Rep. Weatherford: 'We knew they would be tough'
House Speaker-Designate Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, surveyed the political landscape the morning after and says he's not surprised by what happeed.
"We knew they would be tough," Weatherford said of the half-dozen or so seats where Democrats made gains in the House. "People wanted fair and competitive districts, and that's what we gave them."
Weatherford, the House point man on redrawing legislative districts, says the election results demonstrate that the GOP did not engage in gerrymandering for partisan gain. He said President Barack Obama's strength also gave a boost to some House Democratic candidates.
Three Republicans -- Reps. Peter Nehr of Tarpon Springs, Scott Plakon of Longwood and Shawn Harrison of Tampa -- lost their seats along the I-4 corridor. Rep. Chris Dorworth of Lake Mary, next in line to become speaker after Weatherford, is trailing by 37 votes with some provisional ballots yet to be counted Thursday. In three other open seats where former GOP House members sought comebacks, all lost to Democrats. They were Frank Farkas in St. Petersburg, Bob Brooks in Orlando and Alex Diaz de la Portilla in Miami.
Five other Republican House incumbents faced surprisingly tough challenges, but hung on (Mike Bileca, Erik Fresen, Tom Goodson, Bill Hager and George Moraitis). But Republicans didn't have too bad a night overall.
They picked up three seats formerly held by Democrats, and their majority for the next two years will be 76 or 77 members, depending on whether Dorworth survives. The Republican reps and the Democrats they replaced are Halsey Beshears in North Florida (Leonard Bembry); Kathleen Peters in Pinellas County (Rick Kriseman) and Holly Raschein in the Florida Keys (Ron Saunders).
But the talk of Tallahassee is Dorworth, who may have recklessly tossed away a speakership. If he loses his race, it will be a spectacular fall for a once-rising star weighed down by personal and financial difficulties and lapses of judgment in his handling of a campaign fund forfitied with large special-interest donations. Even if he finds enough provisional ballots to hold onto his seat against the little-known Mike Clelland, Dorworth is seriously weakened and may yet face an insurgent challenge from another member of the House GOP caucus.
Weatherford has named Dorworth to be House majority leader for the next two years, but he soon may have to pick a replacement.