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Florida Congressmen Sitting Pretty for 2014 Primary Fights

July 10, 2013 - 6:00pm

Port of Palm Beach Commissioner Jean Enright filed her paperwork this week as she looks to pull off one of the rarest feats in politics by knocking an incumbent congressman off in the primary.

Defeating a congressional incumbent in a primary is tough but not impossible. Just ask Ted Yoho who came out of nowhere to defeat Cliff Stearns, who had been in Congress for 24 years, in last Augusts Republican primary. But everything fell into place for Yoho as two other officeholders also looked to defeat the incumbent and large sections of the North Central Florida district had never been represented by Stearns before.

Enright should have a tougher time in 2014 as she looks to defeat U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla. Hastings has a proven record of defeating primary challengers, beating back attempts from former Belle Glade Mayor Ray Torres Sanchez in 2008 and Keith Clayborne in 2004. While she might have been elected three times to the Port of Palm Beach Commission and had years of community involvement, Enright is a major underdog to defeat Hastings who continues to have the support of the Democratic leadership.

Enright is not alone in offering a primary challenge to incumbent congressmen in Florida. John Krause, a pastor and private investigator, is back offering a conservative challenge to U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., in the Republican primary. But Krause has had little success before when he ran against Miller without party affiliation in 2010: he posted only 8 percent of the vote. Miller shouldnt have any problem turning Krauses challenge aside in next years primary.

U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., is facing a primary challenge from Navy veteran Michael McKenna. Grayson had almost $2.2 million on hand at the end of March. He should easily be able to withstand the challenge, especially since McKenna had raised $580 by the end of June.

The man who defeated Grayson back in 2010 -- U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, R-Fla. -- is also facing a primary challenge from David Allen Seeley. Webster is one of the most prominent Republicans in Central Florida. Having served decades in both chambers of the Legislature in Tallahassee, Webster is very well-established. Theres even a highway named after him which is highly frequented, especially from people getting off the Florida Turnpike early to head to Disney World without taking I-4. Webster should be able to handle Seeley.

On paper U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent, R-Fla, should have a tougher time with his primary challenger but he remains the odds-on favorite. With $43,760 on hand at the end of March, Nugents coffers arent that imposing as he takes on engineer and consultant Mike Uminski in the primary. But, even though he was only elected to Congress in 2010, Nugents well established in the district from his years as Hernando County sheriff. He should be able to take care of Uminski.

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., faces a primary challenge from businessman James Denton. With his father having represented this part of Florida for more than 20 years, Bilirakis has strong ties to the district and is a heavy favorite to defeat Denton.

After leaving the GOP to run for president in 2012 as a write-in candidate, Erin Kent Magee, who has been insistent that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States, decided to run against U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., in the Republican primary come 2014. Magee is now targeting U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., in the primaries. No matter who Magee decides to run against, either of the Republican incumbents will easily fend off his challenge.

U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., is getting a primary challenge from Emmanuel Morel who worked as an investigator with the federal Labor Department for almost 30 years and is now a pastor. Morel, who was born in Haiti, is earnest and has used $7,700 from his own accounts and raised more than $1,000 by the end of March. But Deutch has the backing of the party and had more than $466,000 at the end of March. Deutch should have no problem in the primary.

U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., could have a fight on her hands as she faces North Miami City Clerk Michael Etienne in the Democratic primary next year. Etienne will be looking to get Haitian-Americans behind him. But that strategy didnt work for Rudy Moise against Wilson in 2010 and 2012. Wilson took 66 percent against Moise in the 2012 primary and Etienne is a clear underdog as he looks to beat her in 2014.

At first glance, while there are some respectable challengers looking to defeat incumbent congressmen in the primaries, its hard to imagine any of them having the success that Yoho had against Stearns. As Yoho pointed out many times in his campaign, he was the only Republican candidate in the mix who wasnt a career politician. Yoho also was a better fit than Stearns for large segments of a newly drawn district. Yoho had also been in the area for decades which helped his strong grassroots efforts.

Yoho caught lightning in a bottle in 2012 when he beat a sitting congressman in the primaries. As of now, its tough to see something similiar happening in Florida come 2014.

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

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