP, however, has held three of these districts, in varying configurations, for decades.

Comstock

The Virginia seat, in the Washington D.C. suburbs, is held by Barbara Comstock, who first won it in 2014 and was narrowly re-elected in 2016. Even at this early date, she has already drawn six Democratic challengers in a district that, like the rest of Virginia, has become more hospitable to Democrats over the last decade.

In Texas, the climb for Democrats will be steeper. Clinton won the 32nd District in suburban Dallas, but that seat is held by Pete Sessions, a GOP titan who won by 52 points in 2016. She also won the 7th District in suburban Houston, where John Culberson ran well ahead of Trump to win by 12 points.

While Democrats appear eager to try to unseat both (Culberson already has seven challengers and Sessions nine), these districts have long Republican pedigrees reminiscent of Georgia’s 6th District, which was once represented by Newt Gingrich. Former President George H.W. Bush began his political career in the 7th District in 1967; former President George W. Bush’s Dallas home is in the 32nd.

Hurd

Democrats may have more luck in Texas’s 23rd District, which stretches from the suburbs of San Antonio across rural West Texas. This district is part of an ongoing legal fight over the state’s 2013 redistricting map, and a panel of federal judges is considering changes that could make it more difficult for Republican Will Hurd to hang on for a third term.

After those Clinton-won districts, the next set of seats Democrats might logically target are those where Trump’s winning margin was less than 10 points and where it would take less than a 10-point swing from the 2016 congressional results to put the seat in Democratic hands. But that list contains a scant eight seats — four in Texas, two in North Carolina and one each in Florida and Virginia. None of them are open at this point.

After that, the pickings get even slimmer — places like Arkansas’s 2nd District, where a Democrat can carry Little Rock only to get swamped by the Republican vote in the suburbs, and Florida’s 3rd District, where liberal-leaning Gainesville is subsumed in a sea of more traditional, conservative Southern voters.  To be competitive in these districts, Democrats would have to commit to putting resources into races where chances of victory would appear, at the moment, to be rather remote.

So if Democrats can’t move the playing field into these second and third tiers, they have a reasonable shot at just seven Republican-held Southern seats, five of which have been in GOP hands for decades and all but one of which is likely to have an incumbent. And any anti-Trump tide that helps them in other parts of the country will likely not crest as high in the South.

With a lot of angry voters and a lot of luck, Democrats may indeed swing enough seats in 2018 to win control of the House. But as Republicans try to stop them, their ace in the hole is their dominance across the South, which should give them plenty of reason for confidence.

5 Southern Republicans break ranks to oppose House Obamacare repeal

But 5 GOP lawmakers in other potential swing districts help pass new health care law

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Five Republican members of the U.S. House defied party leaders and President Donald Trump to oppose a bill to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a new blueprint for U.S. health care, but five other GOP lawmakers holding potentially vulnerable seats took a different tack and voted to go along with the American Health Care Act.

Two of the Southern GOP no votes on May 4 came from Will Hurd of Texas and Barbara Comstock of Virginia, who both represent districts that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016. A third lawmaker from a district Clinton carried, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, also voted no but is retiring in 2018.

Hurd

Hurd, whose district stretches across a wide swath of West Texas, issued a statement after the vote saying the plan pushed by GOP leaders “does not address the concerns of many of my constituents, including adequate protections for those with pre-existing conditions and the challenges faced by rural healthcare providers.”

Comstock

Comstock, whose district is anchored in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, said in a statement that her “goals on healthcare reform are to provide patient-centered reforms that provide better access to high quality, affordable care and cover pre-existing conditions without lifetime limits. ”

“I did not support the AHCA today because (of) the many uncertainties in achieving those goals,” she said.

The other two Republicans who voted against the bill, Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Walter Jones of North Carolina, did so not out of any fear of Democratic competition but because they believe the repeal measure doesn’t go far enough.

“As recently as a year ago, Republicans argued that mandates were unconstitutional, bailouts were immoral and subsidies would bankrupt our country,” Massie said in a statement after the vote. “Today, however, the House voted for a healthcare bill that makes these objectionable measures permanent.”

Jones had earlier said the attempt by House Republican leaders to push an Obamacare bill repeal through the House on a rushed schedule was “shameful,” and he called for scrapping the bill in its entirety and starting over.

Of the 138 Southern Republicans in the House, 133 voted in favor of the AHCA. Five of those members represent districts where Democrats could conceivably use their votes for the new health care law to try to unseat them. In fact,  if any one of them had voted no, the bill — which passed by just a single vote — would have failed, which will allow Democrats to make the argument that each of them bears responsibility for its passage.

Curbelo

This group of members who supported the bill includes two of the region’s most vulnerable House Republicans, Carlos Curbelo and Brian Mast, both from Florida. Curbelo represents a district in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties that Clinton carried; Mast’s district, which includes St. Lucie, Martin and northern Palm Beach counties, has changed parties in three of the last four election cycles.

