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Florida's Congressional Races Take Shape

May 1, 2014 - 6:00pm

Qualifying for running for Congress in Florida ended on Friday with some major surprises as a former congressman seeks an unlikely political comeback, Democrats dont have a candidate in a swing district and some incumbents face no opponents in November. Heres a look at how the races are shaping up and who made the ballot -- and who didnt:

District 1: Republican Jeff Miller faces some familiar faces as he looks to defend his seat on the Panhandle. In the primary, Miller will have to face old foe private investigator and businessman John Krause, who took 8.5 percent in the general election back in 2010. Miller should be able to best Krause again and then take on Democrat Jim Bryan. In past match-ups, Miller has left Bryan in the dust, beating him by more than 40 percent in 2008 and 2012. Bryan bottomed out in 2010 when he ran as a write-in and got 1 percent while Miller ran off with 80 percent. Mark Wichern made the ballot as an independent while Travis Miller failed to make the Republican primary. Outlook: Miller should have no problems beating Krause and Bryan again and Wichern wont prove much of a threat here.

District 2: Republican incumbent Steve Southerland and Democrat Gwen Graham have to share the stage with write-in Luther Lee in whats expected to be a race that will get national coverage. Reform Party candidate Cleave Drummond and late-Democratic primary hopeful Ali Salman didnt qualify for the ballot. Look for this race to get a lot of attention with both sides relying on outsider groups. Outlook: This is a real tossup and should be one of the closest congressional races in the nation.

District 3: Having upset Cliff Stearns last time out, Republican Ted Yoho now is looking to keep his seat from three challengers. Jake Rush is running against Yoho in the Republican primary. Rush did well in the first quarter with fundraising but that was before his often bizarre costume roleplay drew national headlines. Term limits supporter Howard Lawson and Democrat teacher Marihelen Wheeler have made the ballot while Aquasia Johnson McDowell did not qualify to make the Democratic primary. Wheeler is hard-working and a strong grassroots campaigner but she shouldnt be much of a threat to whoever wins on the Republican side. Outlook: Yoho is the favorite here but this isnt a slam dunk. Rush could give Yoho a fight but he needs to have the roleplay story go away and try to win Clay County, which has almost 40 percent of the voters in this Republican district.

District 4: No Democrat is running against Republican Ander Crenshaw but the congressman does have some opponents. Crenshaw should expect to sweat against Ryman Shoaf, a retired Navy captain who is trying to turn Republican disgust with politics-as-usual to win the primary. Whoever wins the Republican primary should have no problem beating frequent candidates Gary Koniz, who is running as an independent, and write-in Deb Pueschel. Liberals could get behind attorney Paula Moser-Bartlett who made the ballot as an independent. Outlook: Crenshaw is the favorite here but he will have to work hard against Shoaf in the primary.

District 5: Twee Lowe and Glo Smith both made the Republican primary ballot. They are both women with interesting and inspiring stories but neither of them has any chance of beating longtime incumbent Corrine Brown in this very heavily Democratic district. Outlook: Brown will roll over whoever wins the Republican primary.

District 6: Teacher David Cox made the ballot as a Democrat to challenge freshman Republican Ron DeSantis. Cox has something of a following in his home base of Daytona Beach but hell need to go after DeSantis on the Republicans home turf: the conservative beach suburbs outside of Jacksonville and in St. Johns County. Outlook: Cox is an engaging candidate who is building a solid grassroots operation but he is not going to upend DeSantis.

District 7: Republican incumbent John Mica had five primary opponents when Friday began. When qualifying was done, he had three since Alan Azona and Zechariah Blanchard failed to make the ballot. Mica has to face Realtor Don Oehlrich, pharmacist Kelly Shirley and retired Marine David Smith. Democrat Wes Neuman and independent Al Krulick await the winner of the GOP primary. Outlook: Mica has the edge over his primary opponents with Smith representing the most credible threat to him. Whoever wins will run over Neuman, who does have an impressive career in policy and as a White House intern, and Krulick.

District 8: Bill Posey looks to defend his seat in this Republican district from Democrat Gabriel Rothblatt and write-in Christopher Duncan. Tea party candidate Karl Balone and Democrat Corry Westbrook are out of the picture. Duncan ended his campaign as a Democrat to run as a write-in. Outlook: Posey will cruise to an easy win in November.

District 9: Republicans would love to beat Alan Grayson and there are rumblings hes more vulnerable after the acrimonious way his marriage ended. But this is a Democratic citadel and Grayson is well-funded. Frequent candidate Nick Ruiz is taking Grayson on in the primary while three Republicans -- Jorge Bonilla, Carol Platt and Peter Vivaldi -- are running for their partys nomination. Businessman Marko Milakovich is running as an independent and Leon Ray is a write-in candidate. Out of the equation are independent Laura Janay and Roger Lee Peck who hoped to be a write-in candidate. Outlook: Look for a spirited Republican primary, but whoever wins will be hard pressed to make a dent against Grayson come November.

District 10: Democrat Val Demings almost beat Republican Dan Webster in 2012. His path looks much easier this time, though three Democrats -- Bill Ferree, Michael McKenna and Shayan Modarres -- qualified. So did write-in David Falstad. Outlook: This isnt 2012 and none of these candidates is in Demings league. Webster should have no problem beating whoever wins the Democratic primary.

District 11: Republican Rich Nugent will defend his seat against Democrat Dave Koller. Republican Mike Uminski, independent Bruce Ray Riggs and Libertarian Matthew Schackenberg are now all out of the race. Outlook: Nugent has relied on PAC money so far but he is the heavy favorite here as Koller has not raised much of anything despite some good grassroots focus.

