Sabatos Crystal Ball

Florida Races

House Outlook for 2008

Will the GOP Swing the Pendulum Back?

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Florida (08)

Outlook: Leans Democratic


November 18, 2008 Update:

Democrat and attorney Alan Grayson defeated Republican Ric Keller by 4 percentage points to turn the Republican stronghold blue. Keller’s base had eroded due to his broken promise of serving only four terms and his vote against the Iraq surge.


Background

When the primary election results were announced in late August, political pundits nationwide had to throw out their previous analysis and start from scratch. With Republican Rep. Ric Keller pulling off a slim, six percent margin of victory over an unknown candidate who ran no television ads, he now looks vulnerable. By contrast, Democrat Alan Grayson pulled off a larger than expected victory, catapulting Democratic hopes sky-high.

Adding to the frenzy was Grayson’s internal polling which showed him leading Keller 44-40. While the district went for Bush by a 10 percent margin in 2004, the poll also showed the White House race as a dead heat. Either the poll is dead wrong or Keller’s re-election may be dead in the water.

Although the fundraising has been about even thus far, Grayson’s money has come almost entirely out of his own pocket. With these new developments, Grayson is likely to get some monetary assistance. In fact, the DCCC has already announced that they are adding Grayson to their ‘Red to Blue’ list of targeted races.

When one steps back for a moment and takes a deep breath, it is clear that this race is still Keller’s to lose. Still, he’ll have to run a vastly different campaign in the general election than he did in the primary if he hopes to keep his seat.

Candidates

Ric Keller (I) – Republican – current Congressman
Website

Alan Grayson – Democrat – lawyer and 2006 candidate
Website

Florida (13)

Outlook: Likely Republican


November 18, 2008 Update:

Unlike 2006, which saw two mandatory recounts and a 369 vote margin, this year’s election was far from close. Republican incumbent Vern Buchanan crushed his opponent Christine Jennings by 17 percentage points to clinch a second term in the district.

September 16, 2008 Update:

It’s been a rough couple of months for Representative Vern Buchanan, but at least he can take heart in one thing: his opponent is Christine Jennings. Buchanan’s troubles started when several former employees claimed that Buchanan forced them to contribute to Republican candidates. A FEC complaint was filed, and other allegations of shady business practices surfaced as well, keeping the story alive for nearly a month.

For most freshmen in swing districts, such a bad news cycle would jeopardize the incumbent’s reelection chances. Not so for Buchanan. Through it all, he has maintained an eighteen point polling lead (48-30) over Jennings, whose negatives are even higher than the incumbent’s! As if Jennings needed another obstacle to her repeat challenge, independent candidate Jan Schneider—whom Jennings defeated in the 2006 Democratic primary—continues to poll at a healthy six percent, taking nearly all of her support from the Democrat’s hide. In any other district, with any other candidates, Buchanan would be in serious trouble, but this year, he looks to be on track to win a second term in the House of Representatives.

June 13, 2008 Update:

Republican Vern Buchanan has been in some hot water recently, as a former employee has accused him of fraudulent business practices at his automotive dealerships and funneling money from his business into his campaign coffers in 2006. Buchanan is named in at least two lawsuits, despite the fact that he is not responsible for day-to-day operations at the businesses.

In spite of the lawsuits, Buchanan still has the upper-hand. As of March, he held a $1.1 million to $500,000 cash-on-hand advantage over his repeat challenger Christine Jennings. Additionally, Jennings’ protracted legal challenge to the 2006 election results seems to have tarnished her image in the eyes of voters, as a Republican poll from March showed Jennings with a 38% unfavorability rating, roughly twice that of Buchanan. In a district that went for Bush by a double-digit margin in both 2000 and 2004, Jennings’s unpopularity is not good news for Dems, but Buchanan’s bad press as a result of these lawsuits may do something to close the negatives gap.


Background

In some ways, this race never really ended since 2006 when former car dealership franchiser and current Representative Vern Buchanan won over banker Christine Jennings by a mere 369 votes of nearly 240,000 cast. Jennings cried foul when returns reported 18 thousand voters in liberal-leaning Sarasota County registered a ”no-vote” on electronic polling machines for the competitive congressional race.

Jennings appealed the election results through the Florida state court system and eventually up to Congress itself, but to no avail. Instead, Jennings has vowed to run again and hope 2008 voters correct the 2006 computers’ mistakes. However, continuing her 2006 legal challenge until February 2008 is not without cost. Jennings walks a fine line between mobilizing voter sympathies and being labeled as a ”sore loser” who remains focused on the events of the past. Either way Jennings has an uphill battle to unseat Buchanan this fall. In 2006, the current Representative spent $5.6 million of his own money on the race, and Jennings expects to need $3.5 million of her own to be competitive in November.

Candidates

Christine Jennings – Democrat – 2006 Democratic nominee
Website

Vern Buchanan (I) – Republican – current Congressman
Website

Jan Schneider – Independent – author, attorney, ’02 and ’04 Democratic nominee
Website

Florida (16)

Outlook: Likely Republican


November 18, 2008 Update:

Plagued by several extra-marital affairs, Democrat Congressman Tim Mahoney lost the district to Republican Tom Rooney by a stunning 20 percent margin.