Mast

In a statement, Mast said the GOP health care plan “returns control of health care from Washington back to you and restores access to quality, affordable options that are tailored to your individual needs.” He also pushed back against Democratic criticism that a provision in the new law allowing states to waive mandates for coverage of pre-existing conditions would imperil coverage for the sickest Americans.

“This bill mandates that people cannot be denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions and allocates almost $140 billion in additional funding that will subsidize coverage for people with pre-existing conditions to ensure they costs are low,” Mast said. “Those claiming otherwise are the same people who said ‘if you like your doctor, you can keep you doctor,” and they’re putting partisan politics ahead of the people in our community.”

Also voting yes were John Culberson of Texas, whose metro Houston House district was carried by Clinton; Mario Diaz-Balart, whose majority Latino district in metro Miami and southwest Florida went for Trump by less than 2 points; and Ted Budd of North Carolina, whose Greensboro-area district went for Trump by 9 points.

In a statement, Diaz-Balart conceded the AHCA was “far from perfect.” But he said the House needed to act because Obamacare “is collapsing,” leaving just one insurance provider in two of the three counties he represents.

“Knowing the people I represent could very well lose their coverage … is disturbing,” he said. “It would be irresponsible for Congress not to act in order to prevent this from happening.”

Budd also conceded in a statement that “the legislative process is a human process with all the flaws that entails. The results of that process are never perfect, and this bill isn’t either.”

“What I believe it will do is significantly reduce insurance premiums in our state, and help put the individual insurance marketplace on a more sound financial footing,” he said.

Also voting yes was Pete Sessions of Texas, whose metro Dallas district was also won by Clinton. However, Sessions, who has been in the House since 1997 and won re-election by more than 50 points in 2016, is not considered vulnerable to a Democratic challenge.

All 40 of the Democrats representing districts in the South voted against the AHCA.

Florida U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen bowing out after three decades in Congress

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.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.

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.

How much can Hillary Clinton dent the South’s Republican hegemony?

Trump must beat Clinton in Florida and North Carolina, and avoid any other Southern surprises, to win

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

election-central-16(CFP) — In 2012, Republican Mitt Romney blew across the South, carrying 12 of the 14 Southern states — 10 of them by double-digit margins —  and losing another, Florida, by just a single point.

Heading into Tuesday’s election, Donald Trump’s quest for the White House may hinge on how well he can hang on to Romney’s Southern support, amid signs that Hillary Clinton is poised to do better in the region than Barack Obama did four years ago.

Pre-election polls show that both Florida, which Obama carried in 2012, and North Carolina, which he did not, are toss-ups between Clinton and Trump.

The news is better for Clinton in Virginia, where polls show her with a clear lead in a state Obama carried in both 2008 and 2012.

Together, those three states have 57 electoral votes, out of the 270 needed to win.

Florida and North Carolina are more important to Trump than to Clinton: She could lose both and still win in the Electoral College, but if he loses either of them, his route to victory is likely cut off.

A key metric in Florida will be how many Latino voters turn out and how much Clinton can benefit from Trump’s anti-immigration stance and incendiary comments about Latinos, particularly Mexicans.

About 15 percent of the Florida electorate is Latino, about 1.8 million voters, and about a third of those voters are Cuban-Americans, normally a reliably Republican group. But Trump’s support in that community — necessary for a Republican to win statewide — remains a question mark.

Much of the GOP Cuban-American political leadership in Miami has refused to endorse Trump, including U.S. Reps. Carlos Curbelo, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart. Lieutenant Governor Carlos López-Cantera has also kept his distance from Trump, although he did appear at an event in Miami with the GOP nominee back in October.

With Florida and North Carolina up for grabs, an equally intriguing question heading into election night is the degree to which Trump might be in trouble in other unexpected places in the South.

For instance, three media polls taken last week in Georgia showed that the race between Clinton and Trump in Georgia was a statistical tie. Georgia has not gone for a Democrat for president since 1992, when Clinton’s husband, Bill, won narrowly in a three-way race.

Priorities USA, a Clinton-allied Super PAC, had been airing ads in Georgia, although the Clinton campaign itself has not moved resources into the state.

Polls in mid-October also showed a closer-than-expected race in Texas, where Trump’s weakness among Latino voters seemed to be having an effect. However, more recent polling in Texas has shown Trump reestablishing a lead.

Because most Southern states are perceived to be solid Republican territory, there has been little public polling in most of them, save for Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, and Texas.

However, some national polling has shown Trump’s support weaker across the South than what Romney managed to put up four years ago. So, in an election that has seen its share of surprises, there is no way until the votes are counted to know if there might be other Southern surprises lurking in the presidential race.

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