Despite Environment, Boyd Seems Secure for Now

Posted December 27, 2009 at 11:01pm

It may be too early to call it a recruiting failure, but Republicans are at least having recruiting problems in Florida’s Panhandle-based 2nd district.

On paper, Rep. Allen Boyd (D) would seem to fall right in to the National Republican Congressional Committee’s wheelhouse when it comes to the type of Member the GOP is targeting this cycle. He’s a veteran Democrat sitting in a conservative district who hasn’t had a tough re-election fight in years.

And yet, the national party has yet to champion any recruit in the district or even show any real excitement for any of the five GOP candidates who have filed to take on the seven-term Congressman.

For now, national party insiders say they are content to sit back and watch how the various GOP candidates perform in the all-important money chase before they decide if they’ll get involved in the race.

One Florida GOP operative agreed that that’s probably the right move for now.

“Allen Boyd is a very good fit for that district,— the operative said. “He’s tougher … than people want to admit. If they don’t have a big money player there, I wouldn’t waste resources on a guy who’s proven he’s a tough nut to crack.—

Boyd certainly isn’t the top takeover target in Florida for House Republicans this cycle. That dubious honor would probably go to one of two freshmen, Reps. Alan Grayson (D) or Suzanne Kosmas (D).

But a case could be made that Boyd’s seat might be the GOP’s third-best shot in the state. And if the national political climate tilts heavily in favor of Republicans come November, Boyd may be the type of Democratic candidate whose district could suddenly come into play.

Republicans are becoming optimistic about their prospects of flipping Democratic seats in the South, especially after the recent retirement announcements of Reps. John Tanner (D-Tenn.) and Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) and the decision by freshman Rep. Parker Griffith (Ala.) to leave the Democratic Party and become a Republican.

Boyd’s Tallahassee-based district has voted increasingly Republican in the past three presidential elections. President George W. Bush won the district by 6 points in 2000 and 8 points in 2004, while Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) won the district by 9 points last year. McCain’s 54 percent showing in the district came despite a voter registration edge for Democrats of more than 100,000 — 50,000 in Leon County, which contains Tallahassee.

Boyd is a member of the Blue Dog Coalition and fashions himself a centrist, and yet Republicans who are hoping to oust him can point to the fact that he voted with his party more than 90 percent of the time during the 110th Congress.

As he works to fend off GOP attacks from his right for votes such as supporting the cap-and-trade legislation, Boyd also has to pay attention to his left flank. State Senate Minority Leader Al Lawson (D) is in the race, and though he made statements earlier this month that he was considering abandoning his bid to run for statewide office, Lawson more recently said he was committed to challenging Boyd. Lawson is black, as is 22 percent of the 2nd district population.

Boyd, whom Lawson blasted for opposing the House version of the health care reform bill, is certainly taking his primary challenge seriously. Over the past month, Boyd has dipped into his hefty $1.7 million campaign war chest to run a pair of ads touting his work for fiscally responsible health care reform.

The NRCC and Lawson both called Boyd’s decision to air ads so early in the cycle a sign that he’s already running scared.

“He’s burning cash right now,— said Steve Southerland (R), a funeral home owner from Bay County who filed for the race this fall.

Southerland, who said he’s hoping to break $100,000 raised by the end of the year, also said he’s talked with the NRCC but has no desire for the committee to get involved in the race before the primary is over.

“I don’t want my [campaign] manipulated. I want to be accepted by the people in the primary,— he said.

Considering the history of the district, the involvement of the national party does not always translate into success.

The last time Republicans seriously challenged Boyd was in 2004 — another good year for Republicans.

In that election GOP leaders including former Speaker Dennis Hastert (Ill.) and former first lady Laura Bush raised money and campaigned for state Rep. Bev Kilmer (R). Kilmer spent $1.1 million on her campaign but still lost 38 percent to 62 percent.

Southerland said the problem with Kilmer is that she was viewed as a candidate from Leon County and Tallahassee and didn’t excite the large GOP base in the rural coastal counties in the western end of the district, such as Gulf and Bay.

“In the past, everyone’s question has been, ‘How do you crack the code in Leon?’— Southerland said. Instead Republicans should focus on “a candidate the coastal counties can get behind.—

Other Republicans vying for the GOP nomination include engineer Carl Meece Jr., who lives in the eastern end of the district, attorney Charles Ranson, teacher Robert Ortiz and military veteran Eddie Hendry, all of whom hail from Tallahassee.

But the GOP field could also grow and become more formidable, especially if a self-funder were to get involved in the race.

“You’ve got a September primary in Florida. It’s not like Illinois. You’ve got some time before the filing deadline,— said Jim Dornan, a Republican political strategist with experience in Florida.

The Florida GOP operative agreed, noting that a late April filing deadline might allow a potential self-funder to sit back and watch two more sets of fundraising reports before deciding whether to get involved in the race.

“If [national Republicans] are still scrambling by the middle of March, they are probably going to have some real problems there,— Dornan said.