Democrats Show Up to Play in House

Under The Hood


Showing up remains the first step to victory. When the deadline passed last week for Congressional candidates to qualify, it became abundantly clear which political party in Florida had taken the necessary steps to win, and it’s not the one known for stellar organization in the Sunshine State.

Democrats in the 2018 election cycle will field candidates in all 27 Congressional districts in the state of Florida. Meanwhile, five of 11 seats now held by Democrats will go uncontested by Republican this November. Two Democrats—U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, and Lois Frankel, D-Boca Raton—just won re-election without opposition. Based on the political climate today, you can easily see Democrats win a majority of Florida’s U.S. House races for the first time since 1988.

Now, many seats Republicans must defend this fall remain in deep red territory and the Democratic candidates serve, often unknowingly, as sacrificial lambs. To use a local example, I’m not sure who will win either the Republican or Democratic primaries in the open District 17 race, but the Republican nominee will enter the general election as the overwhelming favorite. Yet the blue team still benefits overall by having a presence here. Every voter April Freeman or Bill Pollard inspires to vote on Nov. 6 likely also votes to re-elect U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. Meanwhile, no such Republican counterpart will wander Castor’s deep blue district helping run up numbers for Gov. Rick Scott’s challenge to Nelson, and Castor’s got nothing but time to spend getting other Democrats elected.

That’s why I can’t get excited for this Senate race, even with Scott leading a poll released by Florida Atlantic University this week. I can’t get past the fact Nelson historically over-performs Dems statewide while Scott underperforms his GOP colleagues, even in Republican years (which this is not).

It’s not just that Republicans ceded nearly a fifth of Florida to Democrats this year. Candidates on the left seem stronger than ever. U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, faces a better-funded and opponent more serious than he’s faced since he won his first term in 2006 in a nail-biter against Christine Jennings. David Shapiro boasts half a million in cash on hand, and while that’s just a fifth of Buchanan’s $2.5 million warchest, this won’t be one of those cycles where the incumbent sits on his money and lets his good name carry him to re-election.

Other incumbents seem in serious trouble. U.S. Rep Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami, barely won two years ago in a district where Donald Trump lost badly. U.S. Reps. Brian Mast, R-Port St. Lucie, and Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Doral, represent areas where Trump won by small to marginal amounts. Then you have U.S. Reps. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, who chose not to seek re-election. Ros-Lehtinen’s district honestly seems flipped already, with former Clinton Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala leading the field.

Meanwhile, two Democrats—U.S. Reps. Charlie Crist, D-Tampa, and Stephanie Murphy, D-Orlando—would normally need to brace for big fights in November. Like Buchanan, they likely can’t hold back on re-election efforts this year. But national handicapper Larry Sabato moved both Dem incumbents into his Likely Democratic column (as opposed to Lean Democratic or Toss-up). Cook Political Report lists Murphy in the same place, and leaves Crist’s district off its Competitive Races list completely. Both list Buchanan’s race as Likely Republican.

It’s increasingly obvious Democrats will be the ones with more resources and less places to waste them this year. At least for now, Democrats in Florida seem better positioned for November than any point in the last 30 years.

Jacob Ogles is senior contributing editor for SRQ Media Group.

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