The National Republican Congressional Committee's independent expenditure arm will soon begin airing ads in Florida's 2nd district, the Panhandle seat of freshman Republican Rep. Steve Southerland.
The Democratic nominee in the district is former state Sen. Al Lawson, a folksy and affable candidate who beat the party's choice in the primary. Lawson was originally written off but appears poised to at least have a shot — if still quite long — at coming to Congress.
The NRCC has bought about $85,000 of airtime on broadcast television in the Panama City media market and about $75,000 on broadcast television in the Tallahassee media market from Oct. 5-18.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has been airing ads in the district since Sept. 25. Democrats appear poised to outspend Republicans there by a significant margin.
The desire to provide Southerland — whose ad campaign isn't scheduled to begin until Oct. 15 — with some cover could explain the NRCC's decision to jump in the race.
Still, it's the NRCC's first foray into the Sunshine State and a sign that the seat is probably more vulnerable to a Democratic pickup than previously thought.
After Lawson, an African-American who represented parts of the Panhandle for decades in the state Legislature, beat state Rep. Leonard Bembry — who had the endorsement of the fiscally conservative Democratic Blue Dog PAC and the tacit backing of the Democratic Party — Florida insiders all but wrote Lawson off.
But the 6'7" former semi-professional basketball player managed to pull together a campaign and make his bid against Southerland something of a race.
The 2nd district became slightly less favorable for a Republican during redistricting but still would have voted for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) by about 5 points in 2008 under the new lines.
Democrats were pleased with the news of the NRCC's involvement.
"This is one of those late-breaking races that happen after redistricting where people's perceptions of a campaign are based on the old district lines," Dave Beattie, Lawson's pollster, said in an email to Roll Call late Tuesday. "Al Lawson knew the opportunity and worked to put himself in position to challenge an incumbent who does not fit the newly drawn district. The NRCC is coming to the realization that this is a real opportunity for Democrats to pick up a seat."
Republicans sang a different tune.
"After abandoning losing challengers on the east and west coasts of Florida, national Democrats are now desperately looking elsewhere," NRCC spokesman Nat Sillin said in a statement, presumably alluding to reduced DCCC spending in Florida's 16th and 18th districts, held by GOP Reps. Vern Buchanan and Allen West, respectively.
"We have the resources to cover their bets, so we are," Sillin said.
Roll Call rates the race as Likely Republican.