The Florida Switch

Oct. 20, 2015 — Central Florida House Republicans are getting nervous. The new redistricting plan, which the state Supreme Court is likely to soon adopt, is not kind to the middle-state GOP incumbents. In preparation, press rumors are floating that several members will switch districts in order for each to have a winnable place to run next year.

Under the lower court’s proposed map, Rep. Dan Webster (R-FL-10) is the odd man out. His current Orlando-anchored district goes from a 46 percent Obama district to one where the president scored 61 percent. Therefore, the new 10th District becomes unwinnable for Webster even by his own admission.

Ironically, Rep. Alan Grayson’s (D) 9th District, now a 62 percent Obama district becomes even more Republican than the new 10th. The new southeastern Orlando suburban 9th would carry a 56 percent Obama rating, but even this Republican improvement would not yield a GOP victory particularly in a presidential election year. The 9th will be an open seat because Rep. Grayson is running for the Senate.

Rep. John Mica’s (R) 7th District is currently a 47 percent Obama district that would move to 49 percent Obama because the city of Sanford is annexed, which makes it a virtual tie at the presidential level (Mitt Romney also scored 49 percent). The open 6th District, northeast of the 7th that hugs the Atlantic coast from Daytona through Volusia County, is the seat Rep. Ron DeSantis (R) is vacating to run for Senate. This district gets more Democratic, too, but should remain in Republican hands. Originally, the 6th gave 41 percent of its votes to Obama; now, it would be 46 percent.

The rumored plan would have Rep. Mica moving into the open 6th, thus allowing Rep. Webster to pivot north into the marginal 7th, while conceding the 10th to the Democrats. The move is unlikely to happen. Rep. Mica said he already plans to seek re-election in the 7th, leaving the 6th as a pure open seat. It would simply be too far for Webster to jump all the way into the open 6th, where he would have no geographic base; hence, he will probably be forced to retire.

The very same move was available to Mica after the 2011 plan was unveiled. He already represented a large portion of the newly created 6th, and it was a much safer Republican seat than the 7th. This would have left the 7th for then-Rep. Sandy Adams (R-FL-24). But, Mica preferred to face another incumbent in a Republican primary for the 7th than to switch to a district that would have likely given him an easier race. He later trounced Adams and did not get a strong Democratic challenge, so his strategy worked.

Therefore, history suggests that Mica won’t make the move this time. Ironically, if he did, the veteran congressman would again face former Rep. Adams who has already announced her candidacy for the 6th District in addition to three others.

But switch rumors are not only floating among Republican members. There is also a theory that Rep. Corinne Brown (D-Jacksonville), whose current 5th District was declared illegal, could swing down into the 10th. She currently represents a portion of Orlando. Her new 5th district now will stretch from Jacksonville to Tallahassee, where she could face an incumbent pairing with Rep. Gwen Graham (D-FL-2). In northern Florida, it is freshman Rep. Graham who has few good political options, and she finds herself in similar position to Webster.

The Democratic switch is also unlikely to happen. Rep. Brown’s political base is in Jacksonville, and already two prominent local Orlando Democrats, a former police chief who has once run for Congress and a state senator, have already announced their candidacies for the 10th.

The 5th District still favors the Jacksonville candidate, so it is likely she will stay there and force Rep. Graham to make the big decision. It is quite possible that instead of challenging Brown, Graham could opt for the Senate race, or take a pass on 2016 and run statewide either for the open governor’s office (Gov. Rick Scott will be ineligible to seek re-election in 2018) or the Senate if incumbent Bill Nelson (D) decides to retire in ‘18. Her father, Bob Graham, served as Florida’s governor and later a senator for a total of 26 years.

It is inevitable that more creative ideas will surface as members chart what they believe is their best individual course to stay in office. At the end of the day, the Democrats will likely win incremental gains under this new map but not threaten the ensconced national Republican House majority.

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