By Hastings Wyman –
Democrats have targeted 79 GOP congressional seats nationwide for 2018, relying on polls showing President Donald Trump’s low approval ratings. In addition, a recent Quinnipiac Poll found only 21% of respondents nationwide approved of the GOP’s “American Health Care Act.” Healthcare is a particular concern in Florida, with its high population of elderly voters. In emails attacking likely targets in Florida, the DCCC has been concentrating their attacks on Republican targets by citing their votes in the House for the GOP healthcare bill. While Republicans are encouraged by their victories in four special congressional elections this year, Democrats take heart because the Republican percentage of the vote in these four contests declined drastically over the GOP’s 2016 share.
The Democrats’ expansion to five districts in Florida gets a mixed review from political insiders. A GOP operative says, “I think that given the uncertainty of how things are under Trump,” expanding the number of targets makes sense, “but there’s really no evidence on the ground that anything is going on.”
Says Barney Bishop, a Tallahassee-based political analyst, the expansion “is a smart move by Democrats, although I don’t believe it’s going to change the makeup of our delegation, except for Ileana’s seat.”
Moreover, it’s awfully early to be making predictions about elections still almost a year-and-a-half away. Nevertheless, past performances, fundraising potential and the assessments of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) all make for early stirrings in next year’s crucial US House elections, which will either give Trump a Democratic House to deal with, or help him for 2020 by continuing GOP control of both the Senate and House.
Here are the districts that are, at this point, Democratic targets.
6th District (Jacksonville, etc.): Ron DeSantis, 38, is in his third term. In 2016, he announced he would run for the then-open US Senate seat in and was endorsed by the Club for Growth. He withdrew when Marco Rubio decided to seek reelection. DeSantis was subsequently reelected to his House seat with 57% of the vote. Trump also carried the district with 57%. In the 1st Qtr, DeSantis raised an unimpressive $14,000, evidence that he did not plan a gubernatorial run in 2018, which would leave an open congressional seat. However, a wealthy DeSantis supporter has contributed $500,000 to a committee that supports him. That would be just a start. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, an announced candidate for governor, already has $10 million on hand.
18th District (Palm Beach, etc.): Freshman Brian Mast is on the DCCC’s target list, with major attacks based on his support for the GOP healthcare plan. “I don’t think he’s vulnerable,” says a Republican operative. Moreover, there’s evidence to back up his claim. Mast won last year by 11 points and Trump carried the district by 20 points. Moreover, in the 1st Quarter of this year, he raised $429,000.
25th District (western suburbs of Miami): Mario Diaz-Balart, in his 14th year in Congress, was reelected last year with 62% to 37% for his Democratic opponent. Trump, however, barely carried the district, 50% to Clinton’s 48%. The DCCC has targeted Diaz-Balaart, but he won’t lose, “not in a million years,” says a GOPer.
26th District (Miami-Dade, etc.): Second-term US Rep. Carlos Curbelo represents a district favorable to Democrats, but he won with a 12-point margin last year, while Hillary Clinton was carrying the district by 16 points. Curbelo is gearing up for a battle: He raised $614,000 in the 1st Quarter, with $605,000 cash on hand.
27th District (Miami-Dade County): Ileana Ros-Lentinen, a 28-year House veteran, was reelected with a 10-point margin last year, but the district gave Clinton a 20-point margin over Trump. “Ileana has kept it in Republican hands,” says Bishop, but without her, it’s leaning Democratic.
In Bishop’s view, “Two good Democratic candidates and two good Republicans are running for Ileana’s seat.” The strong Democrats are state Rep. David Richardson, the first openly gay state legislator in Florida and a CPA. And state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a graduate of Brown and Harvard Law School. “He was an outspoken member of the Senate in one term,” says Bishop. “Both have fundraising potential. Rodriguez probably is better at fundraising. I’d give the edge to Rodriguez.”
There are three other Democrats in the race: Scott Furhman, who lost to Ros-Lehtinen last year; Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez; and University of Miami academic adviser Michael Hepburn. There is no runoff. Whoever comes in first wins.
The two strong Republican candidates are Miami-Dade County Commissioner Bruno Berreiro, who was elected to the state House in 1992 and to the Commission in 1998. “Berreiro is very popular,” says Bishop. “He has a lot of fundraising ability.”
Another contender is Raquel Regulardo, a former school board member. A moderate in the Ros-Lehtinen mold, she ran for mayor in 2016, but lost. She is the daughter of a former Miami-Dade mayor.
Bishop notes that “The Cuban policy that Trump announced is liked by older Cubans, but not so much by younger Cuban voters. Older Cubans like what Trump has done.”
There are two districts where Republicans believe they have a good shot at defeating Democratic incumbents.
7th District (Orlando, etc.): Freshman Stephanie Murphy (D) defeated John Mica last year with 51% of the vote. She is the first Vietnamese-American woman elected to Congress. “Republicans can win back this district,” says a GOP source. “It’s very competitive.” However, Clinton carried it by 7 points last year. Murphy raised $286,000 in the 1st Quarter.
13th District (St. Petersburg, etc.): Challenger Charlie Crist got 52% last year to incumbent David Jolly’s (R) 48%. Crist raised $720,000 in the 1st Quarter, one of the highest totals in the nation, and an additional $550,000 in the 2nd Quarter, according to Florida Politics, leaving him with a hefty $1.1 million on hand. He has been rumored as a candidate for governor next year, but there’s little evidence that he will make it official. Rumors suggest Jolly may run for his seat again; he’s making lots of anti-Trump statements, which may or may not be wise in this district, which Clinton carried, but by a narrow 49% to 46%. But as of the 1st Quarter, Jolly had $6,000 left over from his 2016 race and has raised no funds since. In any case, the GOP is likely to mount a serious effort here, especially if Trump’s approval rating should improve, which may or may not happen.