Can Dems Deliver on Recruiting for Legislature

Under The Hood

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY JUN 23, 2018

With candidate qualification over and ballots largely set for this fall, you see evidence Democrats on the Gulf Coast and throughout Florida remain more optimistic and organized than they have been in years. Will that translate into success for the blue team here and elsewhere? Well, the particular make-up of jurisdictions still presents more challenges than opportunities for a party that’s been out of power for decades at the state and local level.

Still, Democrats certainly took a major step toward relevance with solid recruitment. This year, there’s no part of the state where Democrats will skip state legislative races. At least one Democrat filed for all 22 state Senate seats up for grabs this year. Republicans in contrast left five districts uncontested. That’s similar to the organization we see regarding Florida’s Congressional competitions.

The difference in party participation in the other state chamber is less stark. Democrats this year won’t run a candidate in 12 of 120 state House races this year, but Republicans will sit out contests in 31 districts. Of course, gerrymandering of more compact House districts in Florida means a lower percentage of districts will be competitive.

But here, most Gulf Coast district will see a contest in November 2018. Only one district, Rep. Wengay “Newt” Newton’s heavily Democratic District 70, will see a winner crowned after the August Democratic primary. In every other House and Senate district, qualified Democrat and Republican candidates run with the full-throated support of their party. As it happens, not a single Republican incumbent will run for their old state legislative seat. Does that mean a Democratic wave this November could remake political representation here? Not so fast. It’s higher ambitions and term limits opening local seats, not fear of defeat.

Certainly, Democratic Rep. Margaret Good’s nationally celebrated victory in a special District 72 election in February inspired many candidates to roll the dice this year. Yet, a look at the particular contests on the Gulf Coast shows Good, who will most likely face former Rep. Ray Pilon in November, may be the only district genuinely in play. Remember, Good is still in a district Donald Trump won by 4.6 percent in 2016. And the president carried every other district here by double digits.

Will Robinson, the Republican running to succeed retiring Rep. Jim Boyd’s District 71, faces Democrat Tracy Pratt in a jurisdiction Trump won by 11.3 percent. State Rep. Joe Gruters looks for a promotion to senator in District 23, where Trump won by 14.4 percent, so he holds a significant edge over Democrat Faith Babis. Republicans in Districts 73 and 74 may see real battles in the primary, but those districts went to Trump by more than 20 points. Similarly, both Sarasota and Manatee tend to deliver victories to Republican candidates running countywide.

Yet Good's 7.4-percent victory in February showed that a Trump district in 2016 isn’t necessarily happy with Republican control today. I don’t expect any race to go as solidly red in November 2018 as they went in November 2016. And based on candidate qualification and fundraising thus far, Democrats don’t plan to cede any local seat.

Jacob Ogles is contributing senior editor of SRQ Media Group.

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