Democrats are hopping to flip the U.S. House on Tuesday and how they do in races across Florida could determine if they are successful on Election Day.
With several current members of delegation retiring, House Republicans are on the defensive in the Sunshine State. The Democrats have a head start as they ran candidates in every race in Florida. The GOP can’t say the same, leaving the likes of Democrat incumbents Val Demings, Kathy Castor, Alcee Hastings, Lois Frankel and Frederica Wilson without Republican opponents. While redistricting has taken its toll, it wasn’t that long ago that Castor was facing a serious challenge from Republican Mike Prendergast and Frankel had to square off with Adam Hasner, who had the look of a rising star for Republicans, for an open seat. This year, the GOP didn’t even bother to field candidates against them
Every GOP member of the Florida delegation faces a Democrat opponent on Tuesday and even some of the incumbents representing solidly red districts are facing more than token opposition. For example, Neal Dunn is pretty much a lock to win a second term on Tuesday but Democrat Bob Rackleff, who served more than a decade on the Leon County Commission, is more than token opposition. The same holds true next door where Republican Ted Yoho is facing off against Yvonne Hayes Hinson who served on the Gainesville City Commission. Sure, Yoho is a heavy favorite but the Democrats could have easily decided to ditch the race.
More importantly, the Democrats are getting aggressive against easier targets. Barack Obama was in Miami to rally Democrats on Friday and it’s no coincidence that he showed up in an area where the GOP is fighting to keep control of three congressional seats. With Ileana Ros-Lehtinen retiring, Donna Shalala, who led HHS in the Clinton presidency and was the president of the University of Miami, is the favorite to flip that seat. While he certainly broken with Donald Trump on more than a few issues, Carlos Curbelo has proven something of a favorite with House leadership, moving up to the powerful Ways and Means Committee during his second term. He is fighting for his political life against Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in what should be a close race on Tuesday in a district Hillary Clinton carried comfortably two years ago. Mario Diaz-Balart is also a target for Democrats but he has made some missteps in recent weeks and Democrat Mary Barzee Flores is claiming some momentum though the Republican remains the favorite here.
Three other seats currently held by Florida Republicans are also expected to be in play. Running for a second term, Brian Mast has had his hands full fending off Democrat Lauren Baer in an area of the state hit hard by toxic algae. Two open seats are also in play. Helped by a strong showing in the primary, Democrat Nancy Soderberg has offered Republican Mike Waltz a battle to keep the seat Ron DeSantis held in the GOP column. In the contest to replace Republican Dennis Ross in Central Florida, Democrat Kristen Carlson has led Ross Spano in the money chase and could pull off the upset in a district which has been safe for the GOP in recent election cycles.
Other Republicans in the Florida delegation can also expect closer contests then they are used to on Tuesday. Vern Buchanan has regained momentum to keep his seat but Democrat David Shapiro ran a credible challenge. Gus Bilirakis should stay in office when the smoke clears but Democrat Chris Hunter, a former federal prosecutor and FBI agents. While Shapiro and Hunter are unlikely to win, they kept well established and well funded Republicans playing defense in their own districts instead of helping out in more competitive races.
In the meantime, the GOP has had little in the way of opportunities to play offense in Florida. The only realistic chance for the Republicans to flip a seat currently held by a Florida Democrat is Mike Miller’s challenge to freshman Stephanie Murphy. Miller is not a bad candidate by any means but the GOP has been so busy trying to protect incumbents that his campaign has been neglected by Republican donors. Murphy has tried to claim the middle and has paid attention to her district which helps make her the favorite to stay in power. A Miller upset is not impossible but it increasingly seems unlikely.
On paper, the GOP had another target in Central Florida since Charlie Crist edged Republican incumbent David Jolly last time out. While Crist may have won 52 percent to 48 percent two years ago, he is in excellent shape to win a second term over Republican George Buck.
Other Democrats in the Florida House should be pretty safe on Tuesday. Republican Virginia Fuller got blown out when she ran for Congress in California and should expect another loss at the hands of Democrat Al Lawson on Tuesday night. Darren Soto defeated Republican Wayne Liebnitzky to win a first term in 2016; expect the same result in Tuesday’s rematch.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz also looks headed back for Congress. After his surprisingly strong primary challenge from the left in 2016, Tim Canova launched a second challenge to Wasserman Schultz, running with no party affiliation. But frankly, Canova’s NPA bid hasn’t been much of a factor this time out. Also helping Wasserman Schultz out is the return of Republican Joe Kaufman who is now making his fourth congressional bid. He didn’t come close in 2012, 2014 or 2016 and 2018 should be no different.
Most of the races should not see much drama. Despite running for an open seat held by Tom Rooney who is retiring, Greg Steuebe should keep it for the GOP. Republicans Matt Gaetz, Dunn, Yoho, Rutherford, Bill Posey, Dan Webster and Francis Rooney should keep their seats easily. So should Democrats Lawson, Soto, Crist, Hastings (who faces a write in opponent), Ted Deutch and Wasserman Schultz while Demings, Castor, Frankel and Wilson are already assured reelection.
National pundits expect Democrats to take control of the House after the smoke clears on Tuesday. That’s not guaranteed by any means but Democrats should be able to pick up seats in Florida though how many remain to be seen, especially as several of the races--almost all of them currently held by Republicans--look close.