2012 Florida congressional vulnerability rankings (pre-election edition)

Published Oct. 30, 2012

Florida continues to play host to some of the most colorful congressional races in the country. In our third and – barring something unexpected – final attempt to rank the most vulnerable seats in Florida's congressional delegation, we have made only one modest change to our ordering – making Republican Rep. David Rivera slightly more vulnerable and making a Republican-held open seat that includes Boca Raton and Palm Beach slightly less vulnerable to a Democratic takeover. (The previous rankings can be found here.)

All told, eight of Florida's 27 congressional districts are at least somewhat competitive this year; the remainder are safe for one party or the other. 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, District 9: former Rep. Alan Grayson (D) versus Todd Long (R). Previous ranking: 1

Grayson -- a big-spending, outspoken liberal who was voted out of office in 2010 and who is now making a comeback in an Orlando-area district – remains the overwhelming favorite in a district that's 41 percent Hispanic and which gave Barack Obama 60 percent of the vote in 2008.

2. Republican seat held by Rep. David Rivera, District 26: Rivera versus Joe Garcia (D). Previous ranking: 3

Rivera's ethics problems have only continued to multiply. The FBI was already looking into whether Rivera or his allies propped up an obscure Democratic primary challenger in his heavily Cuban South Florida district. (Rivera has denied the accusations.) Then, in late October, the state ethics commission "found probable cause" to believe that Rivera "violated Florida ethics laws in 11 instances" while serving in the state House. A recent Democratic poll had Garcia up by double digits, and even GOP polls have found Rivera behind. Analysts suggest that this contest may have passed the point of no return.

3. Republican-held seat being vacated by Rep. Allen West, District 22: Lois Frankel (D) versus Adam Hasner (R). Previous ranking: 2

In this Republican-held (but, thanks to redistricting, Democratic-leaning) district, recent polls have been all over the map. Frankel, a former state House minority leader and West Palm Beach mayor, led Hasner, a former state House majority leader, 47 percent to 44 percent in a mid-October Public Policy Polling survey. Frankel had a wider lead in a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee poll (up by 10), while a Sunshine State News poll had the candidates tied. The Public Policy Polling survey found Frankel slightly underperforming Obama in the district – a sign that Hasner's makeover from partisan warrior in the legislature to softer-edged moderate is having some success. This is a key reason why we're dropping this race a notch in vulnerability.

4. Newly created seat, District 18: Rep. Allen West (R) versus Patrick Murphy (D). Previous ranking: 4

The contest between West and Murphy to represent a district that narrowly backed Obama in 2008 remains brutal and expensive, with a blizzard of TV ads alternately attacking West's incident in the military in which he fired a gun near the head of an Iraqi policeman he was interrogating and Murphy's old arrest for felony possession of a stolen driver's license. Recent polls have ranged widely, showing everything from an even race to a 9-point edge for West. The important thing is that West's outspokenly conservative rhetoric is not proving to be an immediate disqualifier in this Treasure Coast district. Still, Murphy remains in the hunt.

5. Republican seat held by Rep. Dan Webster, District 10: Webster versus Val Demings (D). Previous ranking: 5

Democrats have been touting their star recruit – Demings, the daughter of a janitor and a maid who rose to become police chief in Orlando – in their bid to oust first-termer Webster from his suburban Orlando district. While Obama won only 47 percent of the district's vote in 2008, Democratic polls have shown the race close, narrowing to two points in mid-October. Still, Demings remains the underdog going into Election Day.

6. Republican seat held by Rep. Steve Southerland, District 2: Southerland versus Al Lawson (D). Previous ranking: 6

A poll sponsored by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had Lawson, a former state senator, tied with Southerland, a freshman Republican who defeated long-standing incumbent Allen Boyd, a Blue Dog Democrat, in 2010. Both parties have run ads in the northern Florida district, and the DCCC announced it was expanding its buy for the final two weeks. But despite his relatively low profile in Congress, Southerland benefits from the district's leanings – it only voted 47 percent for Obama in 2008 – as well as having to face a less magnetic challenger than Webster has in Demings.

7. Republican seat held by Rep. Vern Buchanan, District 16: Buchanan versus Keith Fitzgerald (D). Previous ranking: 7

After initial high hopes that Fitzgerald, a former state representative, could knock off Buchanan amid continuing ethics concerns, this Sarasota-based contest has all but fallen off both parties' radar screens. Buchanan is likely to survive for another term.

8. Republican seat held by Rep. C.W. Bill Young, District 13: Young versus Jessica Ehrlich (D). Previous ranking: 8

This race has always been less about 2012 than (perhaps) 2014, if Young decides to retire from the Tampa Bay-area seat he first won in 1970. This year's contest is an audition of sorts for Democratic nominee Jessica Ehrlich, a former aide to members of both parties in Congress; if she underperforms expectations, as now seems possible, the role of potential Democratic successor in the middle-of-the-road district will remain wide open.