Will Blue Wave Crash Gulf Coast

Politics

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY APR 14, 2018

If you trust social media and the major headlines, #Blue Wave seems predetermined in the 2018 mid-terms nationwide. Look no further than this week’s announcement Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan won’t even seek re-election. Locally, ballots in Sarasota and Manatee counties will host the names of more qualified Democrats running for office than in half a century. But what exactly can Team Donkey expect? After all, this coastal community knows how to deal with changing tides better than most.

Looking at the universe of special elections held throughout the country in 2018 for legislative seats, Democrats have outperformed almost everywhere, getting an average of 22 percent more of the vote in these races than Democrat Hillary Clinton won in the same districts against Republican Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. Some races earn national attention, like Sarasota Democrat Margaret Good’s recent victory in a state House district Trump won by 5 points.

The dynamics of a November election will be different, every race a different puzzle. Democrats can’t, for instance,  count on Good’s re-election effort to draw support from nationwide donors making a statement in an isolated February race when they now have 435 U.S. House seats to worry about.

Handicapping things, I believe Democrats will be in solid shape in any district Trump won by 5 percent or less. Any district Trump won by 10 could be flipped with the right resources and qualifications. I’ll go on a limb and say any jurisdiction Trump won by 15 could be made competitive with the perfect candidate, a boatload of money and a freighter of luck.

I’ve compiled data from MCI Maps, DailyKos and Supervisor of Elections offices to show how Trump performed here. You can see why Democrats pounced at state House 72—Trump performed worse there than any state House jurisdiction in Southwest Florida sans Democrat Newt Newton’s deep blue District 70. I expect former Rep. Ray Pilon will make a tougher Republican opponent than neophyte James Buchanan did in February, but the district should be one where Democrats perform well in the current political environment.

The next most furtive ground seems to be U.S. House District 16, held by Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota. But it will still be a huge challenge. Trump won here by just over 10 percent, and Buchanan routinely outperforms statewide Republicans. That said, a number of Democrats filed, and one boasts serious bank. David Shapiro raised $401,723 in the first quarter of 2018, on the top of $250,128 the prior quarter. He’s still playing catch-up—Buchanan raised $470,000 in Q1 and sits on $2.5 million cash on hand—but it’s clear this race will be closely watched, even if it requires a misstep by Buchanan to truly put the district in play.

State Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, gets termed out in District 71 this year, and Republican Will Robinson and Democrat Tracy Pratt, both attorneys, fight in a seat that should stay red but could get the blue team hoping.

U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney’s retirement from the most pro-Trump district on the Gulf Coast, District 17, means little for Democrats in D.C., but creates an interesting dynamic in Sarasota area legislative races. State Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, and state Rep. Julio Gonzalez, R-Venice, want Rooney’s seat, and state Rep. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, wants Steube’s Senate seat, so most districts here will be open in the fall.

Gruters’ District 73 draws qualified Republicans Manatee Commissioner Vanessa Baugh and Sarasota attorney Tommy Gregory, and professor Liv Coleman runs as a Democrat in this longshot race. There’s even three Democrats fighting in to fill Gonzalez’s spot in deep-red District 74. But the best that can be said for Dems is neither race includes an incumbent.

Gruters feels comfortable running in Senate District 23, which by my math is barely within reach for Democrats in the event of a blue tidal wave, but Democrat and disabled advocate Olivia Babis is ready if that happens.

Countywide races in Sarasota may be more hopeful for Democrats, as the county still holds many Democratic bastions. But whether a blue tide saturates as far down the ballot as county commission or the nonpartisan-but-pretty-partisan school board races is anyone’s guess.

Jacob Ogles is contributing senior editor for SRQ Media Group.

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