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Chaos and Opportunity Ahead for Florida Democrats | Farm Team

For Florida Democrats, 2014 represents the calm before the political storm of the century.

The following cycle, 2016, has the potential to unleash unrest up and down the ballot, even for a perpetual battleground state like Florida.

One of the catalysts is Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who could headline the national GOP ticket that cycle. If he is the GOP presidential nominee, his seat could be one of two competitive Senate races on the 2016 Florida ballot.

At the same time, competitive seats, looming retirements and ongoing redistricting litigation signal an active House landscape.

Sunshine State Democrats boast a deep bench, thanks in part to their recent losses. After the GOP wave of 2010, Republicans dominated the state legislature and controlled the decennial redistricting process.

“Democrats have a range of people with pretty solid credentials winning in the jobs where things actually get done,” said Democratic consultant David Beattie, who is based in Florida.

Democrats will have a big opportunity to test their candidate stable in 2016, when both Senate races could be on the ballot.

Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson’s seat would be open if he defeats Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, next year. Local Democrats say Nelson is seriously considering the gubernatorial race.

“It’s on the way to being fairly serious. I think he is going to take a very close look at it,” a senior Florida Democratic official told CQ Roll Call. “It’s not very far along. I wouldn’t tell you it’s likely ... [but] I think he will really look at it.”

If Nelson ran for and won the governor’s mansion in 2014, he would be charged as governor with appointing someone to serve two years as his Senate successor. But there’s some confusion about who would actually make the Senate appointment.

An aide with Florida’s Division of Elections said such a situation would leave a small window of time for Scott to appoint a Republican to the Senate. Democrats say Nelson would appoint his own successor.

Regardless, the appointee would hold the seat until a 2016 special election.

Rubio’s presidential ambitions could further shake up his home state’s political landscape in 2016.

He cannot appear on the ballot twice in Florida, which means that if he wins the GOP presidential nomination, he is ineligible to seek re-election to the Senate at the same time. But if Rubio loses the presidential primary, he can run for re-election in the fall.

Florida Democrats say there are a number of Democrats on deck to run in either or both of the wide-open fields: Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown, Rep. Ted Deutch, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and 2010 gubernatorial nominee Alex Sink.

Democrats continue to mention former Gov. Charlie Crist as a potential statewide candidate. But privately, there is little enthusiasm for the former Republican among local Democrats.

As for the future House landscape in Florida, both local and national Democrats express confidence that they will make gains in the state soon. They see a pending legal challenge, looming GOP retirements and recruitment as falling in their favor.

Democrats eagerly eye the seats of Republican Reps. C.W. Bill Young and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Both of their districts slightly favor Republicans, but at least one of those members has no plans to leave Congress anytime soon.

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