Buchanan Seems Safe; Could Resentment Still Lift Hyde?

Under The Hood

There’s still reason to believe the hottest political contest in the region next year will be a Republican primary for Congress, where conservative activist Martin Hyde is challenging long-time Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota. But fundraising figures made available this week show Hyde needs to do much more to become competitive.

Despite holding a well-attended gathering at his home in June and cultivating a social media following, Hyde wrapped his first fundraising quarter with around $4,000 raised from two sources besides himself. He also put $30,000 in the race, showing a willingness to put his own skin in the game. After some serious startup costs, he wrapped the quarter with just over $6,000 in cash.

But in comparison, Rep. Vern Buchanan raised almost $600,000 in the three-month quarter, and he already had more than $330,000 in the bank. His team says he’s pulled in $1.1 million in fresh contributions for his reelection since winning an eighth term in November. He issued a statement this weekend that he was “humbled” by the support. His advisors, meanwhile, reminded that the last time a Republican challenged Buchanan in a primary, now-Manatee County Commissioner James Satcher’s little noticed bid in 2016, Buchanan won by more than 60 percentage points.

Toss in that Hyde has lost two Sarasota City Commission races and once earned national attention for shouting at Hispanic kids in town to “cut the grass” and it’s easy to see this contest becoming marginal.

Indeed, it may.

So why pay attention? The one thing I can’t shake is the similarities in political landscape this year to that in 2010, when the Tea Party became a political force. Two years after a Democratic president won election, conservatives delivered a midterm backlash for the record books.

The greatest consequence of that year came with Republicans retaking the House, putting Buchanan in the majority for the first time since his 2006 election. In many ways, the movement was good news. But don’t forget the conservative uprising came with a strong anti-establishment bent. It allowed then-relative unknown Marco Rubio to drive a sitting Republican Governor out of the party during an open Senate race that year. Other establishment-loved incumbents across the country also lost to populist challengers.

Could that happen this year? It would need to do so in spectacular, almost exaggerated fashion for Hyde to win. But one can imagine an environment where the fact Buchanan held two fundraisers at his home this year headlined by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, while lucrative, becomes political kryptonite. Depending on the flavor of the pushback, one could even see some of Hyde’s strong negatives turned into positives. We’ve seen before when individuals criticized for racist statements suddenly end up repackaged as victims of woke sensitivity.

One would hope civically responsible votes like certifying Joe Biden’s legitimate victory last November won’t be used against Buchanan. But play tape of the crowd chanting “Trump won” at a rally here last week to find evidence a primary electorate may hold enough resentment of the sitting president that honoring election results becomes an albatross.

Hyde believes he can beat Buchanan by winning just north of 40,000 votes. That 2016 primary with Satcher seems to support that, as just over 66,000 voted in that intraparty contest. Still, the number feels shy to me. Winning means organizing a tremendous get-out-the-vote effort, one Buchanan absolutely has the resourced to respond to in kind. This could be a 100,000-vote race with less than half the Republicans in the district voting.

Hyde has limited time to built up the war chest he needs. And this may become moot if the Legislature simply draws Hyde into Greg Steube’s district and out of Buchanan’s; I promise the RINO-hunting electorate will not work on a Fox News spitfire incumbent like Steube, and I’m not sure Hyde can build anything if he leaves the district and his existing Sarasota supporters behind to move to Manatee.

But it's a race worth taking seriously. Buchanan’s people have their eye on Hyde. If I was them, I wouldn’t turn their attention away too soon.

Jacob Ogles is contributing senior editor for SRQ MEDIA.

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