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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.

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.

Across the South, anomalous House districts few and far between

Only eight House districts in the South had different presidential and congressional winners in 2012, leaving few targets for either party in 2014.

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

(CFP) — In a few little corners of the South, Democrats sit in congressional seats from districts that Mitt Romney carried in 2012. There are also seats – even fewer in number — where Republicans represent districts Barack Obama won

These anomalous districts – districts that behave one way in the presidential vote but the opposite way when it comes to picking a congressman – are, as you might expect, top targets for both parties in 2014.

But for Democrats hoping to make inroads on Republican hegemony in the South, the bad news is that across the entire region, there are only eight such seats — and five of those are seats Democrats must defend.

First, let’s take a look at the five seats occupied by Democrats that Mitt Romney carried in 2012:

north-carolina mugNorth Carolina 7 – Veteran Democratic Rep. Mike McIntyre held on to this seat by his fingernails in 2012, winning by a mere 650 votes over former Republican State Sen. David Rouzer. In this district, which takes in the southeast corner of the state including areas near Fayetteville and Wilmington, Romney clobbered Obama by 19 percentage points.

McIntyre is at the top of the Republicans’ target list. Not only does McIntyre face a rematch with Rouzer, he is also facing a primary challenger, New Hanover County Commissioner Jonathan Barfield, who thinks McIntyre hasn’t been supportive enough of the president.

McIntyre is white; Barfield is black. Overall, the district is 30 percent black, which means the black vote could tread close to a majority in a Democratic primary.

west-virginia mugWest Virginia 3 – Another longtime Democratic officer holder, Rep. Nick Rahall, carried 54 percent in here in 2012, at the same time Romney was crushing Obama by 32 percentage points in this district, which takes in the southern third of the state.

Rahall is hoping the power of incumbency can once again turn back a challenge from Republican former State Del. Rick Snuffer, whom he has beaten twice before.

georgia mugGeorgia 12 – Democratic Rep. John Barrow won a healthy 54 percent in this district in 2012, where Romney topped Obama by 11 percentage points. On paper, this should be a solid GOP district. But Georgia Republicans, to their great frustration, have not been able to defeat Barrow in five tries, even after gerrymandering his hometown of Athens out of the district.

Barrow was recruited by national Democrats to run for Georgia’s open U.S. Senate seat, but he opted for another House run instead. On the Republican side, an already contentious primary is shaping up between John Stone, the former chief of staff to Rep. John Carter of Texas, and Augusta businessman Rick Allen. Barrow beat Stone by 30 points in 2008.

florida mugFlorida 18 – Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy narrowly ousted Tea Party favorite Allen West in 2012 in this district, which takes in parts of Martin and St. Lucie counties on Florida’s Treasure Coast. West went down even though Romney carried the district with 52 percent of the vote.

Perhaps the best news for Murphy, a top GOP target in 2014, is that West declined a rematch. A smorgasbord of Republican officeholders and activists are considering this race, with no clear frontrunner so far on the GOP side.

texas mugTexas 23 – In this majority Latino district that sprawls across the desert from El Paso to San Antonio, Democratic Rep. Pete Gallego ousted Republican Rep. Francisco “Quico” Conseco by a narrow margin in 2012.

Republicans hope to get this district back, and Conseco is considering a rematch. However, the former congressman would have to get past a Republican primary opponent, Dr. Robert Lowry, a Ron Paul acolyte.

Now, let’s take a look at the three districts where Republicans hold seats that Obama carried in 2012:

virginia mugVirginia 2 – Republican Rep. Scott Rigell easily kept this seat in 2012 with 54 percent of the vote, even though Obama narrowly bested Romney here. While Rigell is a top Democratic target in 2014, this is a GOP-leaning district where Obama overperformed in 2012, due to the fact that 22 percent of the electorate in the 2nd District is black.

Earlier this year, Rigell was the target of an ad campaign from the National Association for Gun Rights, which hit the congressman for sponsoring legislation that would increase penalties for people who illegally purchase guns and transport them across state lines. Rigell, a lifetime member of the NRA, called the group’s charges “laughable.”

Despite that salvo, Rigell hasn’t faced any serious trouble from the right, and, so far, Democrats have struggled to come up with a top-tier candidate to take him on.

florida mugFlorida 13 – When Bill Young came to Congress, bell bottoms were in and Nixon was still The One. After 22 terms, he’s the longest serving Republican in the House, and there has been speculation that the octagenarian might retire instead of seeking re-election in 2014.

If he does, this district, which includes parts of St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Dunedin in the Tampa Bay area, would be a prime opportunity for Democrats. Obama narrowly carried the district in 2012, even as Young was easily swatting away his latest Democratic challenger, St. Petersburg attorney Jessica Ehrlich, who is running again in 2014.

Florida 27 – In 2012, Obama carried this district, which was something of a surprise given that it includes heavily Cuban-American areas of Miami and Hialeah, which are traditionally Republican turf. But Obama clearly overperformed here in what has to be considered a safe district for Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who is seeking her 11th term in 2014.

Ros-Lehtinen, the first Latina and the longest serving Republican woman in the House, carried 60 percent of the vote here in 2012.

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