Both Republicans and Democrats are eyeing Florida as key to picking up seats in the House. According to strategists on both sides, few states offer as many opportunities. But one has to question whether the strategy being pursued by either party is effective.
While a lot of predictions are being made about Florida’s congressional races, as usual, the conventional wisdom is superficial and wrong. There’s good news for both parties, but not along the lines of what the pundits are saying.
Republican Pick Ups? – Probable. But Not Where Initially Expected
First of all, there is a possibility for some Republican pick ups. It won’t be in the District everyone expects that it might be, FL-16. Tim Mahoney won after the Foley scandal, beating Joe Negron (who ran under Foley’s name) by just 1%. Conventional wisdom was that he’d be the easiest target in 2008.
He won’t be. Tim Mahoney was a strong candidate in his own right and, contrary to media “analysis” may have beaten Foley even without the scandal, given the climate in 2006. The only candidate who could realistically beat him this time is Joe Negron, and he’s not running.
Where Republicans can pick up is in FL-22. Ron Klein won in 2006 with only 51% of the vote against a good incumbent, but one who was loathe to campaign. Klein hasn’t caught on and most of his support comes solely from his party affiliation.
By contrast, Klein’s 2008 opponent, Lt. Col. Allen West, is a strong and affable campaigner. He also spent a year teaching high school in the district. What’s more, McCain is heavily favored over Obama in this district.
A West election has national ramifications. He brings true leadership and integrity to the House. He’s a great speaker, frank, believable and to the point. If elected, he’ll be the first African-American Republican congressman since J.C. Watts. For more on this eloquent candidate see Canada Free Press Article.
It should be noted that if West wins the seat, a real possibility, it will be because of his own leadership, not Republican strategy. But, regardless of the reason why, the fact is that West’s seat is the GOP’s best hope for a pickup, not only in Florida, but possibly in the entire Southeastern United States.
The other extremely possible GOP pick-up is, surprisingly, FL-23. This too, is thanks to local strategy, not the national leadership. The NRCC has all but written off this race to long time incumbent Alcee Hastings, a friendly politician whose career hasn’t been particularly effective. The Republican candidate, the brilliant Dr. Marion Thorpe, is not someone who should be written off easily. In fact, from this bird’s eye view, he’s well on his way to pulling off a huge upset.
Dr. Thorpe’s election would also have national ramifications. He has excellent common sense solutions to affordable healthcare without nationalizing it. Like West, he’s a free market republican with real solutions that benefit the middle class. If elected, together with West, he’d be a strong voice for minority Republicans and for the African-American community.
Healthcare is a special area of expertise for Thorpe, having served as Chief Medical Officer of Florida’s Agency of Health Care Administration, as Chairman of a Medicaid reform coalition and in several other top medical planning positions. Moreover, he’s an excellent tactician with a plan to win. If anyone can pull an upset, he can. And he’s laid the groundwork to do so.
Democratic Pick Ups? – Also Probable. But, Again, Not Where Initially Expected
Targeting former State House Speaker, now Congressman Tom Feeney’s seat is a joke, even while FL- 24 is being touted as the key district Democrats are focusing on. It’s absurd and neither Suzanne Kosmas, the likely challenger, nor Clint Curtis, his past and possibly future opponent, can make a dent in his support.
Likewise, FL-9, Gus Bilirakis’ long history of family ties, and the overall GOP leanings of the district, do not make it worth a serious challenge for Democrats. They’d come up on the short end, no matter what their plan.
Democratic strategists were thought to place their greatest hopes on FL-13. They shouldn’t and it’s a huge mistake. The overall district leans Republican by a significant enough margin. If Democrats didn’t win in their best year, 2006, when both candidates were relative fresh faces, they won’t after Christine Jennings, Rep. Vern Buchanan’s 2006 and designated 2008 opponent, pushed so hard for a recount and to overturn the results. Her challenges went on for far too long to be well received and Buchanan has a significant advantage.
Two races that were mentioned as being competitive at some point in this race aren’t. Rep. Dave Weldon in FL-15 is so safe that Democrats have all but stopped mentioning it. A few switched their focus to Lincoln Diaz Balart in FL-25, and they’re just as sure to end up empty handed there as well. And the nonsensical ramblings of challenging Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart should be treated as seriously as a Republican challenge to Rep. Charlie Rangel or Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Chances are that the only reason they’re being mentioned is to excite some of the Democratic Party base and siphon off some Republican ad dollars.
Of all the really competitive races, one that strategists have paid less attention to than Vern Buchanan and Feeney is the one that actually holds the most promise for them; FL-10. Congressman Bill Young, a congenial man, is in his 38th year in Congress. His problem is that, in recent years, he has amassed more earmarks to his credit than any other Republican House member (though not nearly as many as John Murtha). This makes him highly beatable in the current atmosphere that rightly rewards fiscal prudence, but only if Democrats field a candidate who represents fiscal responsibility and change.
Unfortunately for Young, they have such a candidate in Max Linn, a highly respected financial planner and Founding President of Florida Citizens for Term Limits. Linn’s efforts were directly responsible for the current limits on Florida state representatives and senators. His focus is economic competence and he has the background to compete strongly in this area.
Linn is also a tough and organized campaigner who’s showing tremendous competence and strategy in this campaign. He’s learned well from past mistakes, the hallmark of most successful candidates, and is now running such a highly effective campaign that an increasing number of people are taking notice.
Working in Young’s favor, Linn has two weak challengers, including the 2006 congressional nominee, Samm Simpson, who lost to Young by almost 2 to 1 in the Democratic year 2006. The other challenger is Bob Hackworth, the mayor of Dunedin, a small city that is not well known in most parts of the district. If either of these candidates gets the nomination, Young is safe. If Linn wins, Democrats will have a key advantage in a candidate who has shown leadership and an understanding of the economy. In fact, if Linn does win the nomination, FL-10 becomes the most likely Democratic pick-up in the entire Southeastern United States.
Talk of a huge electoral shift in the House is (again, contrary to conventional “wisdom”) largely a pipedream. National sentiment rarely translates into votes on the Congressional level. Even the “tidal wave” of 2006 saw a shift in only 30 seats. Whichever seats withstood those winds are more than likely to withstand any after-ripples in ’08 and the winds have yet to change so significantly as to cause a serious reverse ripple. But what has been effective is running competent and highly qualified candidates in specific districts.
Both parties also need to stick to highlighting their best, an offensive strategy. Getting bogged down in defense will harm any party that chooses to take that route.
Voters want quality. The party that gives them this is poised to mount a good campaign in districts where such quality is made available. This makes FL-22, 23 and 10 the Florida contests to watch.
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