Feb. 6, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Florida Enters Uncertain Battle Over District Lines

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo
The new Florida map that is likely to be signed into law and challenged in court is pretty good for Republicans. But over the course of the next decade, the GOP might have trouble holding the seats of Reps. Bill Young (above), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart.

One plugged-in Florida Republican strategist put the chance of Democrats winning in court at "virtually none" because of the steep climb to proving the intention in GOP mapmakers' hearts.

Nonpartisan groups, including the League of Women Voters, are expected to sue over the maps as well.

Whatever the courts' judgment is, it's likely to have nationwide legal reverberations.

"This is the first time a state has employed this kind of criteria," said attorney Jeff Wice, a Democratic redistricting expert. "Because the criteria limits political gerrymandering, it could set up a major court test for how far a legislature can advance partisan interests."

If the courts decide the GOP-drawn maps are legal, Democrats are likely to pick up two to four seats this cycle. Democratic strategists see expanding opportunity for their party over the next decade even under their worst-case scenario: that the GOP lines remain in place.

As GOP Members in Democratic-leaning seats such as Rep. Bill Young (R) retire and as demography in south Florida and the Orlando area shift, with surges in Puerto Rican populations, plugged-in Sunshine State Democrats see a broadening field of districts as pickup opportunities. From 2008 to 2010, Florida's population of Puerto Rican descent grew by more than 100,000 people to 848,000, according to census data.

Schale, who ran Barack Obama's 2008 campaign in the state, flagged the three districts in the Miami area held by Republican Reps. David Rivera, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen as places ripe for a Democratic takeover during the next 10 years.

"I don't think you can have a county like Miami-Dade, that is voting almost 60 percent for Democrats at the top of the ticket and growing cycle to cycle" with populations friendly to Democrats, Schale said, "voting for three Republicans forever."

The Democratic operative who declined to be named added: "Look, the state's getting younger and it's getting blacker and it's getting browner. Over time, it's always getting better for us."

But GOP strategists in Tallahassee insist there's more to the electoral equation.

"Message matters. Views matter. Campaigns matters," Republican consultant Rick Wilson said.

"Populations change. The things that drive them change," he added. "And the presumption by Democrats that they will always hold 100 percent of the loyalty of the minority community, I think is a flawed proposition."

Republican strategist Ana Navarro, who is deeply familiar with south Florida, acknowledged there were growing pockets of Democratic-leaning voters in parts of the Miami area. But without strong Democratic candidates, she said it didn't matter.

"Part of the problem Democrats have, especially in South Florida, is that they have a very shallow stable, they have a very shallow field of potential contenders," Navarro said. "There's only one Hispanic Democrat state Rep. or state Senator from south Florida."

She added, "The makeups of those [Congressional] seats is increasingly competitive, but where are their people who are going to compete?"

Wilson said Republicans would keep the pressure on Democrats, however populations shift in the Sunshine State in the next decade.

"Yeah, there are going to be seats where it's going to be difficult for any Republican to play," he said. "But we don't cede ground, especially in Florida. We do not give up a lot of turf. We fight for everything."

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