By Jim Ellis
April 15, 2016 — Jacksonville area Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-FL-4) has announced he will not seek a ninth term in office, thus ending a congressional career that began with his initial election in 2000.
He becomes the 44th House member not to seek re-election in 2016, and the 29th Republican, making this the third consecutive election cycle with an abnormally large number of open seats. In 2012, 63 districts were open; 2014 saw 48 campaigns without an incumbent running. Normally, open seats number in the 30-35 range. Crenshaw’s unexpected retirement means that seven of Florida’s 27 US House seats will be open for the coming election.
Previously, the 71-year-old lawmaker served in the Florida state House and Senate for a combined total of 14 years. In 1992, Crenshaw became the first Republican in almost 120 years to be elected as president of the Florida state Senate. He is a member of the House Appropriations Committee and chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government.
The 4th District covers the northeastern corner of Florida, anchored by part of Duval County and a portion of Jacksonville. It annexes Nassau County to the north, and now part of St. John’s County, including the city of St. Augustine, to the south. The St. John’s addition came to the district in the latest round of court-ordered redistricting. The 4th has performed as the second-most Republican district in the Sunshine State, behind only retiring Rep. Jeff Miller’s 1st District. Mitt Romney garnered 66 percent of the District 4 vote in 2012.
Speculation already surrounds former Duval County Sheriff John Rutherford (R) as a potential candidate among others. Rutherford served as the county’s top law enforcement officer for 12 years and was ineligible to seek a fourth term in 2015. Pre-redistricting, Rutherford had considered entering the open 6th District campaign (Rep. Ron DeSantis-R, who is running for Senate), but did not pursue the race when the boundaries changed. Immediately, upon Crenshaw’s retirement announcement yesterday morning, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and several prominent area business leaders publicly endorsed Rutherford as Rep. Crenshaw’s successor.
Several others could enter the Republican primary prior to candidate filing closing on May 6. Duval County Property Appraiser Jerry Holland and County Tax Collector Mike Corrigan are also potential candidates. Even former Florida Gators quarterback and Heisman Trophy-winner Tim Tebow has been floated by some. Tebow lives in the district. Regardless of who becomes the Republican candidate, the seat will easily remain in Republican hands. The Florida primary, with no run-off election, is Aug. 30.
Of the 44 open seats, only three are in the early Toss-Up category: AZ-1 (Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick-D), FL-18 (Rep. Patrick Murphy-D), and MN-2 (Rep. John Kline-R). Another seven seats lean to the majority Republicans, while three, including Florida’s 13th District (Rep. David Jolly-R), appear headed to the Democratic column.
0f the remainder, 19 are either Safe or Likely Republican, including Crenshaw’s FL-4, while a dozen are rated as Safe or Likely Democratic. The small partisan shift in the large number of open seats is another reason the House majority will remain safely Republican.