There are four Member-vs.-Member Republican primaries this redistricting cycle, but the Florida matchup between House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica and freshman Sandy Adams is the one that leaves party leaders shaking their heads in dismay the most.
It’s a race that will pit the establishment against the tea party, seniority against grass roots, the old culture of earmarking against the one of new fiscal austerity, and a Member with significant resources against one with a lot less.
“It’s going to get ugly, man,” one top Tallahassee Republican said with a sigh. “They’re going to kick the tar out of each other.”
Adams is a local tea party favorite, a former state legislator and police officer who is well-liked by Florida’s GOP political class.
Mica, first elected to Congress in 1992, is known as the begrudging godfather of the Transportation Security Administration and identifies more closely with country club Republicans and the local business crowd.
Both Members’ homes were drawn into the newly configured 7th district north of Orlando, which contains 51 percent of Adams’ current constituents and 42 percent of Mica’s.
“I think that while I would give [Mica] the advantage because of money and overall name ID ... as far as work ethic, I wouldn’t rule her out,” said a longtime Florida GOP operative who is unaffiliated with either Member, reflecting the conventional wisdom in state Republican circles. “I think it’s going to be a donnybrook.”
Part of what is so frustrating for GOP operatives is that there was an easy out. The nearby 6th district was open. But Mica and Adams are adamant and implacable: The 7th is where each is running.
Mica is bullish on his chances in the Aug. 14 primary, saying not only that he is definitely running but that he is “running on 12 cylinders.”
“I work like an SOB,” he told Roll Call. “We’ve secured almost all of the elected political support. We’ve secured almost all of the party support. We’ve secured almost all of the business support,” he said.
But asked about tea party backing, Mica said, “I’ve appealed to them, too.”
Jason Hoyt, an influential tea party organizer based in central Florida, said he has spoken with Adams and Mica. Hoyt described the grass-roots conservative movement as being strongly with Adams, despite her vote in favor of the Budget Control Act.
“I think he just represents so much more of the establishment,” Hoyt said of Mica. “He’s just not connecting to people. I just think he’s out of touch.”
That’s a theme that Adams seems likely to emphasize.
“He loves earmarks. He likes to spend,” Adams said. “I think we need to control our spending.”
Mica said he is planning to highlight his “long-term conservative credentials” and “record of leadership.”
Neither House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) nor a super PAC affiliated with him appears likely to get involved in this Member-vs.-Member race.
Cantor and the super PAC, YG Action Fund, supported freshman Rep. Adam Kinzinger over 10-term Rep. Don Manzullo in Illinois earlier this year. Kinzinger won, but the move ruffled feathers within the GOP Conference.
“The Majority Leader doesn’t plan to get involved in any Member-on-Member races,” Cantor spokesman Doug Heye said.
And a source familiar with the YG Network’s operations said the organization had “no plans at this time” to get involved in the Florida race.
But Adams may need third-party groups to come to her rescue if she is to win this race.
She had $459,000 in cash on hand at the end of March, while Mica had an impressive $1.2 million.
The pro-free-market Club for Growth, which can help drive fundraising with an endorsement, seems unlikely to get involved because the candidates hold similar records on its issues. Adams has a 68 percent Congressional rating from the club, while Mica has 78 percent lifetime rating.
“If Mica is able to keep this 2- or 3-to-1 money advantage, it’s going to be very hard [for Adams] to punch through a message,” said Tre’ Evers, a Republican consultant based in central Florida. He noted Mica’s high name ID from having been a public figure for so long.
“He’s been involved with Republican politics since the ’70s,” Evers said. “He knows, personally, thousands of people.”
Mica said he has represented 93 percent of the redrawn 7th district over the course of his career — a claim that couldn’t be independently verified.
One issue that might play in the race is the TSA, which Mica once called “the little bastard child I created.”
He has worked to allow airports to privatize security under TSA supervision. Still, being a co-sponsor of the legislation that created the publicly reviled bureaucracy might be a burden.
“I get patted down every week — sometimes biweekly,” Adams said with a chuckle. “I do! I think that’s a big issue ... this mess, this bureaucracy that has been grown and grown and grown.”
Some of the bile that appears likely to be a defining characteristic of this race comes from the Members’ competing narratives of how they came to run in the 7th. Both say they feel betrayed by the other choosing to run in this safe Republican district.
Adams announced first, and then, she said, Mica came up to her on the House floor and offered to help her raise money if she moved to the 6th district.
He said “he had decided to run there and that I needed to move over to the other district,” Adams explained. “And I just said, ‘Well, that’s your district. I am not shopping for a district.’ And his answer was: ‘I’ll have a million dollars cash on hand. You need to move.’”
Mica confirmed that he told her he would help her if she moved.
How both ended up running in the 7th probably won’t matter, though. What will: Mica will have to work very hard to come back to Congress no matter his monetary advantage.
“While old age and treachery may overcome young and fresh,” said a Sunshine State Republican familiar with the district, “it won’t be easy.”