The long saga of Florida’s legal battle over redistricting now appears to be over. The state Supreme Court, in a 5-2 decision, approved a new map for the state’s 27-member U.S. House delegation. The remap is an improvement for Democrats over the current map drawn by the state’s Republican-controlled state legislature. While it appears that the map might be challenged in federal court, “the boundaries are now likely to be those set for the 2016 election,” according to the Tampa Bay Times. With that, we have a series of ratings changes to announce in response to the new lines:
Table 1: Crystal Ball House ratings changes
Let’s take a closer look at the new maps. The 2012 presidential results for the new districts cited below are from Matthew Isbell, a Democratic data consultant who has done outstanding work explaining Florida redistricting.
The biggest change made to the state’s districts was the unpacking of African-American voters in the district of Rep. Corrine Brown (D, FL-5), whose current district snakes north to south, from Jacksonville to Orlando. The new FL-5 now goes from east to west, from Jacksonville to Tallahassee. It remains safely Democratic, but changing it creates a ripple effect that alters several districts.
Under the new map, Rep. Gwen Graham’s (D, FL-2) panhandle district becomes much more Republican, going from a district that Mitt Romney won 52%-46% in 2012 to one he captured 65%-34%. Despite Graham’s considerable political talents — she beat an incumbent to win this seat in 2014, one of the few bright spots for Democrats anywhere in the nation — the district is now too Republican for her to win. As of this writing, it’s unclear what her future plans are, but we don’t think any Democrat can win a district this Republican. FL-2 moves from Leans Democratic to Safe Republican.
This change is canceled out by the redrawing of FL-10, currently held by Rep. Dan Webster (R), which we’re moving all the way from Safe Republican to Safe Democratic. Under the old map, Romney won it 53%-46% in 2012: Now it would have been won by President Obama, 61%-38%. Just to put this in perspective, no current member of the House holds a district that the other party’s presidential candidate won by such a hefty margin. Webster apparently is already considering running in a different district, such as FL-11, which is a Safe Republican district currently held by retiring Rep. Richard Nugent (R).
Rep. David Jolly (R, FL-13) has long since moved on from his Tampa Bay-area seat — he is running for Senate — in anticipation of the changes made to it. The district is now one that would have been won 55%-44% by Obama in 2012, and former Gov. Charlie Crist (D) announced his candidacy here months ago. This district goes from Toss-up to Likely Democratic.
Our final ratings change comes in FL-7, held by longtime Rep. John Mica (R). What was a GOP-leaning seat — 52%-47% Romney in 2012 — is now a swingier district that Obama won by less than a tenth of a percentage point. We’re moving the district from Safe Republican to Likely Republican, and even that might be too generous to the incumbent. Democrats are bullish on banker Bill Phillips, who is already running, and Mica hasn’t really had a tough election since first being elected in 1992. This could be a real Democratic target in 2016 and it would not surprise us if we were making another change here soon in favor of the Democrats.
There are a couple of other seats worth noting. Rep. Alan Grayson (D) is leaving FL-9 to run for Senate, and it will become more Republican under the new map, going from 61%-38% Obama to 56%-43%. We’re holding the seat at Safe Democratic but a strong Republican candidate could potentially put it in play under the right conditions. Also, Rep. Carlos Curbelo’s (R) already-competitive FL-26 is getting even more Democratic, going from 53%-46% Obama to 55%-44%. We’re not ready to move it from the Toss-up category but it will be challenging for Curbelo to win a second term. Annette Taddeo (D), Crist’s running mate from his narrow 2014 gubernatorial defeat and a former congressional candidate, is Curbelo’s likely opponent.
Republicans currently hold 17 of the state’s 27 House districts. FL-2 and FL-10 should both change parties, which doesn’t affect the overall partisan makeup of the delegation. Democrats should win the open FL-13, and they have decent odds to win FL-26 against Curbelo and maybe FL-7 against Mica. Meanwhile, Republicans can target FL-18, an open seat held by Rep. Patrick Murphy (D), who is running for Senate. FL-18 was not mentioned above because it is unaffected by the new maps, but it’s an open seat won by Romney, 52%-48%, in 2012.
The bottom line is this: Democrats could net up to three seats out of Florida next year if things break perfectly for them. Meanwhile, the Republicans have a shot at maintaining their current 17-10 edge, particularly if they win FL-18 as a way of making up for potential redistricting-inflicted losses elsewhere in the state.