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Ander Crenshaw's a Target, but He'll Be Tougher than Cliff Stearns to Bring Down

May 12, 2013 - 6:00pm

While a new group of conservatives is targeting U.S. Rep., they will find the longtime First Coast Republican isnt Cliff Stearns.

Last week, the newly formed Real Conservatives U.S. received some press for launching their efforts to Oust Ander Crenshaw and replace him with a more conservative congressman. The new organization is grumbling about Crenshaws support of allowing states more power to collect taxes from online retailers and his support of raising the federal debt ceiling.

But Crenshaw has been here before. In 2010 and 2012, he easily defeated candidates with no party affiliation in the general election who attempted to challenge him from the right. In both races, he did well, pulling more than 75 percent in the two contests.

Granted, upsets can occur in the primaries as Ted Yohos victory over Stearns in the 2012 primaries shows. But Yoho had a perfect storm that helped him defeat a congressman with 24 years' service. After redistricting, Stearns essentially had a new district where many voters had no idea who the congressman was. Yoho ran interesting ads that caught viewers attention across the district, while Steans ads didnt stand out. Stearns and his camp overlooked Yohos 35 years in the Gainesville area where he was a prominent large-animal veteran with deep ties in the community. While Stearns kept running ads in Jacksonville hoping Clay County Republicans would propel him to victory, Yoho worked the district and pulled off the upset.

Like Stearns, Crenshaw lost a large part of his district, but the part that he kept was the heart of the First Coast -- Baker, Duval and Nassau counties. Crenshaw is well-known in this region and he has been in politics in the area for decades, including his service as president of the Florida Senate. Crenshaw has also been very visible on the First Coast on several issues, including having an aircraft carrier home-ported at Mayport.

Certainly there have beenmisstepsover the year from Crenshaw -- such as his less-than-impressive bid for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 1994 -- but he has generally held his own in Jacksonville. While Stearns drifted between Clay County and Ocala as his home base, Crenshaw has always been Jacksonvilles favorite son. Politicians have come and gone on the First Coast. Winners from past elections can quickly fade there -- just ask Nat Glover, Mike Hogan, Dick Kravitz and Mike Weinstein. But Crenshaw has been riding high in Jacksonville for decades.

To be sure Jacksonville leans Republican but, as Alvin Brown showed in his mayoral victory and Bill Nelson proved by routing Connie Mack in Duval County, Democrats remain in play here. Republicans can get too conservative in Jacksonville as Hogan showed. Republican leaning voters in the Southside and Mandarin, who had supported other candidates in the first round of the mayoral election, chose Brown over tea party favorite Hogan.

Granted, Republicans have a 12 percent registration advantage in the Fourth Congressional District, but Jacksonville voters have shown a tendency to back moderate Democrats in some cases. Its something Real Conservatives U.S. should keep in mind as they look for an alternative to Crenshaw.

Crenshaw knows the First Coast and voters there know who he is. He will not be forced to introduce himself to new voters the way Stearns did last time out. While there might be room to run to Crenshaws right, it wont be easy. As he gears up to run for hiseighthterm in Congress, Crenshaw is facing a much more stable situation than Stearns -- who drew two other serious challengers besides Yoho -- faced in 2012.

Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis piece exclusively for Sunshine State News.

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