I have spent most of my political career toiling in and around the legislative arena, and truth be told, I think legislative races in Florida are a ton of fun, particularly state house races. State House districts in Florida are big enough that they require virtually every element of a larger race: television, mail, field, earned media, etc., but small enough that local dynamics and old fashioned shoe leather can make a difference.
Much has changed in Florida since the last redistricting, and the upshot of these trends is an increase in the number of competitive races in Florida. So as we move into towards the 2010 elections, here are ten you should watch. Surely some of these will fall off the intrigue board, but from where I sit today, these are the ones that might have the best races---and the best story lines.
HD 9---The Oil Primary: Democratic Primary: Vasilinda vs Minor
This is the oil primary. Michelle Vasilinda was the only Democratic member of the legislature to support near shore drilling and Minor has been taking her to task for it since he got in this race nearly a year ago—and well before the oil spill. Vasilinda will have more name ID and more money. But Tallahassee is liberal place and Minor has been running a fairly one issue campaign.
HD 11---Blue Dog Rising: Boyd v. Porter
Assuming Liz Porter can win her primary, look for a re-match of last year’s close race with Debbie Boyd. Two factors benefiting Boyd this time: the district performs better for Democrats in non-Presidential years and history---in the age of term limits, only one incumbent has lost a re-election after their first try, and that was Sheri McInvale who switched parties in a heavily Democratic seat.
HD 26---Clash of the Community Titans: Tim Huth vs. Fred Costello (probably)
Assuming Costello wins his primary, this should be a fun race between two very well established figures in north Volusia County, both who I know from my days working with Doug Wiles. Costello, currently the Mayor of Ormond Beach and Huth, a key figure with the Volusia County School District, are two of the more civically active people in the county. Working a little uphill for Tim, this district is one of the few in FL that has shown a slight GOP trend over the last 4-6 years.
HD 29---Free for All Primary: Four way open primary
In this era where it is super easy to close a primary with a write-in candidate, the race to replace Ralph Poppell will be unique that is a four-way Republican primary that all voters can vote in. Often times, primaries are races to the edges, but with the door open to voters from the other side---and the more liberal wing of the Democratic party at that, it will be fascinating to watch which candidates, if any, risk turning off their own base to go grab a sizable chunk of the Democratic and NPA vote.
HD 57---The Battleground: Stacey Frank vs. Dana Young (probably)
There are few places that define the swing voter characteristics of the Tampa media market quite like South Tampa. The district has a very slight GOP tilt, but is always one of the most competitive in statewide elections. Faye Culp is a South Tampa institution, who is retiring after serving here for 12 out of the last 16 years. Both parties are fielding strong candidates and this one is setting up to be the battleground race of the year.
HD 70---The Oil General: Nancy Feehan v. Doug Holder
Doug Holder, on paper, should have no problem holding this fairly predictably---though occasionally finicky seat in Sarasota County. The one potential hiccup: his vote in favor of oil drilling in 2006. Like most of the gulf coast, Sarasota County is historically a place where oil drilling has been seen as contrary to their economic engine: the beaches. In early 2009, in the post ‘drill baby drill’ era, Holder voted to authorize near shore drilling and at the time, took some non-lethal lumps. Since then, the Gulf filled up with oil. Will he lose? Probably not. But that doesn't mean it won't be interesting.
HD 81--- The Validator: Adam Fetterman vs. Gayle Harrell
One of the most obvious trends over the last decade has been that of St. Lucie County, which has slowly inched its way towards becoming a base GOP county. One of the final steps in that process was the election of Adam Fetterman in 2008. Four of the last five major statewide Democrats have carried it, and while the GOP still holds a healthy voter reg advantage in HD 81 (which is also 1/3rdin Martin County), few places in Florida have trended faster towards the Dems than this one. Fetterman now faces a showdown with former Rep. Gayle Harrell, who is mounting a comeback after losing a GOP primary for Congress in 2008. In this tougher political environment, a Fetterman win will validate the growing trend for Democrats north of Palm Beach County.
HD 87- The Southern Front. Hava Holzhauer vs. Bill Hager
Some races are interesting because of their plot line, and some, like this one, because they could just be straight up battles. On paper, the seat held by Majority Leader Adam Hasner should be the best chance the Democrats have in the state to pick up a seat. In statewide races, it has consistently ticked a few points more Democratic in election after election. After sputtering through recruitment, with one candidate switching to a safer race and another dropping out after getting in, the Dems have settled on Holzhauer, who by all accounts is an impressive candidate. The Republicans also have a good one in Hager.
HD 107- The Comeback. Luis Garcia v. Gus Barriero
When he left the legislature, few people were more popular in HD 107 than Gus Barriero, but that was before he went to work at DJJ and was later fired for looking at porn on his state computer. This seat has lunged towards the Democratic column in the last three cycles and should remain there, though if the voters of HD 107 are in a forgiving mood, this one could end up being at least memorable.
HD 119- Katie Edwards v. Frank Artiles
This may be the most interesting race in the state. For some time, I’ve felt this would be the second GOP Dade seat to switch (I took a lot of flack in 2006 for thinking we could win HD 107, which is now nearly a safe Dem seat) and with Representative Zapata term limited out, this is the best chance. On the Democratic side, one of the most impressive candidates running in Florida, bar none, is Katie Edwards, who has raised in South Florida and with the support of many community leaders. However, there is a catch: she’s a white woman who works in the agricultural industry. On the GOP side, an equally strong candidate in Frank Artiles, who is a lawyer and a veteran. From where I sit, the district wants to vote for a Democrat, but will ethnic politics trump? It did in 2002 when the Puerto Rican Quinones defeated Jose Fernandez in a heavily Democratic, but equally heavy Puerto Rican seat. But this is neither Puerto Rican or Orlando---nor is it 2002.
A couple others to watch:
HD 3 and 7- Two more oil general elections, both which in this cycle should be pretty safe for the GOP incumbents, except that both voted for near shore drilling---and both represent communities struggling to recover. Will this give the Dems a chance to be competitive? We'll have to see.
HD 51/52. Janet Long and Bill Heller picked up these south Pinellas seats for the Democrats in 2006, when both were among the most competitive in the state, and both won re-election pretty easily in 2008. Now both face stronger challenges in a tougher year. Long's seat is more marginal, but her opponent appears to be weaker. Heller's seat is trending more Democratic, but his opponent is a wealthy self-funder. Like the two above, the Dems should win them both, but given the dynamics of this cycle, are races to watch.
HD 83- Marciano v. Rooney. Can Marciano overcome Rooney’s name ID and money? Does Rooney get painted with the frustration Americans have with Congress? On paper, its competitive and should be interesting.
HD 112/HD 117- Two other GOP Cuban-dominant seats that were considered the reddest of red in 2002 which today, are much more in play. GOP probably wins them both---this time. But watch, one day we are going to wake up and the Dems will hold all but 2-3 of the Dade County seats. Barack Obama won the county by a larger vote margin than any Democrat in a long time---if not history, and while I’d like to peg most of that on our great operation there, truth be told, a lot of it was the outcome of a county that is getting younger and much less Cuban.
HD 35/HD 120- Do the incoming leaders break the 7-8 cycle “Leader Truce?” Both of them represent districts that are considered to be competitive on paper.