By Hastings Wyman –
With very few Southern US House seats up for grabs next year, especially Democratic-held districts that could flip to the GOP, more attention than usual is likely to be focused on Florida’s 18th District (Palm Beach, etc.). Incumbent Patrick Murphy (D) is running for the US Senate, leaving an open seat in a highly competitive district. Murphy was reelected with 60% last year, but at the same time, Mitt Romney got 52% to President Obama’s 48%. Indeed, next year’s congressional race could turn on whether or not there is a Floridian on the Republicans’ national ticket. Says one political consultant (R), “the seat is one we should win.”
But the competitive nature of the district is underscored by the large number of candidates in both parties who have announced, or may do so soon enough. Since there is no runoff in Florida primaries, the candidate with the highest number of votes will the nominee of each party, which – in multi-candidates contests – could lead to results that may or may not serve the interest of the party.
Given that the qualifying period for US House candidates in Florida is May 2 to May 6, 2016, some eleven months away, choosing frontrunners at this point is very premature. Nevertheless, here is information on the backgrounds of the six candidates who have announced, plus the names of potential contenders.
On the Democratic side, three candidates have announced. The most prominent are two Palm Beach County Commissioners, Melissa McKinlay and Priscilla Taylor.
McKinlay was elected to the county commission in 2014. She is well-connected politically and is a friend of state Sen. Jack Latvala, an influential lawmaker, albeit a Republican. She is likely to appeal to moderates in both parties.
Taylor served in the state House of Representatives from 2004 till 2010, when she was term-limited. In the House, she served as Democratic Whip. She then was elected to the county commission and at one point served as chairman. She will probably be the liberal favorite in the Democratic Primary. Taylor is African-American, as is 12% of the district.
Juan Xuna is an engineer and former teacher who ran for congress as an independent in 2002, but lost.
In addition, at least two more Democrats are getting attention as potential candidates, state Sen. Joe Abruzzo, who has a pro-business record; and St. Lucie County Commissioner Chris Dzadovsky.
The Republican contest may well compare with the GOP’s presidential field in the number of aspirants that end up in the primary. Three Republicans have officially entered the race, but at least seven others are waiting in the wings.
The announced Republican candidates are Carl Domino, Ted Mowery and Rebecca Negron.
Domino, 71, is a former state Representative who lost a 2014 challenge to Murphy by some 20 points. Nevertheless, if there’s a very large Republican field, Domino’s name ID from previous campaigns could put him in first place. A successful financial services executive, he is personally wealthy and can fund most of his campaign.
Mowery is a second-term St. Lucie County Commissioner who launched his campaign with a video declaring that it “would be an honor” to serve his community in Congress, using his business and economic development to fight for fiscal conservatism.
Negron is on the Martin County school board and may be “the sleeper” in the race. Negron is married to state Sen. Joe Negron (R), a legislative powerhouse who is running for state Senate president. “Having a name like Negron is very good in the district,” says a knowledgeable source.
The potential Republican contenders, and the list may not be complete, include Dan Bongino, a former Secret Service agent who ran a strong congressional race in Maryland last year, with support from former US Rep. Allen West (R-FL); US Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) staffer Bill Castle, who has strong family ties to the district; state Rep. Gayle Harrell, who lost a congressional primary, but won reelection to the state House and would be “a very strong candidate,” says SPR’s source; Brian Mast, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan and double-amputee, as well as a former volunteer with the Israeli Defense Forces; Fox News commentator Noelle Nikpour; Doug Smith, whose membership on the Martin County board of commissioners would provide a strong foundation for a campaign; and Hobe Sound businessman Gary Uber.