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Nancy Smith

Voting for Who Gets to Lose

August 25, 2014 - 6:00pm

Floridians thirsting for primary night excitement in congressional or Cabinet races sure drew the short straw.

My advice to supporters in the most hotly contested statewide races is this: Crack all the champagne tonight, don't leave a bottle in the cellar. There is no tomorrow.

You're voting for who gets to lose in November.

Yes, there are some half-dozen expected nail-biters (total, in both parties) going on out there -- fascinating, close contests all -- but every candidate in every one of these congressional or Cabinet races is like Sonny Liston, Larry Holmes and Archie Moore vying for a title shot. Doesn't matter who gets it. The champ is Muhammad Ali.

Let's look at these races briefly:

Democratic Attorney General Primary: Who gets to lose to Pam Bondi?

Of all the state races that could shatter my prediction, this is probably the one. Bondi has done everything in her power to invite opposition in 2014, politicizing the office almost from day one, and wandering off on faraway crusades, most recently, intervening in a Chesapeake Bay lawsuit over the federal Clean Water Act.

But the incumbent has a huge war chest, greater name recognition statewide and, well, the overwhelming edge against underwhelming competition.

And the suitors for the job are ...

George Sheldon, 67, former acting assistant director at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, squeaked through as eligible to run after a Leon County circuit judge ruled he was a Florida resident and member of the Florida Bar, even though he had let his law license lapse.

If Sheldon wins, somebody had better stand by with the smelling salts. He'll be the most surprised man at his post-election party Tuesday night. Sheldon lost trying for a congressional seat in 1982, lost trying to win education commissioner in 2000, lost again trying for attorney general in 2002 -- in fact he hasn't won a race since the 1970s when he held a state House seat. But, hey, the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald recommended him. Big boost right there.

Perry Thurston, 53, House minority leader, has never run for statewide office, is a little more capable of passion than Sheldon, but doesn't seem to have a plan for the office. His grandstanding during the last legislative session, embarrassing his caucus as it did, was as transparant as it was distasteful. On the other hand, he's received his editorial recommendations, too, most notably from the Sun Sentinel.

Neither Sheldon nor Thurston has looked alive and well through the campaign. Does anybody ever check their pulse? And neither has enough money to go toe to toe with Bondi after Tuesday -- though, presumably, a cash infusion awaits the winner. As vulnerable as Bondi is,it won't be near enough to beat her with only 10 weeks to go.

Republican CD 18 Primary: Who gets to lose to Patrick Murphy?

CD 18, encompassing most of the Treasure Coast and part of Palm Beach County, is my old stomping ground. I still have an emotional connection to the area, so I keep up with it as best I can.

I'm sure Carl Domino, Beverly Hires, Brian Lara, Alan Schlesinger, Calvin Turnquest and Nick Wukoson all have their strengths and their supporters. And good luck to them today. But after all the national Democrats' hand-wringing over this race -- identifying it as one of the most competitive in the nation, begging for more and more money to fight the mighty GOP challenge -- I have to be honest: Incumbent Patrick Murphy is as safe as a kid in a car seat.

A lot of us kept waiting for Murphy to misstep. We didn't know much about him going in -- he was from South Florida -- and we had no idea if he could learn how to truly represent our interests. Then along came algae blooms and the fouling of the Indian River Lagoon and St. Lucie estuary. Murphy was everywhere, spoke to every group, attended every important environmental meeting locally and in Washington. He showed he could listen to residents, changed his mind on All Aboard Florida so that now he's an advocate to stop it, or at least slow it.

I have a lot of friends among Republicans in Martin County, and none of them have told me they're disappointed in the job he's done as a moderate Democrat, nor are they looking to replace him. So here it is, easy prediction: Not only will Patrick Murphy defeat the survivor of today's Republican primary, he will win big in November. Big.

Republican CD 23 Primary: Who gets to lose to Debbie Wasserman Schultz?

Chair of the Democratic National Committee Debbie Wasserman Schultz, queen of hyperbole -- when she's in front of a TV camera anyway -- scooting from danger like a lost squirrel in the middle of Yankee Stadium -- keeps on babbling the darndest, the craziest things.

And she gets away with it. She survives. By the grace of God, a heavily liberal Fort Lauderdale and Miami Beach constituency, and a Republican Party that can't seem to find anyone, even with her weaknesses, who can take her down.

She represents a dark-blue district on the Gold Coast -- 48 percent Democrat, 26 percent Republican and 25.6 percent "other." In 2010 she beat Karen Harrington 60.1 percent to 38.1 percent. In 2012, when the GOP threw a ton of money into Harrington's campaign, Wasserman Schultz still cruised to a 63 percent to 35.5 percent victory.

