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Democrats Betting Big on Florida Redistricting

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Rep. David Rivera is vulnerable because he is under investigation for "financial improprieties."

Sunshine State Republicans are realistic about the fact that any redraw will be detrimental to some of their Members because the map is exceedingly advantageous to them now.

But given the anti-Obama political climate, which appears likely to weigh down the ballot, “the number of Members we thought were going to be in danger has decreased,” one Florida GOP operative said. The source now believes that a two-seat pickup is the best scenario for Democrats in 2012.

“I think they have figured out, rightly, that the smart thing to do is to comply with Fair Districts,” said Florida Democratic strategist Steve Schale, who ran the 2008 Obama/Biden campaign in the state. He noted that compliance with the new amendment meant some marginal Republican-held districts would become competitive and some competitive districts would become even more favorable to Democrats.

That’s probable, but some of those marginal and competitive districts might not be genuinely in play this cycle if the climate remains unfriendly for the top of the Democratic ticket. In a recent Quinnipiac University poll, 57 percent of registered voters disapproved of the way the president was handling his job; only 39 percent approved. The unemployment rate in Florida has remained mired at about 10.7 percent during the summer and into the fall.

Meanwhile, if the maps become embroiled in lengthy court hearings, anything could happen.

And in the eventuality that a judge draws the lines, Democrats won’t necessarily find themselves with a bonanza of new seats. One 2009 study from professors at Stanford University and the University of Michigan found that because of the nature of the geographic distribution of Democratic voters in Florida, the GOP would have a natural edge in a purely nonpartisan Congressional map.

Democrats are hopeful that, despite the national climate, they can use local issues to their advantage.

“We’ve got a couple of cards in our hands that they don’t have nationally that we think we can play,” one influential Florida Democrat said. The source noted Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s unpopularity, legislation the GOP Legislature has passed that won’t sit well with voters, and the increased Democratic voter turnout in a year with Obama on the ballot.

Top pickup opportunities for Democrats are expected to be a new seat likely to be drawn in the Orlando area; the southern Florida district represented by Rep. David Rivera, who is under investigation for “financial improprieties”; Rep. Allen West’s coastal district near Palm Beach; and Rep. Daniel Webster’s central Florida district.

It appears most Democratic Members are safe this cycle, though some of their districts might be targeted in the redraw.

One scenario floated is that Republicans might try to add 15,000 GOP voters to the district of Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz to make her re-election a bit tougher and force her to take time away from stumping for Obama.

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