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The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

The Buzz House Race Rankings: Post-Primary Edition



For the third time this election cycle – and the first time since July 23 -- 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) is relatively modest. The biggest change is that the four Democrats on the list are noticeably more vulnerable than they were before the Aug. 24 primary. We see two reasons why.

One is that Republican turnout statewide exceeded Democratic turnout in the primary by 40 to 50 percent. While Democrats say that there are reasons to explain it, such as the party’s lack of a competitive gubernatorial primary, it’s an ominous development. The other reason is that the national Democratic Party has seen its prospects decline in recent months, with the “enthusiasm gap” between the parties’ bases widening and the Democrats falling as much as 10 points behind the GOP in generic “ballot tests” for Congressional races.

These 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, though if any show signs of life, we'll add them to our rankings as we update them every month or so.

1 (tie). Rep. Allen Boyd, D-Monticello. (Previous ranking: 5) Boyd vaults to a first-place tie after a serious primary scare. Even though Boyd decisively outspent state Sen. Al Lawson, he scratched out a win by only a 51 percent-49 percent margin. Republicans smell blood, with the National Republican Congressional Committee reserving a chunk of fall television time in Tallahassee for what are sure to be hard-hitting ads. Boyd, a conservative "Blue Dog" Democrat with years of experience representing the district, should have two advantages for the fall campaign: a big fundraising lead over funeral-home owner Steve Southerland, the easy Republican primary winner, and his opponent’s lack of campaign experience. It’s also worth noting that in contrast to other districts, more Democrats voted on primary night in this district than did Republicans. Still, even Democrats acknowledge privately that Boyd’s faces a challenging reelection bid.

1 (tie). Rep. Suzanne Kosmas, D-New Smyrna Beach. (Previous ranking: 1) Kosmas – a freshman representing a modestly GOP-leaning district remains tied for the top slot even after Boyd’s primary jolt. The biggest recent development came in the five-way Republican primary, which state Rep. Sandy Adams won with just 30.1 percent of the vote, edging her ahead of Winter Park Commissioner Karen Diebel (29.3 percent) and former Ruth's Chris Steak House CEO Craig Miller (27.7 percent). Adams’ win was a surprise, with some analysts suggesting she benefited from aggressive sparring between Diebel and Miller. Adams was not an impressive fundraiser, and she will bear the burden of having served in Tallahassee. On the other hand, like Kosmas, Adams is woman, and she spent the better part of two decades as a deputy sheriff before joining the Legislature. Perhaps most important, the GOP field seems to be coalescing behind Adams. Kosmas will need every bit of her current fundraising advantage to win what promises to be a tough campaign.

3. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando. (Previous ranking: 4) The perennially outspoken, very liberal and deep-pocketed Grayson now has a Republican opponent: former state House Speaker Dan Webster, who won the seven-way GOP primary with 40 percent of the vote. Webster brings strong name identification, establishment support and conservative views to the race. The knock on him is that he’s an old-school politician with a long record in the Legislature – not the prototypical candidate for the anger-filled, anti-incumbent 2010 cycle. Grayson, for his part, shows no signs of toning down his often controversial style; this race will be an interesting test case of whether an anger-channeling Democrat can defeat an establishment Republican despite the poor environment for Democrats. A wild card will be the presence of Peg Dunmire on the ballot line of the Tea Party, a party that Grayson is accused of surreptitiously supporting. (He denies it.)

4. Seat being vacated by Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami. (Previous ranking: 2) This race remains the Democrats’ best hope for a pickup in Florida (and, truth be told, nationally), yet it declines on our vulnerability list for two reasons – first, the high GOP turnout on primary night, and second, the ability of state Rep. David Rivera to win a difficult GOP primary. Rivera didn’t just survive a competitive, three-way primary, he won nearly two-thirds of the vote, despite widely aired accusations – all denied – that, among other things, he had once pushed a truck carrying a rival candidate’s fliers off the road, and that he had once been subject of a domestic violence complaint. The Democrats’ 2008 nominee, Joe Garcia, easily won his primary and stayed largely above the fray, but this race promises to be a brass-knuckled affair in true South Florida fashion.

5. Rep. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton (Previous ranking: 3) As expected, Klein and his GOP opponent, Allen West, easily won their primaries, officially kicking off what is sure to be an aggressive general-election battle. Both sides will be well-funded, with West, an outspokenly conservative African-American ex-Army colonel, raising money from conservative donors all around the country. The district’s reputation for political moderation continues to be the biggest obstacle for West. But even though both Klein and West faced only token opposition in the primary, 50 percent more voters cast ballots in the GOP primary than the Democratic primary, suggesting that an energized Republican base could trump the district’s historical leanings this fall.

6. Open seat being vacated by Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Bartow. (Previous ranking: 6) Primary night changed little in the contest to succeed Putnam, who’s running for state agriculture commissioner. As expected, Democrat Lori Edwards, the Polk County elections supervisor, and former state Rep. Dennis Ross, a Republican, won their respective primaries. The race remains a sleepy, low-budget affair, with Ross the modest favorite to hold the district for the GOP. An unknown is whether Tea Party candidate Randy Wilkinson, an experienced local officeholder and former Republican, could drain votes from Ross, effectively boosting Edwards.

[Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 10:27am]


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