Oct. 13, 2015 — The Republican troubles in the US House look to be getting worse as the long-awaited Florida redistricting process is at last taking shape. The state Supreme Court struck down portions of the map back in early July and, with the state legislature not passing new legislation in their abbreviated special session, the high court returned the plan to Circuit Judge Terry Lewis to serve as the redistricting special master. The original lawsuit was filed in Lewis’ court.
On Friday, Judge Lewis released his map, choosing one of the Democratic plaintiffs’ submissions, saying this plan best fulfills the Supreme Court’s sated objectives. The new map now goes to the Supreme Court for final approval.
The partisan numbers figure to favor Democrats by one to as many as four seats. Most likely, assuming no additional retirements among incumbents, the Democrats will probably gain one or two seats. There is a scenario, however, where Republicans could still break even. The Florida delegation splits 17R-10D under the current map.
The members likely to lose under the new configuration are representatives Gwen Graham (D-FL-2) and Dan Webster (R-FL-10) the latter of whom, ironically, is currently a candidate for House Speaker. Rep. David Jolly’s 13th District will also go Democratic, likely to former Gov. Charlie Crist (D) who said he would run if his St. Petersburg home was drawn into the district.
Rep. Jolly, foreseeing that the new map would trend against him, is already in the open Republican Senate field attempting to succeed outgoing Sen. Marco Rubio (R). Freshman Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL-26) finds his district becoming about three points more Democratic, taking it to a 55 percent Obama 2012 CD, while Crist, in the 2014 governor’s contest, carried the seat with 52 percent.
Freshman Rep. Graham finds her 2nd District becoming 12 points more Republican, with the city of Tallahassee going to Rep. Corinne Brown’s (D) 5th District. Instead of stretching from Jacksonville south to Gainesville, Sanford, and Orlando, the district will now jut due west to the state’s capital city. The end result leaves Rep. Graham in either a solid Republican district or facing Rep. Brown in a paired-incumbent Democratic primary. Graham could also hop into the Senate race, or wait and make a statewide bid in 2018.
Other members who see their district turn more competitive include representatives John Mica (R-FL-7) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL-27). Mica’s central Florida CD will now include the city of Sanford, meaning the seat becomes virtually a 50/50 Republican to Democrat split. The South Florida Ros-Lehtinen district adds another Democratic percentage point. Now, both President Obama and Charlie Crist carried the seat in substantial margins during their respective elections, the former winning 53-46 percent, while the latter recorded a similar 51-46 percent victory.
If Mica and Ros-Lehtinen both seek re-election, they should each prevail but the underlying vote in the two CDs could mean Democratic replacements when they decide to end their congressional service.
Two Democratic districts added a significant number of Republicans, but each will still remain in the blue column. Rep. Kathy Castor’s Tampa-anchored 14th District gains 7.5 percent Republican voters, but her underlying partisan numbers are still in the high 50s. Rep. Alan Grayson’s (D) open 9th District also gains Republicans but again, probably not enough to allow a GOP takeover next year. In actuality, Grayson’s 9th CD is now more Republican than Rep. Webster’s FL-10, meaning the latter could run here since the House Democratic incumbent is in the Senate race, but he would still be considered an underdog to whichever Democrat the party electorate decides upon.
Republicans could potentially even the score by converting the open 18th District — Rep. Patrick Murphy (D), running for Senate — in the Palm Beach area. The seat, which favors Republicans by between one and four points, remains unchanged in the new plan. Thus, redistricting will not factor in the Republicans having conversion potential in this particular district.
There is a high likelihood that the Supreme Court will adopt this map, meaning there will be an increased number of competitive Sunshine State congressional campaigns next year and reason for the Democrats to make some incremental gains.