Primary Preview – Part II

By Jim Ellis

Aug. 30, 2016
— Today, we cover the second half of the competitive Florida campaigns, with just a word about Arizona. The Washington Post ran an article yesterday chronicling Sen. John McCain as being “in the fight of his life.” It does not appear that McCain is in any danger of losing the primary today, and his general election polling puts him in his strongest position of this election cycle. Therefore, the Post story seems ill timed.

Also in Arizona, and not covered yesterday, despite a moderate independent expenditure leveled against Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Prescott), the congressman is also expected to easily survive his primary challenge. Gosar’s opponent, former local official Ray Strauss (R), has attracted just over $100,000 in support of his own campaign, far less than the independent expenditure. The general election will not be competitive.

Florida

• FL-9: The new 9th District, which stretches from east Orlando south through Kissimmee, west to Winter Park and then east to the Yeehaw Junction, is a few points less Democratic than the seat Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Orlando) currently represents. His departure to the Senate race makes this one of seven open Florida congressional districts. While Alan Grayson will not represent this district in the next Congress, another Grayson may. A poll released last week found the congressman’s new wife, physician Dena Grayson, leads the Democratic primary field, thus making her at least a slight favorite. Former congressional aide Susannah Randolph and state Sen. Darren Soto are the other viable candidates in the Democratic field. Today’s Dem primary victor will win the seat in November. Safe Democratic

• FL-10: The new redistricting plan radically changed the Orlando-anchored 10th District from safe Republican to safe Democratic. GOP incumbent Dan Webster (R-Orlando) vacated this seat and is seeking re-election in the neighboring open district. The Democratic primary favorite is former Orlando Police Chief Val Demings. She faces state Sen. Geraldine Thompson and former Florida Democratic Party chairman Bob Poe. Demings challenged Rep. Webster in 2012, posting 48 percent against the Republican incumbent. Now that this is a 61 percent Obama seat, tomorrow’s Democratic primary winner will be the new member. Safe Democratic

• FL-11: Rep. Rich Nugent (R-Spring Hill), retiring after three terms, has given congressman Webster a political lifeboat. Already representing about 20 percent of the new 11th, which stretches from the Orlando metro area west through Lake, Sumter, Citrus and Hernando Counties, Webster has drawn only Justin Grabelle, Rep. Nugent’s former chief of staff, as a Republican primary opponent. Grabelle, on a track to spend only half of Webster’s financial total, makes him a substantial underdog in today’s campaign. Tonight’s GOP winner will take the seat in November. Safe Republican

• FL-13: Though there is little in the way of primary action for either party here today, the Pinellas County 13th District will be the host of a major general election campaign. Rep. David Jolly (R), who returns to this race after leaving the open Senate race when incumbent Marco Rubio decided to seek re-election, faces former Gov. Charlie Crist (D). Now with St. Petersburg added to this district, which is Crist’s hometown, the seat has gone from a pure swing district to one that is decidedly Democratic with an Obama 2012 vote of almost 55 percent.

The court-ordered redistricting process used this CD as the lynchpin for re-drawing the statewide map and designed it to elect a Democrat. Ex-Gov. Crist, who lost a Senate race in 2010 and a comeback attempt for governor in ’14, remains rather unpopular. Thus, this seat should be competitive in the fall. Rep. Jolly’s bad relationship with the Republican establishment doesn’t help his chances, though. Crist must be regarded as the general election favorite. Lean Democratic

• FL-18: Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Jupiter) is vacating this district, which should lean Republican, though the Democrat has twice won the seat. This open district will be one of two seats that will likely define whether or not Republicans lose seats in the new redistricting plan because a GOP conversion is possible here. Six Republicans are in this open race, five of whom have constructed at least marginally competitive campaigns.

The contest is among former state Rep. and 2014 congressional nominee Carl Domino, physician Mark Freeman, attorney Rick Kozell who enjoys some conservative organization backing, disabled veteran Brian Mast, and Martin County School Board member Rebecca Negron. The latter is the wife of presumed incoming state Senate President Joe Negron, who himself is a former congressional candidate. This is a free-for-all primary and a scenario can be created for virtually any of the aforementioned to win.

For the Democrats, local businessman Randy Perkins is the odds-on favorite to capture the party nomination within a field of three contenders. Perkins is largely a self-funder because he earlier stated that he does not like asking people he didn’t know for money. Today’s result sets the stage for quite a race in November. Toss-Up

• FL-19: Two-term Rep. Curt Clawson (R-Bonita Springs) leaves his safe Republican seat for family reasons. Running to succeed him are former Ambassador to the Holy See Francis Rooney, Sanibel Island City Councilman Chauncey Goss, son of former US Representative and CIA Director J. Porter Goss (R), and former Secret Service agent and Maryland congressional candidate Dan Bongino.

Remington Research, whose directors are associated with the Rooney campaign, released a pre-primary survey that finds the former US Ambassador holding a substantial 46-32-16 percent lead over Goss and Bongino. Looking at expenditures and support basis, the poll appears to be a reasonable depiction of the campaign’s status. This is one of the safest Republican seats in the state, and was left untouched by the mid-decade redistricting draw. Amb. Rooney is the clear favorite. The general election will not be competitive. Safe Republican

• FL-21, 22: The redistricting plan paired Democratic Reps. Peter Deutch (D-FL-21) and Lois Frankel (D-FL-22). The two agreed not to run against each other. In the end, they are switching districts and running in largely unfamiliar territory. The districts are both heavily Democratic, and neither Reps. Deutch nor Frankel even drew primary opposition. Therefore, both will return to Washington in the new Congress, but 21st District incumbent Deutch will represent CD-22, and the 22nd District’s Rep. Frankel will then occupy CD-21. Safe Democratic (2)

• FL-23: In a district located between Ft. Lauderdale and Miami, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Weston) faces stiff primary opposition in the person of law professor Tim Canova. This race has gained national attention because of the congresswoman’s position as Democratic National Committee chair and her unceremonious departure from the position as the party convention began in late July.

The primary has turned into a battle between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders’ supporters, with the latter candidate always claiming that the DNC was biased toward Clinton, a charge that hacked emails later substantiated. Both candidates will spend well over $3 million on their campaigns. Because the 23rd went overwhelmingly for Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary, it is likely that the congresswoman will survive the challenge, but her victory percentage will come nowhere near 60 percent. Most likely, she will win re-nomination in the low to mid-50s. Safe Democratic

• FL-26: The Miami-Dade 26th District, a seat that contains the Everglades and most of the Florida Keys, has had three different incumbents in its short three-term history. Created in the 2011 redistricting after Florida was awarded two new seats, the 26th began as a marginal Republican district. State Rep. David Rivera (R) won the seat, but then lost to Democrat Joe Garcia in 2012 through a bizarre election vote scandal. Garcia, embroiled in an election scandal of his own, lost in 2014 to current Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R).

Now, with the new redistricting plan making the 26th a Lean Democratic seat, today’s primary will identify Curbelo’s re-election challenger. Former Rep. Garcia returns, but the Democratic establishment is backing former congressional and lieutenant governor candidate, Annette Taddeo. Published polls, even from the Taddeo campaign, suggest Garcia has enough residual strength to win the nomination. Democratic leaders feel Garcia’s past situation makes him the weaker challenger despite his former incumbency. The general election promises to be a tight contest. Toss-Up

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