In early 1862, President Abraham Lincoln was pressured by Republicans in Congress to remove General George McClellan from command of the Union army, arguing the young commander was too unaggressive. Lincoln asked Ohio Republican Sen. Benjamin Wade who should take McCellean’s place.
“Well, anybody,” Wade answered.
“Wade, anybody will do for you but I must have somebody,” Lincoln replied.
That about sums up Florida Democrats’ problems even as national pundits give them better chances to pick up congressional seats in the Sunshine State. They have opportunities to be sure but, as of now, they don’t have the candidates to take advantage of them.
This week, Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball released its latest look at the 2018 House races and improved the Democrats’ odds of flipping seats in Florida.
With U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., retiring after more than 25 years in Congress and noting that Hillary Clinton carried the district by 20 percent, the Crystal Ball pegged that seat as “Leans Democratic.” Despite being a frequent critic of Donald Trump, U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo’s, R-Fla., effort to win a third term is now a “Toss Up” as the Crystal Ball pointed out that Clinton won his district by more than 15 percent. The Crystal Ball kept U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., in a “Likely Republican” seat while U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., was downgraded from a “Safe Republican” to a “Likely Republican” rating though the Crystal Ball noted Diaz-Balart was probably only in peril if the Democrats have a wave election in 2018.
The Crystal Ball is over the target with its take on Ros-Lehtinen’s seat especially with a large field of Democrats in the mix. While there are some solid contenders on the Republican side, including Bruno Barreiro who just entered the race, the GOP will be hard pressed to keep this seat.
But the other races are a little different as the Democrats haven’t found their somebody yet. Miami Dade Democrats are far more focused in picking up Ros-Lehtinen’s seat and winning the special election for the state Senate that Frank Artilles held than they are in taking down Curbelo. While Joe Garcia certainly had his flaws as a candidate, Curbelo beat him impressively in both 2014 and 2016. It’s still early of course but Democrats aren’t exactly lining up to run against Curbelo yet.
The same holds true for Diaz-Balart. He thrashed Democrat Alina Valdes last time out, beating her by almost 25 percent. There’s talk that Valdes might run again but, as of right now, there’s nobody else on the radar screen. Again, it’s early, but even if Trump weighs down Diaz-Balart next year, it will still be tough to topple the Republican congressman. The Crystal Ball's latest ranking seems a bit off unless Democrats find a major candidate to run against Diaz-Balart.
Beating Mast will prove no easy task for Democrats. He picked up an open seat by more than 10 percent in November though, admittedly, Democrat Randy Perkins was a flawed candidate. Patrick Murphy would certainly give Mast a close race but it seems unlikely the former congressman wants his old job back. In the meantime, Democrat Pam Keith, who ran for the Senate last time out and lost to Murphy in the primary, is already running against Mast. Attorney Jonathan Chane, who Perkins blew out in the primary last year, could also be back in the mix. Keith and Chane certainly have strengths but it’s tough to envision either one taking Mast down next year.
On paper, Florida Democrats have their chances to pick up a few congressional seats next year. They certainly start off as the favorites to flip Ros-Lehtinen’s seat. But the other races will be tougher for them to win since they don’t have candidates waiting in the wings or a deep enough bench to take advantage of their opportunities. Democrats also have to defend congressional seats of their own in the Sunshine State, namely those held by Stephanie Murphy and Charlie Crist.
It’s way too early for all of this of course. Candidates can come out of nowhere to pick up congressional seats in Florida the way Ted Yoho and Stephanie Murphy did. But, as of now, unless a major candidate decides to challenge Curbelo, Democrats should expect to pick up only a single seat in the Sunshine State in next year’s elections.