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Race Ratings: Florida Offers Democrats Chances at Pickups

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Rep. Steve Southerland's race in the 2nd district is one to watch in Florida.

Late last year, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) said the party’s “path to 25 seats flows straight through Florida.”

Right now, under a Republican-drawn map signed into law this month, Democrats are likely to pick up only two seats and put a handful of others in play, netting two to four seats in the Sunshine State in November.

But the good news for them: The current map, which mostly protects incumbents, may not be the final one used this fall. Florida Democrats have sued in state court, alleging that the new lines violate a recent voter-approved constitutional amendment — known as “Fair Districts” — that prohibits, among other things, drawing Congressional lines with “the intent to favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent.”

While it’s extremely unlikely a court will insist on a complete redraw of lines, strategists in both parties said there were better-than-even odds that at least one district would be tweaked.

Regardless of the court’s decision, under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the Congressional map has to be “precleared” by either the Department of Justice or the federal District Court for the District of Columbia.

Among the races to watch in the northern half of the state are the re-election bids of freshman GOP Reps. Steve Southerland and Daniel Webster.

1st district
Incumbent: Jeff Miller (R)
5th full term (80 percent)
Rating: Safe Republican

Pensacola anchors this western panhandle district that ranks as the most Republican in state. The current 1st and the redrawn 1st are nearly identical.

Miller, chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, will glide to another term. His voting record, the most conservative in the House, keeps him safe from a primary challenge.

2nd district
Incumbent: Steve Southerland (R)
1st term (54 percent)
Rating: Leans Republican

Tallahassee anchors this district, but the redistricting process at the state Capitol didn’t shore up the already vulnerable lawmaker. Southerland unseated longtime Rep. Allen Boyd (D) in 2010 by a comfortable 13 points, but in his first re-election, he faces a more African-American and Democratic electorate.

Florida Republican operatives fret that the expected get-out-the-vote effort of President Barack Obama’s campaign makes it a tough slog for the former funeral home executive.

Democrats are bullish on their likely nominee, state Rep. Leonard Bembry, a farmer who has been endorsed by the fiscally conservative Blue Dog political action committee. Bembry raised a not-particularly-impressive $126,000 in the fourth quarter of 2011, but local and national Democrats expect him to post better fundraising numbers in the first quarter of this year.

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