September 16, 2008 Update:

NRCC Chair Tom Cole received some well-deserved credit for piloting the GOP’s best candidate through a protracted, divisive primary in Florida&
#8217;s 16th district. When the votes were counted, Pittsburgh Steelers heir Tom Rooney prevailed by a nose (37-35-28) over Palm Beach councilor Gayle Harrell and state representative Hal Valeche. Better yet, the Republican Party is unified as both Harrell and Valeche endorsed Rooney the day after the primary.

Going into the general election, Rooney has to feel good about his chances. Yes, Representative Tim Mahoney has a large financial advantage, but Rooney has proven his fundraising chops in the primary and can always dip into his vast personal fortune if necessary. Unlike either of his primary opponents, the businessman Rooney is a credible messenger on the economy, which seems likely to be the dominant issue of this campaign. Make no mistake, Mahoney can still defend his own seat, but he will have to run a very strong campaign to win a second term in Congress.

July 29, 2008 Update:

With July almost over, Republicans still lack a nominee, but at least they have a frontrunner in Tom Rooney. In an attempt to defuse a contentious primary, the Florida GOP brass—Representatives Connie Mack, Tom Feeney, and ’06 candidate Joe Negron—has stepped in and endorsed Rooney. Their intervention, combined with Rooney’s pre-existing edge, virtually ensures that the Pittsburgh Steelers heir will get his chance in Dolphins territory. But the endorsements, at least for now, won’t stop an onslaught of ads from Hal Valeche and Gayle Harrell slamming the self-proclaimed social conservative for his ties to the gambling industry. Make no mistake, Rooney is a top-notch candidate and every ounce capable of unseating Representative Tim Mahoney, but it remains to be seen whether wounds from the primary will prove lethal in the general election.

June 13, 2008 Update:

In the three-way GOP primary, each candidate is working hard to burnish their conservative credentials. Pittsburgh Steelers heir Tom Rooney touts his endorsement from conservative website RedState.com while former city councilor Hal Valeche notes his support from the the conservative group, Citizens United Political Victory Fund. The third candidate, Republican state representative Gayle Harrell, is probably a slight underdog, with about half as much cash in her campaign account as her two opponents, but she has her own self-proclaimed ”badge of honor”: Planned Parenthood mailers opposing her candidacy.

Whoever emerges from the primary on August 26 will face Democratic Rep. Tim Mahoney who is viewed as one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents in 2008. The district went for Bush by an 8% margin in 2004, and even with disgraced Rep. Mark Foley’s name on the ballot in 2006, Mahoney mustered a slimmer than 2% victory in a very Democratic year. This time around, Republicans hope that they can capitalize on presidential coattails and catapult one of these three GOP candidates onto Capitol Hill.


Background

It will be difficult for Representative Tim Mahoney to shed the ignominious label of ”accidental congressman.” In 2006 he won in conservative district under highly unusual circumstances—his opponent, the disgraced ex-Rep. Mark Foley, resigned amid a congressional page sex scandal, and Foley’s replacement, state senator Joe Negron, was barred by Florida law from replacing Foley’s name on the ballot. Even so, Mahoney only scored an unimpressive 1.8 percent victory over Negron.

If Mahoney’s electoral fortunes hadn’t caught the attention of district Republicans, his controversial comments that being a congressman ”isn’t the greatest job I’ve had” surely would. Unsurprisingly, Republican candidates, led by state representative Gayle Harrel and Pittsburgh Steelers heir Tom Rooney, have flocked to the race. Mahoney, however, stands to benefit from strong fundraising—over $1.1 million by the third quarter of 2007—and the late date, August 26th, of the Republican primary. If he is to be reelected, Mahoney must improve upon his 2006 performance and guard against future gaffes in what appears to be one of the most endangered Democratic seats of 2008.

Candidates

Tom Rooney – Republican – Pittsburgh Steelers heir, attorney, veteran
Website

Tim Mahoney (I) – Democrat – current Congressman
Website

Florida (21)

Outlook: Leans Republican


November 18, 2008 Update:

Republican incumbent Lincoln Diaz-Balart cruised to a ninth term with a 16 percentage point victory margin over Democratic opponent Raul Martinez.

July 29, 2008 Update:

One year ago, who would have guessed that Lincoln Diaz-Balart’s reelection would be one of the most intriguing races in the country? A recent Democratic poll shows Diaz-Balart leading Raul Martinez 41 to 37, but there are far to many unanswered questions to begin to handicap the race for November.

Will South Floridians really oust an icon of Cuban American politics? When will Raul Martinez’s checkered past of federal indictments and inflammatory statements come to light? How do younger voters view a Cuban policy that hasn’t changed since President Kennedy? Where do Cuban American partisan loyalties lie in the first post-Fidel Castro election? What does it all mean for the presidential race? In the end, these questions can only be answered at the ballot box, but for now, the South Florida races make for some of the most intriguing contests in the country.


