Considering that it’s a state that Gore won (in my book), and that John “The Haunted Tree” Kerry lost by 5 points, Florida’s lopsided congressional delegation of 16 Republicans and 9 Democrats sticks out like a sore thumb on the U.S. electoral map. (Of course, it was even worse before the victories of Tim Mahoney in FL-16 and Ron Klein in FL-22 last year, at a brutal margin of 18R-7D.) Chalk it up to tenaciously shrewd gerrymandering by the Florida state legislature. Five of Florida’s House Democrats are packed in districts that delivered over 65% of their votes to Kerry in 2004, one (FL-11) gave Kerry 58%, one is in marginally Democratic turf (Klein), and two Blue Doggies hold districts that lean GOP on the Presidential level as of late (Allen Boyd and Mahoney, whose districts both delivered 54% their vote to Bush in 2004). Florida’s Congressional Republicans, on the other hand, have set up shop in a plethora of districts specially created for them–areas that Bush won by margins between 10 and 20 points (of which there are 11).
But as Democrats have proven themselves more adept at holding red turf than Republicans have been at retaining seats in blue districts (Democrats currently hold 62 House districts that Bush won in 2004, while Republicans hold a scant eight that voted for Kerry), so too has their zeal for stepping up the pressure against incumbents in Republican-leading districts. According to the AP, DCCC chair Chris Van Hollen has lined up five Republican seats for aggressive challenges in 2008:
For Democrats, the targets are Reps. Vern Buchanan, Ric Keller, Dave Weldon, Tom Feeney and C.W. “Bill” Young.
Here’s the rationale for each:
– Buchanan barely won his District 13 seat in the Sarasota area after spending more than $5 million of his own money on the race. He won by 369 votes. His opponent, Christine Jennings, believes touch-screen voting machines lost thousands of ballots and that she would have won if all votes had been counted.
– Keller promised to leave office after eight years, then decided after the last election to break his vow. He’ll have to use resources in a primary before facing a Democratic opponent. Democrats see signs the District 8 seat that includes the Orlando area could favor one of their candidates, and they’ll make a case that Keller’s voting record doesn’t reflect the interests of his constituents.
– Weldon underperformed at the polls last year when he was re-elected in District 15, which represents the Atlantic coast from Vero Beach north to Cape Canaveral. He was re-elected with 56 percent of the vote, but against a weak Democratic candidate who spent far less money. A stronger, better financed candidate could be a challenge.
– Feeney’s District 24, which stretches from the area north and east of Orlando to Brevard and Volusia counties’ coastline, would normally be considered safely his. But Feeney’s golf trip to Scotland with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff could taint the congressman as Democrats continue to make ethics an issue in 2008.
– Young’s District 10 seat, which represents Pinellas County, is slightly Republican, but trends show the large independent voting bloc favors Democratic candidates. Young also hasn’t been seriously tested in years.
Democrats have already lined up a few ambitious challengers for these districts. Keller, who won re-election by an underwhelming 53-46 margin against Democrat Charlie Stuart (a DCCC pick whose ability to compete monetarily in the general election was hampered by a competitive primary), will square off either with prosecutor Mike Smith or Sierra Club activist Corbett Kroehler. But first Keller (who’s breaking his term limit pledge by running again), will have to get through a primary with conservative radio host and attorney Todd Long. Long caught Keller somewhat off-guard during the first quarter, where he outraised the incumbent by a $40k to $27k margin.
In FL-15, Democrats have recruited Paul Rancatore, a Lt. Col. in the Air Force Reserves and the current “Director for Commercialization of Human Space Flight in the National Security and Space Office” at the Pentagon (that’s a mouthful). In FL-13, Christine Jennings never ended her campaign against Vern Buchanan, of course, and she’s been raising money at a fast clip to pay for her legal expenses. Despite her narrow “loss” last year, her race will be as tough to win as the rest of these, given some of Buchanan’s cautious votes in the House.
But it’s perhaps Florida’s 10th district that could be the most exciting of the five. Unlike the rest of Florida’s Republican delegation, Bill Young holds a true toss-up seat, with a PVI of D+1.1. Gore won this area by two points, and Kerry lost it by the same margin. On paper, Young would appear formidable: he’s a 36-year incumbent, and he hasn’t won a re-election with less than 65% of the vote in ages. But on the other hand: Democrats haven’t really tested his hand. And given his totally irresponsible handling of the Walter Reed scandal, there’s clearly some rust to be punctured here. Democrats have yet to line up a strong challenger to either him or the Abramoff-loving Tom Feeney (FL-24), and these will be major tests of Van Hollen’s recruiting prowess.
One final note about the article:
Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, expressed confidence that the party wouldn’t repeat its showing in 2006. He said Mahoney never would have won if it hadn’t been for Foley’s scandal and that Republicans perform better in Florida during presidential elections.
“All these districts will perform more like they normally do in ’08 than they did in ’06. That’s what presidential elections do. The Democrats had their best shot at a lot of these folks in 2006 and either didn’t make it or didn’t pull the trigger. I don’t think they’ll get a second opportunity,” Cole said. “We’re back to normal politics.”
With Iraq spiraling out of control, it’ll never be “normal politics”, Tom. You should be ashamed of yourself.