Dec. 4, 2015 — The Florida Supreme Court finally enacted a congressional redistricting plan on Tuesday. The process began in early July when the high court struck down eight of the state’s congressional districts and now culminates in approving a lower court judge’s statewide plan that changes 22 of the Sunshine State’s 27 CDs.
Currently, the delegation stands at 17R-10D. Democrats are poised for gains, but the actual increase may be smaller than intended. Two South Florida seats, those of Republicans Carlos Curbelo (FL-26), a freshman, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27), a 14-term veteran and former chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, appear designed to elect Democrats but these districts have a history of bucking voting trends at the congressional level. Though Rep. Ros-Lehtinen’s 27th CD voted 53 percent for President Obama in 2012, the congresswoman didn’t even draw an opponent in 2014 and notched a 60-37 percent win when last contested.
There is little doubt that Democrats will convert Districts 10 and 13, while Republicans will take back District 2, a seat they lost in the 2014 election.
The Orlando-anchored 10th District becomes 15 points more Democratic on the Obama scale and switches 13 points when looking at gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist’s (D) performance in his 2014 statewide losing effort. Incumbent Rep. Dan Webster (R) can’t win this seat, but he may survive by moving into neighboring District 11, an open CD because Rep. Rich Nugent (R) is not seeking re-election. The 11th gains a significant chunk of Lake County from Webster’s current 10th, meaning the congressman will have a foothold in the new district. If he can win nomination, FL-11’s Republican history will allow him to continue his congressional career.
District 13, vacated in the coming general election because short-term incumbent David Jolly is running for the Senate, will likely fall to former Gov. Crist. The addition of St. Petersburg, Crist’s hometown, makes the new Pinellas County seat heavily Democratic.
With most of Tallahassee going to District 5, but again anchored in Jacksonville, freshman Rep. Gwen Graham (D) will now have to make a decision about her political future. Without Tallahassee, her 2nd District becomes 12 points more Republican on the Obama scale, and increases 11 when overlaying the Crist result. This makes District 2 unwinnable for a Democrat. Therefore, Graham will either have to challenge Rep. Corinne Brown (D) in the heavily African-American 5th District, or run statewide. Raising large amounts of money in the off-year, she could be poised to enter the 2016 Senate race or wait a term and run for the open governor’s position or potentially Sen. Bill Nelson’s (D) Senate seat should he decide to retire.
Rep. John Mica’s 7th District, adding more territory in Orange County and the city of Sanford in Seminole County, now breaks evenly between the two parties. President Obama carried the district by a handful of votes in 2012, but Gov. Rick Scott (R) topped Crist here two years later by a similarly small number. Though the district could now elect a Democrat, it is likely that Rep. Mica will be able to hold as long as he continues to seek re-election. If he were to retire, this seat would be very much in play.
The seats of representatives Ted Yoho (District 3), Ander Crenshaw (4), Ron DeSantis (6), Alan Grayson (9), Gus Bilirakis (12), Kathy Castor (14), Dennis Ross (15), Vern Buchanan (16), Tom Rooney (17), Alcee Hastings (20), Ted Deutch (21) and Lois Frankel (22) are all changed substantially but the party representation in all will remain constant.
Whether the Democrats gain one, two, or more seats depends upon whether they can defeat Rep. Curbelo – in a new district that Obama won by four points and Crist carried by one-half percent – and hold the marginal 18th District. The latter is the Palm Beach County seat that Rep. Patrick Murphy (D) is vacating to run for the Senate. FL-18 is one of five seats that remain unchanged under the new plan, and a district that both Mitt Romney and Gov. Scott carried in the last two elections. Republicans converting here, which is a distinct possibility, could mitigate the statewide damage. Should Curbelo win, and the 18th goes Republican, the party division within the delegation would actually remain unchanged.
Florida will again be key to the 2016 presidential campaign and in determining which party captures the US Senate majority. After yesterday, the state now will play a major role as to how the national House campaigns unfold, too.