The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

The Buzz House Race Rankings: Nearing Election Day

11

October

For the fourth time this election cycle -– and the first time since Sept. 7-- the Buzz is ranking the six U.S. House seats in Florida that are most vulnerable to a party switch.

The difference between first place (the most vulnerable) and sixth (less vulnerable) has widened a bit since our last ranking, due to growing evidence that Democratic Reps. Suzanne Kosmas and Alan Grayson are seriously endangered. In fact, with this post, Grayson climbs from the third most vulnerable lawmaker to first.

The rankings involve a lot of guesswork, because –- unlike this year’s hot statewide races -- these House contests have inspired few reliable, independent polls. 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: 3. For months, Grayson’s reelection prospects were protected by his fundraising prowess and uncertainty about how good a race the Republican nominee, former state House Speaker Dan Webster, would run. But Grayson's outlook took a turn for the worse when he ran an ad labeling Webster “Taliban Dan.” 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. Perhaps most important for Webster, it prompted a flurry of donations and seemed to give his campaign the kick in the pants it needed. Grayson still has money to play with – he had enough to run a follow-up ad on similar issues that was more restrained and likely more effective – but the original ad brought into clear focus how Grayson's outspoken rhetoric can be an albatross.

2. Rep. Suzanne Kosmas, D-New Smyrna Beach. Previous ranking: 1 (tie) Just because she’s no longer No. 1 on this list doesn’t mean Kosmas’ chances of winning reelection in this GOP-leaning have improved. A public survey by a GOP pollster in September had state Rep. Sandy Adams up by 10 points, but even if that’s overstated – an internal poll showed Kosmas up by two points -- both Republican and Democratic strategists agree that she’s in serious peril. Kosmas began with a money edge over Adams, but that’s being diminished by aggressive spending by outside groups critical of Kosmas. Kosmas' outlook wasn’t helped by a late decision by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to reduce their ad buy in the district.

3. Rep. Allen Boyd, D-Monticello. Previous ranking: 1 (tie). Boyd, a conservative “Blue Dog” Democrat who barely survived a primary scare against state Sen. Al Lawson, remains in serious trouble due to the national Republican tide. While he’s maintained a strong fundraising lead over funeral-home owner Steve Southerland, the Republican is getting support from the National Republican Congressional committee and other outside groups, so Southerland shouldn’t find the money deficit too troublesome. A nagging concern for Boyd is whether base Democrats will show up to vote, given both the natural dropoff in midterm elections and the large bloc of primary voters who voted for his opponent.

4. Seat being vacated by Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami. Previous ranking: 4. A September Democratic poll had Democratic nominee Joe Garcia leading Republican state Rep. David Rivera, 40 percent-33 percent, but even if that’s exaggerated, Republicans acknowledge that Garcia has a real chance of flipping this Republican held seat – a rare opportunity this year for the Democrats. One reason the district could act differently than many others across the country is the intense focus on issues related to Cuba and the rest of Latin America -- a natural pattern given the demographics of the district. This should be a hard-hitting South Florida race to the end, with all the markings of a toss-up decided by base turnout.

5 (tie). Rep. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton Previous ranking: 5. As expected, the contest between Klein, the Democratic incumbent, and Allen West, an outspokenly conservative African-American ex-Army colonel, has become a roiling cauldron of negative ads and counterattacks. (PolitiFact Florida has rated eight statements from Klein and West so far, and only two of them have rated Half True or better.) West has become a darling of conservative donors nationally, giving him the ability to make a stronger run than he might otherwise in a district that’s tended to be pretty moderate. The key for Klein is to motivate his base, including senior citizens, to counter the unusual degree of energy West has generated among district conservatives. Both the president and House Republican Leader John Boehner are visiting today to help their candidate personally.

5 (tie). Open seat being vacated by Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Bartow. Previous ranking: 6. At last, this sleepy race is heating up, but only slightly, with a TV ad here and there. Though the district leans Republican, the contest remains competitive for Democrat Lori Edwards, the Polk County elections supervisor, because she’s facing a pair of candidates who could split the right-of-center vote -- former state Rep. Dennis Ross, a Republican, and Randy Wilkinson, an experienced local officeholder and former Republican running on the Tea Party line. With independent polling unlikely and the national parties generally focusing on higher-profile races, this race will likely remain a cipher until Election Day.

[Last modified: Wednesday, October 13, 2010 6:45am]

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