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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Florida congressional vulnerability ratings



Florida will be crucial to deciding the presidential election, but it’s also a key state in this year’s battle to control the U.S. House of Representatives. Eight of Florida’s 27 congressional districts are at least somewhat competitive this year; the remainder are safe for one party or the other.

Below, we rate the seats based on the likelihood that they will switch party control in November. The higher the ranking on this list, the more likely it is that the incumbent party will lose control of the seat on Election Day. (Due to a quirk in the redistricting process, the No. 1 seat is a newly drawn district that neither party currently controls.)

Louis Jacobson, Times staff writer

1: Newly created seat (9th District).
Former Rep. Alan Grayson (D) vs. Todd Long (R).
(Previous rating in August: 1)

Grayson is a big-spending, outspoken liberal who was voted out of office in 2010 and who’s now making a comeback in an Orlando-area district. The district is 41 percent Hispanic and it gave Barack Obama 60 percent of the vote in 2008, so Grayson is a heavy favorite.

2: Republican-held seat being vacated by Rep. Allen West (22nd District).
Lois Frankel (D) vs. Adam Hasner (R).
(Previous rating: 2)

West, a staunch conservative, abandoned this Democratic-leaning district to run for a different seat with more favorable demographics. That leaves two big political figures vying to represent portions of Boca Raton and West Palm Beach: Frankel, a former state House minority leader and West Palm Beach mayor, and Hasner, a former state House majority leader. Frankel is trying to play down her history of sharp elbows; Hasner is trying to play down the sharp right turn he took in his short-lived U.S. Senate bid, an ideological shift that seems ill-advised for a district that gave 57 percent of its vote to Obama in 2008. Frankel has a slight edge, but the contest remains close.

3: Republican seat held by Rep. David Rivera (26th District).
Rivera vs. Joe Garcia (D).
(Previous rating: 4)

Rivera, a confidant of Rubio during their state legislative days, faces a serious challenge in large part because of fallout from ethics questions. After a state investigation of his finances concluded without charges due to a statute of limitations, a new issue emerged, with the FBI looking into whether Rivera or his allies propped up an obscure Democratic primary challenger. (Rivera has denied the accusations.) The voters in the heavily Cuban South Florida seat may not be waiting for a verdict; even a recent Republican poll had Rivera 10 points down to Garcia, his Democratic challenger. While Rivera’s goodwill among Cubans is strong, he’s looking vulnerable.

4: Newly created seat (18th District).
Rep. Allen West (R) vs. Patrick Murphy (D).
(Previous rating: 3)

The contest between West and Murphy is one of the most bruising, expensive and, for TV viewers, entertaining races in the nation. First, Murphy aired an ad in which schoolchildren read intemperate phrases West had uttered. Then West hammered Murphy by contrasting his military service with Murphy’s old arrest for verbally assaulting a police officer, capped by an unflattering mug shot. Murphy then shot back with an ad reminding viewers of the controversial circumstances of West’s departure from the military, which followed an incident in which he fired a gun near the head of an Iraqi policeman he was interrogating. The contest in this district, which narrowly backed Obama in 2008, should remain close to the end.

5: Republican seat held by Rep. Dan Webster (10th district).
Webster vs. Val Demings (D).
(Previous rating: 7)

Webster, who defeated Grayson in 2010, has a favorable district thanks to redistricting -- Obama won only 47 percent of the vote in 2008. That’s a big help in his race against a highly touted Democratic challenger, Demings – the daughter of a janitor and a maid who rose to become police chief in Orlando. Even a Democratic poll had Webster up by five points.

6: Republican seat held by Rep. Steve Southerland (2nd District).
Southerland vs. Al Lawson (D).
(Previous rating: 6)

Republicans appear to be getting just a little bit nervous about Southerland’s chances of winning a second term. The National Republican Congressional Committee recently decided to start airing ads in this northern Florida seat, which was held for years by Blue Dog Democrat Allen Boyd. The NRCC’s move came in response to a string of ads for Lawson, a former state senator. While the district is slightly more Democratic than it was before redistricting, it still only voted 47 percent for Obama in 2008.

7: Republican seat held by Rep. Vern Buchanan (16th Dstrict).
Buchanan vs. Keith Fitzgerald (D).
(Previous rating: 5)

Buchanan has been hobbled by continuing ethics concerns, but his chances in the Sarasota-based district looks stronger than they did just a few weeks ago. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee reportedly withdrew a $230,000 ad buy that would have supported Buchanan’s once-promising challenger, Fitzgerald, a former state representative. It didn’t help that Fitzgerald had to deal with revelations that he had hired a communications director whose blog included sexually charged attacks against Republicans and even the pope.

8: Republican seat held by Rep. C.W. (Bill) Young (13th district).
Young vs. Jessica Ehrlich (D).
(Previous rating: 8)

Young is an institution in Tampa Bay, having first won his seat in 1970. He’s expected to win again, but it’s worth keeping an eye on the Democratic nominee, Jessica Ehrlich, a former aide to members of both parties in Congress.

[Last modified: Friday, October 5, 2012 1:27pm]


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