District 12: Republican incumbent Gus Bilirakis did not have any opponents qualify for the ballot as Republican candidate James Denton Jr. and independent Lois Duncan failed to qualify. Outcome: Bilirakis is headed back to Washington.

District 13: Republican David Jolly beat Democrat Alex Sink by 2 percent in a special election back in March. Democrats have been dropping like flies with Sink and Jessica Ehrlich staying out of taking on Jolly in November. Buzz was building that businessman Joel Cantor was going to file but he didnt, even as Democrats chased Manuel Sykes out of the race. By the end of Friday, the DCCC and Democrats had to back Ed Jany who is running as an independent. Democrats will have to go all out to let their voters know Jany is their guy. Libertarian Lucas Overby, who took 5 percent in the special election, said he wasnt going to run again but filed and qualified. Michael Stephen Levinson is running as a write-in candidate. Outlook: Jolly should win and send Democrats cards thanking them for their idiocy here. Keep an eye on Overby who is a real credit to his party and could do better than he did a few months ago.

District 14: Republicans John Coney and John Grey are now out of the mix, leaving Democratic incumbent Kathy Castor as the only candidate who qualified in this Tampa Bay district. Outlook: Two more years for Castor.

District 15: Dennis Ross had no opponent last time out. The Republican congressman isnt as lucky this year as Democrat Alan Cohn, a former TV reporter, made the ballot. Outlook: Ross should be able to hold off Cohn but the Democrat is a live underdog who has managed to bring in some dollars and is a credible candidate.

District 16: Vern Buchanan was a top Democratic target in 2012. Not this time out, though; former pro football player Henry Lawrence will be the Democratic candidate against Republican Buchanan. Joe Newman is running as a write-in. Democrat Mitch Mallet and independents Daniel Dusso and Joe Ventui are not out of the mix. Outlook: With a solid record of electoral success and an impressive war chest, Buchanan will be a strong favorite over Lawrence.

District 17: Republican Tom Rooney is looking to defend his seat against Democrat Will Bronson yet again. Republican John Sawyer and Democrat Allen Ellison are out of the mix in this solid Republican district. Outlook: Rooney will run over Bronson.

District 18: Six Republicans made the ballot against Democrat freshman Patrick Murphy. Carl Domino, Calvin Turnquest, Brian Lara, Alan Schlesinger, Beverly Hires and Nick Wukoson will all battle it out in the primary as Republicans Ilya Katz and Frank Lynch are removed from the equation. Outlook: Murphys chances of winning a second term get better by the day and whichever Republican wins will be an underdog.

District 19: This will be a rematch of the special election in June to replace Trey Radel. Republican Curt Clawson, Democrat April Freeman, Libertarian Ray Netherwood and write-in Timothy Rossano will be very familiar by November in this Republican district. Outlook: Clawson is the favorite here despite an ugly Republican primary last month.

District 20: Two Democrats have filed to run against longtime incumbent Alcee Hastings in the primary. Hastings foes have extremely different backgrounds as Jean Enright served on the Palm Beach County Port Commission while retired boxer Jameel McCline fought for the world heavyweight title. Republican Jay Bonner awaits the winner but fellow GOP hopeful Gary Stein is out of the mix. Outlook: This will be an entertaining primary contest but Hastings should stay in office.

District 21: Ted Deutch has two challengers from the left in Democratic primary rival Emmanuel Morel and old foe Michael Trout, who the congressman beat last time out, now running as a write-in candidate. Henry Colon had been angling to run as a Republican, even sending out tweets to Mitt Romney and Rush Limbaugh for help, but he did not qualify for the ballot. Outlook: Deutch is in fine shape and should have no problem here.

District 22: Lois Frankel held off a big-name Republican in Adam Hasner to win an open congressional seat in 2012. There are three Republicans -- Andrea Leigh McGee, Paul Spain and David Wagie -- who made the ballot and are looking to knock off Frankel. Raymond Schamis is running as a write-in in this Democratic-leaning district. Outlook: Having beaten Hasner last time out, Frankel should have no problem with defeating whichever Republican wins the primary.

District 23: Two Republicans -- Juan Garcia and Joe Kaufman -- have made the primary ballot to take on Debbie Wasserman Schultz in this heavily Democratic district. Businesswoman Stephanie Anderson did not qualify to make the ballot as she looked to run as an independent. Outlook: Garcia and Kaufman will make a lot of noise but Wasserman Schultz will crush whichever of them emerges in the primary.

District 24: Frederica Wilson looks to run for a third term in Congress against Democratic primary rival Michael Etienne and Republican Dufirstson Julio Neree. Luis Fernandez is running as an independent while Alejandro Walters qualified as a write-in. Outlook: Wilson should handle Etienne in the primary and route her opponents in the general election.

District 25: Republican incumbent Mario Diaz-Balart is the only candidate who qualified for the ballot. Outlook: Diaz-Balart heads back to Congress in the easiest way imaginable.

District 26: Republicans have high hopes of beating Democrat Joe Garcia, but a former congressman jumped in at the last second. Garcia beat David Rivera who has remained the subject of investigations. That didnt stop Rivera from qualifying for the ballot on Friday. Also in the mix on the Republican side are Carlos Curbelo, Ed MacDougall, Joe Martinez and Lorenzo Palomares-Starbuck as Jose Peixoto heads to the sidelines. Outlook: Even with the skeletons in his closet, Rivera is a cagy politician who will give Curbelo problems in the primary. Garcia is vulnerable but Riveras comeback attempt should help the Democrat.

District 27: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, now the dean of the Florida delegation, is the only candidate to qualify for the ballot. Elsa Gonzalez hoped to challenge the Republican congresswoman from the right as an independent but she did not qualify. Outlook: Ros-Lehtinen will extend her lengthy congressional career in November.

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

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