Feb. 10, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

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.

“He turns on the Daily Kos crowd,” Florida GOP strategist Rick Wilson said, referring to the progressive website, “but ordinary Florida voters run like hell from this lunatic.”

Asked to respond, Grayson calmly noted that “somehow I’ve succeeded in life that A) I was elected to Congress and B) I was the sixth-richest Member of the House when I was there.”

“I think that drives them crazy,” he said laughing, “and it’s them who are crazy, not me.”

If the GOP can recruit a moderate Puerto Rican candidate to run, perhaps this could be a contest. Florida operatives mention Oscela County Commissioner John “Q” Quiñones (R) as a potential candidate. But for now, Grayson, who lost to Rep. Daniel Webster (R) in 2010 by an embarrassing 18 points, looks to have a surprisingly comfortable path back to the House.

10th district
Incumbent: Daniel Webster (R)
1st term (56 percent)
Rating: Likely Republican

The lines of this district give Florida Democrats heartburn. They see Webster as a vulnerable incumbent, a top-tier Democratic candidate in former Orlando Police Chief Val Demings, and a good narrative in a face-off between the two. But Webster was shored up in the redraw, and his district is Republican-leaning.

The narrative against Webster, who served in the Florida Legislature for 28 years before unseating then-Rep. Alan Grayson (D) in 2010, will be that he’s a career politician ensconced in the right-wing Republican world. Democrats will attempt to create a strong contrast between him and Demings, whom they’ll paint as a public servant beyond partisanship who has worked her whole career to serve and protect the people of Orlando.

It could be a very effective narrative, and, by all accounts, she’s an incredibly solid candidate. Demings’ fundraising ability has been top-notch, and she ended 2011 with $281,000. Still, the current lines make it a difficult journey to unseat Webster. He is known as a nice guy and a savvy politician who has been underestimated his whole career but always seems to come out on top. He’ll emphasize his history as a small-business man and focus on jobs and the economy on the trail.

What gives Florida Democrats hope, however, is the expectation that the courts will step in to change this district in particular for violating the Fair Districts standard. Even some knowledgeable Republicans in the state said there’s a
better-than-even chance that the court asks the Legislature to tweak the 10th.

If that happens, this could be a tossup race. But for now, Democrats are left with a common redistricting conundrum: great candidate, bad district.

11th district
Incumbent: Rich Nugent (R)
1st term (67 percent)
Rating: Safe Republican

Nugent will have new territory to cover in this western coastal and central district that stretches from Hernando Beach to Ocala. But if he introduces himself properly to the voters unfamiliar with the former sheriff, Nugent shouldn’t have any problems returning to the 113th Congress. The 11th is solid Republican turf.

12th district
Incumbent: Gus Bilirakis (R)
3rd term (71 percent)
Rating: Safe Republican

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