The GOP loves to go after this woman, and who can blame them? But they have to find a rock star in this liberal fortress. And while I admire Juan Eliel Garcia and Joe Kaufman for their courage to take her on, they plain won't overcome Wasserman Schultz's celebrity.

Believe it or not, one Republican South Florida consultant told me, "We're just waiting for Wasserman Schultz to put one foot out of step." Really? The woman steps all over herself, practically chews off a foot, every time she opens her mouth and still she is revered at home where it counts.

I can laugh at her, CNN's Candy Crowley can laugh at her, Anderson Cooper can laugh at her, Tucker Carlson can laugh at her, half the national Democratic leadership can wince when the cameras set up in front of her. But Debbie Wasserman Schultz has a magic about her and no matter who wins on the GOP side today, no-way-Jose is she going to fall to Garcia or Kaufman.

Republican CD 9 Primary: Who gets to lose to Alan Grayson?

As much as it would thrill me and other Republicans to see loudmouth Alan Grayson leave office again, it's unlikely to happen. Grayson is in firm control of this district, where Democrats have a strong edge in party registration.

I agree with political writer Jeff Henderson, who calls any Republican move to unseat Grayson "mining for fool's gold."

Grayson loves to antagonize Republicans. Back in October, he compared the tea party to the Ku Klux Klan and, in 2010, compared the GOP to the Nazis. In his unsuccessful bid for a second term in 2010, Grayson lashed out at Republican Dan Websters evangelical faith, calling him Taliban Dan and mocking his religion.

Even though he lost to Webster by 18 percent in 2010, Grayson quickly bounced back to win a newly drawn congressional seat in 2012, which was much more of a Democratic safehold. True, 2012 was a Democratic year, but Grayson -- one of the wealthiest members of Congress -- destroyed Republican Todd Long, 62.5 percent to 37.5 percent. By the end of March, he had brought in $1.4 million -- $1.2 million from individuals -- and had around $380,500 on hand.

Graysons three Republican foes facing off in today's primary plain havent kept pace. Carol Platt raised almost $200,000 from individuals but burned through her cash fairly early. Navy veteran Jorge Bonilla hasn't produced anywhere near as much as Platt and Peter Vivaldi's total was even less impressive.

Despite Republican anger toward Grayson, it's as if GOP donors have given up.Maybe when a winner emerges, so will new money.

Democratic CD 10 Primary: Who gets to lose to Dan Webster?

However flawed two congressional districts may be -- one of them includes Dan Webster's -- CD 10 will remain as it is for two more years, Tallahassee Circuit Judge Terry Lewis ruled last week.

That means the Winter Garden Republican likely will cruise in November, no matter which Democrat -- Bill Ferree, Michael McKenna or Shayan Modaress -- emerges victorious today.

True, Democrat Val Demings, helped by the coattails of Barack Obama and Bill Nelson, came close to beating Webster in 2012. And no doubt the Democrats will be trying again in 2016, hoping their voters in a newly redrawn district will be more likely to come out for a presidential year.

But for the moment, Webster, 65, is in-like-Flynn. His opponents are far behind in fundraising, public presence and name recognition, and more important this year, the Republican voter numbers remain in his favor.

Republican CD 5 Primary: Who gets to lose to Corrine Brown?

Corinne Brown has won this district since 1992. Hasn't just won it, she's wiped the table with her opponents' tears. Don't even think about her losing it in 2014.

While I wish Vietnam-born Thuy (Twee) Lowe of Sorrento and Glo Smith, former staff assistant and program analyst to the lieutenant governor, the best of luck in the GOP primary, let's be real about November. Judge Lewis ruled CD 5 doesn't have to be redrawn until 2016. Meaning, in the general election, this heavily gerrymandered district is Corinne Brown Country.

Brown, 68, holds the most reliably Democratic seat with the most African-American voters in North Florida. Over the years, shes beaten back some impressive challengers, like Alvin Brown and Jennifer Carroll, but for the most part, they've all been easy pickings.

In 2010, Brown worked with Republicans in the Legislature against redistricting. She teamed up with Mario Diaz-Balart to argue that the Fair District amendments hurt minority voters. By taking the lead on the issue again, Brown is doing a favor for Republicans by pushing back. That could help her when the Legislature needs to draw up new congressional maps again.

However politically incorrect I am for saying this, I'll even repeat it: November is a formality. It's only 10 weeks away for tonight's close-race winners, who have less chance in the main event than a horse and buggy in a tractor pull. OK, maybe one or two of the candidates in these six races could find a way to close the gap. Just don't bet on it.

Reach Nancy Smith at or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith

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