Rep. John Mica, chairman of the powerful Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, beat tea-party-affiliated freshman Rep. Sandy Adams by a comfortable margin in today’s GOP primary for Florida's 7th district, situated north of Orlando.
With 78 percent of precincts reporting, Mica had 61 percent of the vote, to Adams’ 39 percent.
The establishment gets a bum rap these days. Time spent in Washington, D.C., is politically pestilent. Earmarks have given way to an age of austerity. Compromise is out. The approval rating of Congress is at 10 percent.
But in today’s Republican Member-vs.-Member race between the establishment and the grass roots, the establishment won.
Despite being a longtime politician in D.C. — Mica was first elected in 1992 — and having a history of earmarking for his district, Mica’s voting record is hued quite red: He is a real conservative. But it was green, not red that kept this from being much of a race.
Mica had a very considerable money advantage going into the primary fight earlier this year, and Adams was never able to close the gap with her own fundraising. Outside groups didn’t come to her rescue in a substantial way either, despite endorsements from tea party heavyweights such as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) and firebrand Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.).
“You can have all the grass roots you want, but at some point there is just a money factor that just crushes,” explained one top Florida GOP strategist unaligned in the race. “We reached that point a few weeks ago.”
Mica also started out with a significant advantage in the number of voters in the district who knew who he was. First elected to an Orlando-area seat the same year Bill Clinton was first elected president, Mica is a familiar figure.
“The guy’s been advertising in the Orlando media market for like 20 years,” the strategist said.
Other Republicans watching the race were struck by the disparity in advertising between the two candidates.
“He’s been really strong down the stretch with a lot of TV,” said unaffiliated GOP consultant Tre’ Evers, who is based in central Florida. And Mica had “lined up almost all of the local mayors,” he said.
Adams ran a feisty campaign, but the money gap hampered her ability to paint a full contrast with Mica. She was also impeded by the fact that both are similarly conservative when their voting records are taken in total, Florida GOP insiders said.
The race grew particularly nasty at times, but that didn’t change the underlying fundamentals.
“All she had on him was that he’s served for a long time,” Evers said.
The district is comfortably Republican so Mica is almost certain to be joining the 113th Congress for his 11th term.