After a poor performance in the last midterm elections, when Democrats lost 63 seats, party leaders are prepping to try to make some serious gains in 2014 in order to take back a majority in the U.S. House. Thats not going to be easy, though, as Democrats are facing an uphill battle to make themselves competitive, according to a leading election analyst.
The most recent Cook Partisan Voter Index, an independent study that measures the competitiveness of congressional districts nationwide, suggests that partisanship is on the rise, and that Democratic districts have been struggling to gain ground in recent elections. Cooks data reveals an ever-shrinking pot of swing districts that makes it harder on Dems.
Introduced a decade and a half ago by noted D.C. handicapper Charlie Cook, the PVI assigns scores to each congressional district by comparing its performance in an election to the way voters cast their ballots nationally. Districts scoring within 5 points of the national partisan average (between R+5 and D+5) are considered swing districts.
According to Cook, the decline of swing districts and the rise of partisanship spell trouble for House Democrats. And, even though liberal groups aligned with President Barack Obama have become increasingly successful at turning out urban voters in elections, experts say Democrats are going to have to focus on localizing races if they want to take GOP seats and make strides nationally.
In order to unseat 17 House Republicans, Democrats are resting their hopes on the power of the Obama White House and on building from the urban-area gains secured in 2012.
Obama needs Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress if he wants to avoid becoming a lame duck the last two years of his presidency. Washington observers believe a Nancy Pelosi/Harry Reid Congress would give Obama a clear shot at moving bolder liberal policies as he finishes his last term.
Cooks assessment could be the reason six Florida congressional districts have entered the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committees cross-hairs. The DCCC spent $183 millionduring the 2012 elections, and recently brought in a record-breaking $22.6 million in the first quarter of 2013 -- $5 million more than its GOP counterpart.
District 2 R+6
Some Florida analysts believe Democrats may try to throw Republicans a curve ball in 2014 by recruiting Gwen Graham, daughter of former Florida Gov. and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, to face off against Steve Southerland in CD 2. Southerland defeated well-respected State Sen. Al Lawson, 53 percent to 47 percent, in this Panhandle district in the last election. However, GOP lobbyist and money man Brian Ballard seems to be siding with Graham. He is hosting an April 23event for her at his Tallahassee home. Cook rates this district R+6.
District 7 R+4
U.S. Rep. John Mica snagged this reapportioned seat in 2012 after winning an easier-than-expected primary against fellow incumbent Sandy Adams. CD 7 consists of parts of Seminole, Orange and Volusia counties. Mica beat out his opponent, Democrat Jason Kendall, by nearly 60,000 votes in 2012. Cook rates CD 7 as R+4.
District 13 R+1
Longtime U.S. Rep. Bill Young, R-St. Petersburg, represents CD 13, which covers western and northern St. Petersburg. Cook rates Youngs district as R+1. Young was first elected in 1970 and has shown an amazing ability to fend off challengers in the last decade.Despite being trounced by Young, 57 percent to 42 percent, in last Novembers election, Democrat Jessica Ehrlich is itching for a rematch, and has confirmed that she will try again to capture the seat in the next election.
District 18 R+1
This district has seen three different congressmen since the 2006 scandal involving former Congressman Mark Foley. Thirty-year-old Patrick Murphy gained the reputation of a giant killer when he defeated tea party favorite Allen West by less than 2,000 votes in the last election.
Murphy and the DCCC seem to realize theyve got their hands full in trying to keep this seat in the Democratic column. Murphy, who raised over $600,000 in the first three months of this year, faces an ever-growing list of opponents. Atop the long list of potential challengers to Murphy are popular state Rep. Gayle Harrell and Carl Domino, a wealthy former legislator who fought for property tax cuts while in Tallahassee.
Based on Cooks ratings, liberals may find more promising ground in South Florida, where they can build on Obamas success. Last November, the president increased his margin of victory by 68,000 in Miami-Dade over his 2008 vote tally.
District 26 R+1
CD 26 was created after the 2010 Census and consists of all of Monroe County and parts of South Miami-Dade County. Democrat Joe Garcia lost a high-profile race to U.S. Rep. David Rivera, a Republican, in 2010 by a 52 percent to 43 percent margin. After a second shot at scandal-plagued Rivera, Garcia finally won the district by more than 10 points in 2012. Cook rates this district as R +1.
District 27 R+2
CD 27 contains parts of Miami and Hialeah. Longtime Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has represented the area since 1989. In 2012, Ros-Lehtinen trounced Democrat Manny Yevancey 60 percent to 37 percent, despite the fact that Cook rates this district leaning slightly Republican at R+2. But Beltway Democrats may face a steep hill in even recruiting a credible candidate -- let alone one who can win --against Ros-Lehtinen.
Allison Nielsen writes special to Sunshine State News.