Background

Democrats think Lincoln Diaz-Balart is just one of several Florida Republicans whose time is running out. Since 2006, Republicans voter registration numbers in Florida’s 21st district have fallen while Democratic numbers have risen. Diaz-Balart, one of three Cuban-American Florida representatives, is seen as vulnerable as a result of a generational shift which some believe has produced more South Florida voters who consider themselves Democrats or at least open to voting for them.

The man Democrats hope will exploit this change is former Hialeah mayor Raul Martinez. Martinez, who was born in Cuba, has years of political experience at the municipal level and considerable fundraising ability, having raised over $600,000 through March. The DCCC and national Dems have already started helping Martinez in his bid to unseat Diaz-Balart, running Spanish-language radio ads criticizing the incumbent Congressman for voting ‘present’ on the most recent Iraq funding bill. Although Diaz-Balart has only once in eight elections dipped below 70 percent in a district that handed Bush a 14 percent margin of victory in 2004, Democrats are optimistic that the right candidate at the right time can pull off the upset.

Candidates

Lincoln Diaz-Balart (I) – Republican – current Congressman
Website

Raul Martinez – D
emocrat – former nine term mayor of Hialeah
Website

Florida (24)

Outlook: Leans Democratic


November 18, 2008 Update:

Former state Rep. Suzanne Kosmas won comfortably by 16 percentage points over Republican incumbent Tom Feeney . Feeney’s reputation had suffered due to his alleged ties to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

September 16, 2008 Update:

Which one of Florida’s second tier races (FL18, FL24, FL25) does the Crystal Ball think is most likely to flip? Here’s a hint: it’s not held by anyone named Diaz-Balart.

That’s right, behind Tim Mahoney’s reelection bid in FL16, the twenty fourth district surprisingly holds the second most competitive race in all of Florida. Why so competitive? First, Suzanne Kosmas has shown herself to be a strong challenger, raising and banking more than the incumbent in two of the last three fundraising quarters. Second, because Representative Tom Feeney’s campaign tactics have seemed rusty, at best, so far. Feeney, for example, aired television ads before the primary to promote the longshot candidacy of Clint Curtis (D), Kosmas’ primary opponent. Kosmas went on to crush Curtis 72-28, making the advertisements a colossal waste of Feeney’s limited resources.

If Feeney intends to secure a fourth term, he’d better get his campaign up to speed quickly. It would still be an upset if Kosmas wins, but don’t be too surprised if there’s a Democrat representing this district next January.


Background

This race first attracted the Crystal Ball’s attention way back in June 2007. Incumbent Republican Tom Feeney was in the news prior to the 2006 election due to his connections to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Although those allegations weren’t enough to sink the embattled lawmaker then, Feeney won by sixteen percent, they no doubt will be trotted out again by this year’s Democratic candidate.

And just who will that candidate be? Most likely former state representative Suzanne Kosmas. Kosmas is seen as a strong candidate and her early fundraising numbers back that up, as she actually has more cash in her campaing coffers than does Feeney. Even if no new scandalous allegations emerge, this could be a very tight race this November.

Candidates

Tom Feeney (I) – Republican – current Congressman
Website

Suzanne Kosmas – Democrat – state representative
Website

Florida (25)

Outlook: Toss-up


November 18, 2008 Update:

After a tight race that ran down to the wire, Republican incumbent Mario Diaz-Balart won the 25th district by 6 percentage points over his rival Joe Garcia. This is the first time the seat has been so hotly contested since Diaz-Balart clinched it in 2002.


Background

The Diaz-Balart brothers are both in fights for their political lives. Mario Diaz-Balart is struggling to hold onto his seat in Florida’s 25th District, while brother Lincoln is fighting for reelection in the 21st District. Both brothers are Cuban-American icons, once thought to be invulnerable in their congressional strongholds. Now that is being tested, and Mario’s political future hangs in the balance.

The 25th District is 62% Hispanic, mostly Cuban Americans. In 2004, the district handed George W. Bush a twelve percent victory, emblematic of the district’s conservative politics. Now new figures are popping up to challenge those views, foremost among them Joe Garcia. Garcia was the director of the Cuban American National Foundation before becoming the Democratic Party chair for Miami-Dade County. Now he has turned his focus to Diaz-Balart, while carrying the mantle of Democratic Party nominee. Garcia has both the background and fundraising ties to compete, proving it by raising just over $1 million through the beginning of August.

Still, it is unwise to count out a Diaz-Balart, especially Mario whose political rise has been meteoric and so far unstoppable. Despite the national headwind and a moderating electorate, he is still the favorite to retain his seat in Congress, although Garcia’s credentials and coffers threaten to cut into his margin of victory. Keep a close eye on this race to and, depending on your point of view, you’ll either catch a glimpse of the political future of South Florida or watch a political pro further cement his legacy.

Candidates

Mario Diaz-Balart (I) – Republican – current congressman
Website

Joe Garcia – Democrat – former Cuban American National Foundation director
Website