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Monday, June 21, 2010

Joe Garcia and hope for Florida Democrats

A new poll showing a lead for Democrat Joe Garcia in Florida's 25th is already garnering significant attention in the blogosphere, but it also makes me wonder if Florida, in an astonishing twist of fate, could be a significant bright light for Democrats nationwide in a year when the punditocracy predicts losses for the party. Indeed, I think some of the top prognosticators in Washington should probably take a closer look at their Sunshine State predictions right now because I think Democrats almost surely will grow its share of the state delegation.

The poll getting attention shows a 38-35 race between Garcia and Republican David Rivera. Admittedly this is an internal DCCC poll and has a lot of voters still in the undecided column. But there is no question this race is at worst a toss-up, and one where things are trending toward blue. This has potential to be a significant pickup for the Dems in 2010.

As background, this seat is held now by Republican Mario Diaz-Balart, who is fleeing east to run for his brother Lincoln's open seat. This alone should show the direction the district is trending. The incumbent held onto this seat with 53 percent of the vote in 2008 despite a serious challenge from Garcia and a strong tide in favor of Democrats during a year when Barack Obama won Florida's electoral votes. The fact a sitting Congressman, who hand-drew this seat in 2002 as chairman of the House redistricting committee, would rather flee than face re-election should be a sign the seat is up for grabs. Some things were working in Diaz-Balart's favor two years ago, most notably a close relationship with Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Shultz, a Democrat heading up the national push for Democrats to win seats who was reluctant to attack a South Florida colleague. Mario obviously fears Garcia will go after him more aggressively this year, and that he stands a better chance of keeping his job if voters in the 21st mistake him for Lincoln.

But the shady seat shuffling leaves a bad taste in the mouths of 25th District voters. And bad news about Rivera, the GOP frontrunner, had been about the only news in the race. A Tallahassee home he co-owned with Marco Rubio was in foreclosure proceedings this week until Rubio settled with the bank, and thanks to Rubio's high-profile in the Senate race, the story got billing in every political news outlet around. Rivera has also been flopping around on the Arizona immigration law, and his campaign filings have drawn fire. And like so many foolish Republican politicians, he adopted an unfortunate position in favor of offshore drilling a couple years before the Deepwater Horizon disaster. If Garcia is winning the race today, the headlines only have the potential of boosting his lead. Yet Cook Political Report still has this as a "Likely Republican" hold, as does CQ Politics, but I think that demands further review.

Honestly, I think both of those maps have statewide problems. They list Rep. Alan Grayson's seat as a toss-up, which early in the season was understandable but is questionable now. I was stunned two years ago when the Democrat upset Ric Keller, and it seemed voters in such conservative areas as Lake County would want blood. But the presence of a Tea Party candidate in the general and a battle for the Republican nomination seem to be fracturing opposition and paving the way for a Grayson victory party.

The other race in Florida that the nationals are watching is Rep. Suzanne Kosmas in the 24th. Like Diaz-Balart's district, this was hand-drawn by Republicans in 2002, but it has already been lost by the GOP. Kosmas, a Democrat, defeated ex-state House Speaker Tom Feeney there in 2008. And while a Democratic wave and Feeney's own issues surely helped, she won 57 percent of the vote. That is a bigger margin than Bill Posey won during in his inaugural bid in the 15th, just to the South, yet CQ lists Posey's seat as a "Safe Republican" hold. Challenging Kosmas for the Republicans are running Craig Miller, the ousted former CEO of Ruth's Steak House. Unless Kosmas gets embroiled in an unexpected scandal, I expect this to go our way.

Every other incumbent Congressman in Florida is probably safe for re-election, but the only one of them Cook even lists as a leaner is the 2nd, where Democrat Allen Boyd won re-election in a Republican leaning district in 2008 with 62 percent of the vote, even as McCain took the district by 9 points. Should Boyd retire or get hit by a truck, we may have problems with the Panhandle district, but he has held that seat for 14 years, and will continue to do so until he is ready to go.

By my math, that means the Democrats will pick up a seat in the Congressional delegation. And we probably will have a Senator who caucuses with the Dems as well. That should make this a fantastic year for Democrats, in a swing state no less, and that should significantly disrupt a narrative about Democrats facing hard times this year.

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