The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

The Buzz House Race Rankings: The Final Frontier

29

October

For the fifth time this election cycle – and, barring something highly unexpected between now and Tuesday, the last time in this cycle – the Buzz is ranking the six U.S. House seats in Florida that are most vulnerable to a party switch. The order of seats hasn’t changed since we last rated the state’s six competitive races on Oct. 11. What has changed, at least incrementally, is the likelihood of losses up and down the list. The difference between first place (the most vulnerable) and sixth (less vulnerable) remains quite narrow, and we feel there’s an even-money chance that partisan control of the top five seats could all flip. And we wouldn't be surprised to see each of the six seats flip.

The rankings are based on interviews with a range of political practitioners and independent observers. The Buzz considers the state's other 19 House seats to be safe for the party in power.
View the list after the jump.
1. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando. (Previous ranking: 1) Republicans and Democrats alike consider Grayson to be all but toast. Despite his fundraising prowess, there’s little sign that the outspoken liberal has turned the corner after airing the ill-fated “Taliban Dan” ad against his Republican opponent, former state House Speaker Dan Webster. The ad claimed, among other things, that Webster thinks that wives should submit to their husbands; PolitiFact Florida ruled that claim False, and the ad was widely criticized as an overreach. The controversy energized Webster’s somewhat lax campaign and infused his bid with needed cash. The momentum shows no signs of slowing before Election Day.
2. Rep. Suzanne Kosmas, D-New Smyrna Beach. (Previous ranking: 2) Unlike Grayson, Kosmas faces challenges that are less self-inflicted and more circumstantial. At root, she’s a freshman Democrat representing a Republican-leaning district in a strongly Republican year. State Rep. Sandy Adams hasn’t been a world-beating fundraiser, but she’s been getting advertising support from outside groups that have compensated. If the seat flips, and we think it will, it will be due to the national Republican wave rather than factors specific to either candidate.
3. Rep. Allen Boyd, D-Monticello. (Previous ranking: 3) Analysts expect the margin in Boyd’s race to be closer than the margin in either Grayson’s or Kosmas’ contests, in part because Boyd, a conservative “Blue Dog” Democrat, is more experienced in his district and because he faces a political novice in Republican funeral-home owner Steve Southerland. In this district with conservative, rural patches, Boyd is a rare Democrat who's able to brandish endorsements by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Rifle Association. But Boyd’s status as a long-serving incumbent is surely an albatross in the current political environment, and his primary scare against state Sen. Al Lawson has only complicated his path to victory. Democrats are putting up a brave face, but at this point, Boyd seems like an underdog.
4 (tie). Seat being vacated by Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami. (Previous ranking: 4) Democrats pin most of their hopes for a silver lining in Florida’s congressional races on Joe Garcia, who’s in a tight race against GOP state Rep. David Rivera. Garcia has run a relatively error-free race whereas Rivera has been beset by allegations ranging from a traffic accident with political overtones to questions about whether he actually worked for an agency he claimed income from. If Rivera pulls it out, it will because voters in the heavily Latino district will come out to support his political ally, GOP Senate candidate Marco Rubio, and simply pull the lever for Rivera as well. However, observers think it’s at least as likely that many voters will decide to split their tickets.
4 (tie). Rep. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton. (Previous ranking: 5, tie) Republican challenger Allen West, an outspokenly conservative African-American ex-Army colonel, appears to have weathered the storm over his alleged association with a controversial biker gang. While West remains to the right of the district politically, Klein, the Democratic incumbent, doesn’t appear to have put his challenger away — and in an anti-incumbent year, there’s reason to believe undecided voters could break to the challenger. Klein remains the one vulnerable Democratic incumbent in Florida who’s most likely to keep his seat amid a GOP wave, but he has a smaller margin for error than we thought even a month or two ago.
6. Open seat being vacated by Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Bartow. (Previous ranking: 5, tie) This contest seems to have remained as lackadaisical today as it was six months ago, with little money raised, scarce media attention and almost no buzz among political insiders. Part of the reason may be the hard-to-calculate three-way contest between Democrat Lori Edwards, the Polk County elections supervisor; Dennis Ross, a Republican; and Randy Wilkinson, an experienced local officeholder and former Republican running on the tea party line. Edwards is hoping Ross and Wilkinson split the right-of-center vote, allowing her to secure a plurality, but the hands-off approach of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee suggests Democrats aren’t fully sold that this seat is flippable.

[Last modified: Friday, October 29, 2010 3:50pm]

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