Keep an eye on these Florida House races
News Service of Florida's Brandon Larrabee has a good roundup of key Florida state House races this year:
There is little danger that Republicans will lose their stranglehold on the Florida House of Representatives this year. The party has an 81-39 edge in the chamber even after the passage of the anti-gerrymandering "Fair Districts" amendments approved by voters in 2012, and the redistricting that followed.
However, Democrats would like to get back to 40 seats or above in the November elections, in part because denying Republicans a two-thirds majority would allow the minority party to have a little more leverage in how the chamber is run.
Both parties are watching several seats --- many of them along the Interstate 4 corridor that roughly bisects Florida and serves as the state's political heartland --- to see if Democrats can make progress in the fall elections. And with qualifying having wrapped up last week, those races are taking shape.
Here are some of the most prominent:
Incumbent Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, is leaving office due to term limits. The district tilts heavily towards Democrats --- Rehwinkel Vasilinda won with almost 62 percent of the vote in 2012 and faced no GOP opponent two years ago --- but Tallahassee attorney Jim Messer, a Republican, raised almost $109,000 through the end of May. That's still well behind former state Rep. Loranne Ausley, D-Tallahassee, who raised almost $281,000. Ausley faces two lightly-funded challengers in the Democratic primary.
This Orange County district is one of several along the I-4 corridor that have swung back and forth between the two parties, depending on how the state's politics are flowing at the time. In 2012, former Rep. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, captured the district with 52.4 percent of the vote. Two years later, with Gov. Rick Scott winning re-election amid a Republican wave, Rep. Mike Miller of Winter Park took the seat for the GOP. Democratic candidate Beth Tuura, who has worked on the technical side of the TV industry, has amassed more than $53,000 for the race, but attorney and fellow Democrat Henry Lim has raised more than $44,000. Clinton Curtis, a third Democrat, has raised only a shade over $3,600. Miller, meanwhile, has garnered almost $137,000 in contributions.
Rep. Ross Spano, R-Dover, has represented this Hillsborough County seat for four years. He coasted to re-election in 2014, but that was two years after narrowly defeating Democrat Gail Gottlieb by less than two percentage points. Spano has raised more than $121,000, while Democratic challenger Rena Frazier, a Brandon attorney, has gathered more than $94,000 in contributions. But Frazier also faces a primary against Brandon teacher Naze Sahebzamani, who has raised almost $29,000.
Rep. Shawn Harrison, R-Tampa, won election to this swing seat in 2014 with 52.6 percent of the vote, pushing out former Rep. Mark Danish just two years after the Democrat won the seat by one percentage point. Harrison has raised more than $155,000 so far, while Tampa City Councilwoman Lisa Montelione --- Harrison's Democratic opponent --- has garnered almost $72,000 in contributions.
Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-Treasure Island, has represented this Pinellas County district for four years. And while she won by more than 15 percentage points in 2014, her race two years earlier was far closer. Jennifer Webb, a Gulfport Democrat who works at the University of South Florida, trails Peters in fundraising by more than $100,000 --- though she raised almost $45,000 in less than two months in the race.
Rep. Ray Pilon, R-Sarasota, is running for the Senate and opening up a narrowly Republican district. Pilon was a maverick during his time in the House, and won his last two elections with at least 53.9 percent of the vote. Democrats are hopeful that Edward James III, who has worked for Google, President Barack Obama's re-election campaign and Congresswoman Gwen Graham's campaign, can pry the seat away from the GOP after having raised almost $92,000. Republican Alex Miller, a businesswoman, has raised almost $40,000 and loaned her campaign another $50,000. Fellow Republican John Hill, a media personality, has loaned his campaign $5,000.
Perhaps one of the more intriguing questions about the House this year is whether Rep. Manny Diaz, a Hialeah Republican and influential voice on education issues, can be knocked off in the district he's represented for four years. Diaz has raised more than $243,000, while Democratic opponent Ivette Gonzalez Petkovich has raised about $46,000. But the Miami-Dade lawyer's attempt to defeat Diaz two years after he won with 58.2 percent of the vote is still drawing attention.
Rep. Jose Javier Diaz, D-Miami, is leaving this seat to run for the Senate, opening up a district that he won by just two percentage points in 2014. The best-funded of the candidates to succeed him is Democrat Nicholas Duran, the executive director of the Florida Association of Free and Charitable Clinics, who has raised more than $81,000. Waldo Faura-Morales, a businessman, has raised less than $6,000. On the Republican side, former Key Biscayne councilman Michael Davey has raised more than $37,000. Rosy Palomino, a business owner, has raised less than $3,500.
Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, is leaving this seat due to term limits. Republican John Couriel, a lawyer who ran unsuccessfully against state Sen. Gwen Margolis four years ago, has raised almost $168,000 for his campaign. Democrat Daisy Baez, a health-care executive who drew 44 percent of the vote against Fresen in 2014, has raised almost $77,000. But she faces a primary against Alberto Santana, who has raised less than $5,400 but has loaned his campaign $42,000.