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Shake-up in South Florida 2012 races

The political dominoes are tumbling in South Florida, reconfiguring the state's U.S. Senate race and recalibrating the region's congressional contests.

A chain reaction of announcements culminated Tuesday when Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, who currently represents Martin, St. Lucie and Palm Beach counties, announced he'd run in a new proposed congressional district that stretches from Martin to Charlotte County.

Rep. Allen West then said he'd run in Rooney's old seat, opening up a slot for a Republican in West's District 22 seat, which straddles Palm Beach and Broward counties.

That, according to the Miami Herald, will allow Adam Hasner to exit the U.S. Senate race and run for West's old seat. Hasner, who was struggling in a five-way Republican Senate race, would be running in a congressional seat that mirrors his old Delray-Beach-based state legislative district.

"I have always believed the state of Florida would be best served by having both Congressman Tom Rooney and myself in the House of Representatives working to solve our nation's most pressing problems," West said, in the statement announcing his move to the north.

And all those potential moves leaves three candidates among the Republicans hoping to defeat Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson this fall. The trio of Republicans are front-runner U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fort Myers, former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, who was appointed to fill the seat in mid 2008 and served until Marco Rubio was elected in late 2010, and Mike McCalister.

All the district-shifting has been sparked in large part by redistricting — the constitutional requirement to redraw congressional districts every 10 years after the U.S. Census.

A new state constitutional requirement forbids the Republican-run Legislature, which must redraw the maps, from favoring or disfavoring an incumbent or political party.

That doesn't mean the negotiations weren't coordinated among many of Florida's Republicans. Rooney made his announcement first on Tuesday, followed by West. Then the head of the committee charged with electing Republicans to the House of Representatives, Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, followed up with his own statement on Rooney and West.

"The NRCC remains committed to re-electing House Republican members," he said, "and we look forward to supporting Allen as he seeks to continue representing so many of the same Floridians he represents in Congress today."

The proposed district West intends to run in includes about 23 percent of West's former constituents. His current district was drawn in a way so unfriendly to him that it seemed unlikely West would withstand a challenge, despite his ample campaign coffers.

West's new proposed district, which Hasner must now compete in, favors Democratic candidates. Voters there favored Democrat Alex Sink in 2010 over Florida Gov. Rick Scott, 53-44 percent; and supported President Barack Obama over Republican Sen. John McCain, 57-43 percent.

Current voter registration statistics show the congressional district is 48 percent Democrats, 26 percent Republicans and 26 percent independents or no party affiliation. It is 75 percent white, 8 percent black and 10 percent Hispanic.

Changes to the Senate race lineup were almost inevitable, too. On Monday, Craig Miller dropped out of the Senate race to run for a newly created House seat in northern Florida. And Mitt Romney, who won the Republican presidential primary in Florida, spent the final days of his winning campaign stumping across Florida with Mack at his side.

Democrats, though, are sure to sue over the new congressional maps. If they prevail in court, it could complicate the Hasner-West-Rooney deal. But they're also delighted about no longer having to face West, who raised $6.5 million in 2010 when he trounced incumbent Democrat Ron Klein from the seat.

One of only two black Republicans in Congress, the retired Army veteran regularly lands interviews with Fox News and other media outlets and has become a national political figure among Republicans.

West has a long-running feud with Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the head of the Democratic National Committee and the neighboring congresswoman. He also makes unabashedly candid statements that go viral — everything from calling himself a modern day Harriet Tubman to comparing the Democratic Party to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.

Maybe they scared him off, suggested a spokesman for Lois Frankel, the former West Palm mayor and state lawmaker who, along with businessman Patrick Murphy, was hoping to oust West from Congress.

"I am staying right here in the 22nd congressional district," Frankel said Tuesday in an email to her backers. "I am proud of my record for fighting for the children, seniors, and working families of South Florida."

Murphy said West "went from talking tough this weekend and telling progressives to 'get the hell out of this country' to abandoning the people who elected him."

"There is no other way to interpret this: Allen West is a coward," Murphy said. "The truth is that the maps are far from set and I will continue to monitor the redistricting process closely."

West will have plenty of money to run in a new district, far from his home in Plantation, where he was one of Wasserman Schultz's constituents. (Members of Congress aren't required to live in their districts.)

West raised $5.85 million in 2011, according to Federal Election commission reports. That includes $1.75 million in the last quarter alone. Frankel has raised about $1.7 million. Murphy has raised $1.4 million. Frankel raised $319,789 during the last quarter; Murphy raised $300,311.

Times/Herald staff writers Mary Ellen Klas and Adam C. Smith contributed to this report.

Shake-up in South Florida 2012 races 01/31/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 31, 2012 10:17pm]
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