Florida eyes may be focused on the gubernatorial race, but once in a while they might want to look up and notice some of the intriguing 2014 congressional races already shaping up in the Sunshine State.
CD 26 -- Republicans Lining Up Against Garcia
The third time proved to be the charm for Joe Garcia. The Miami Democrat ran against Mario Diaz Balart in 2008 but lost by 6 percent. Garcia ran again in 2010 but this time he lost to David Rivera by almost 10 percent. With Rivera plagued by a series of ethics charges, Garcia cake-walked over the Republican and into office in 2012.
Almost as soon as Garcia was sworn in, Republicans started lining up to challenge the freshman Democrat, and with good reason. It wasn't just Garcia's well-known personality challenges, either. While the district is starting to become more Democratic, Republicans still hold a registration advantage. Former Miami-Dade County Commission Chair Joe Martinez, who ran for Miami-Dade mayor in 2012, has already filed to run against Garcia. So has Cutler Bay Mayor Ed MacDougall, a businessman who served in Vietnam and as a police officer. State Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, who defeated fellow state Rep. Ana Rivas Logan in a tough Republican primary between two incumbents last year, has signaled that he intends to run in the primary.
The names of other Republicans have also caused some buzz, including Miami-Dade School Board member Carlos Curbello and Miami-Dade Property Appraiser Carlos Lopez-Cantera. Scions of prominent Republican families -- including Jeb Bush Jr. and various members of the Diaz de la Portilla clan -- have also received their fair share of whispers.
While many of these Republicans will eventually pass on the race, the fact that so many names are being kicked about shows that this district presents a major opportunity for the GOP to pick up a congressional seat.
CD 18 -- Patrick Murphy Looks to Hold On
On paper, Democrat U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy should not hold this congressional seat. Republicans have a 2 percent edge in the district and Mitt Romney carried it with 52 percent in 2012. But despite the Republican trend, Murphy defeated U.S. Rep. Allen West even though he was vastly outspent. Wests strident conservatism and series of controversial comments doomed him, even in this Republican-leaning district.
Murphy is already fundraising for 2014 and national Republicans are already listing him as one of their top targets. But Murphy has learned a bit from West. Unlike the incumbent he defeated, he is already running to the center, playing up his bipartisan credentials. Hes clearly not going to drift off to the left, which would only invite doom in this district.
Despite his popularity with the national tea party movement, West has opted against running against Murphy in 2014. Republicans should be breathing sighs of relief at this news, because West clearly hurt himself by less-than-graceful concession. Murphy would have had an easier time dispatching his opponent in a rematch. In theory, other Republicans should have a better chance against the Democrat freshman in 2014.
CD 2 -- Democrats Target Steve Southerland
It never comes easy for Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland. He won in an upset over U.S. Rep. Allen Boyd in 2010 and held off a furious challenge from Al Lawson, who had led Democrats in the Florida Senate. Southerland can expect another major challenge in 2014, and House Majority PAC, a Democratic super-PAC, has listed him as one of their top 10 targets.
Democrats have reasons to lick their chops at the prospect of knocking off Southerland. They have a strong advantage in this Big Bend district and have a 21 percent registration edge over the Republicans.
But many of the rural counties around Tallahassee are full of conservative Democrats who have no problem casting their votes for Republicans. Democrats are hoping a familiar name will help propel them to victory over Southerland in 2014. U.S. Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), is already trying to recruit Gwen Graham, the director of employee relations for the Leon County School District, to challenge Southerland. Graham is a blueblood: daughter of Bob Graham, the Democrat who won two gubernatorial elections and three U.S. Senate contests in his lengthy political career.
If Graham jumps in the race, this will be a closely watched congressional race. Even if Graham stays out, Democrats have a solid bench in Tallahassee, though Southerland should have an edge over some of his potential opponents.
CD 13 -- Once Again Democrats Think They Can Beat Bill Young
Its a familiar mantra. Every two years the Democrats think they can knock off U.S. Rep. Bill Young, the old-man energizer-bunny of a Republican who has been representing Florida in Congress since winning election in 1970. Every two years, Democrats have high hopes for the likes of Charlie Justice and Jessica Ehlrich and every time out, Young dashes them.
Democrats insist 2014 will be different and the DCCC and EMILYs List are already targeting Young. National Democrats believe that Young will be vulnerable due to defense sequestration. Republicans still have an edge in this Pinellas County district, but its a small one -- less than 3 percent. Youngs age is increasingly coming into factor. If he chooses to seek a 23rd term in the House, he will be 84 on Election Day.
But Young has not won 22 elections without being a shrewd campaigner and a popular congressman. Hes turned back serious Democratic challenges before. Whichever Democrat jumps into the race against him will be an underdog, though one with a chance to knock off the incumbent.
CD 10 -- Dan Webster Starts Out the Favorite to Win a Third Term
Democrats thought they had a chance to knock off U.S. Rep. Dan Webster as he sought a second term in 2012. Webster held off a challenge from Orlando Police Chief Val Demings in 2012, but some Democrats were so impressed with her they hope she runs again.
While Demings is playing coy about signing up again, the DCCC has been trying to recruit her to challenge Webster in a rematch. EMILYs List is also planning to target Webster, a leading social conservative, in 2014.
Webster starts off as the front-runner. While the district is changing, Republicans have a 5 percent registration edge over the Democrats. Still, if Demings opts for another bid, Webster will have a competitive race again.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.