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Ranking Florida’s congressional delegation for vulnerability this election year

A handful of seats fall in the vulnerable category.

Florida has experienced a lot since mid-April, when we last assessed the state of its competitive congressional races. The Sunshine State has turned into one of the hardest-hit states in the coronavirus pandemic, and, perhaps not coincidentally, Joe Biden built a roughly six-point lead over President Donald Trump, driven partly by defections to Biden’s camp by older voters.

But as the Aug. 18 primary approaches, the outlook for Florida’s congressional races hasn’t changed all that much. We’ve made only minor adjustments below to our ranking of most vulnerable congressional seats in the state.

This is the sixth consecutive cycle the Buzz has published assessments that rank Florida’s U.S. House districts in descending order, starting with the most vulnerable. We define “vulnerable” as the likelihood that the opposing party will seize control of the seat in 2020; the possibility of a loss by an incumbent in an intra-party primary does not factor into our calculations. The seats in the delegation not listed below are not considered vulnerable at this time.

Highly vulnerable

No races in this category

Vulnerable

1st – District 15: Rep. Ross Spano (R) (No change)

Spano won an open seat in 2018 in a district that went for Trump two years earlier by 10 points. But it later emerged that Spano had improperly accepted $180,000 in campaign donations from two friends. Now the transactions are being investigated by the U.S. Justice Department. To win another term, Spano first has to get past a credible GOP primary challenger. Lakeland City Commissioner and retired combat naval aviator Scott Franklin has more cash on hand than the incumbent through the end of June – $379,000, to Spano’s $349,000. Both GOP hopefuls are conservatives, but Franklin portrays himself as standing more strongly against offshore drilling. Geography may prove decisive in the primary: Franklin is better known in Polk County, with 38 percent of registered Republican voters, while Spano’s base is in Hillsborough County, with 46 percent. In the Democratic primary, state Rep. Adam Hattersley, another Navy combat veteran, faces former Sarasota TV journalist Alan Cohn, an unsuccessful candidate for the seat in 2014. Hattersley has a cash-on-hand edge over Cohn, $243,000 to $190,000. Despite the district’s Republican leanings, Democrats are buoyed by Biden’s steady lead in the state and the possibility that it could boost down-ballot candidates.

2nd – District 26: Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D) (No change)

In 2018, Mucarsel-Powell defeated incumbent Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo by 2 points in this heavily Cuban district in Miami-Dade and the Florida Keys. The district backed Hillary Clinton in 2016 by 16 points. Mucarsel-Powell has put together an impressive fundraising operation; she had almost $2.8 million in cash on hand, well ahead of the Republican frontrunner, term-limited Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who counts more than $860,000 in the bank. On paper, Gimenez’s moderate profile and high name identification make him a strong GOP recruit. But his outlook has been cast into doubt now that Miami-Dade has become the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in Florida, which is itself one of the nation’s hardest-hit states. In June, Mucarsel-Powell tore into Gimenez’s “absolute failure to keep Miami-Dade residents safe from coronavirus.” Irina Vilariño, a prominent co-owner of Cuban restaurants, has dropped out of the GOP primary, leaving firefighter Omar Blanco as Gimenez’s only primary competition. Assuming he’s nominated, Gimenez will have to run well ahead of Trump in this district to win; at the moment, the coronavirus outbreak is making that challenging.

3rd – District 27: Rep. Donna Shalala (D) (Previous: 3rd, tie)

Shalala flipped this majority-Hispanic district in Miami and Miami Beach when the Republican incumbent, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, retired in 2018, although Shalala’s margin of victory (6 points) over Spanish-language TV veteran Republican Maria Elvira Salazar was smaller than Clinton’s in 2016 (19 points). Salazar is back for another run this year. Shalala has raised significantly less money than fellow Democrat Mucarsel-Powell in the nearby 26th District: Shalala has $1.8 million in cash on hand, which is not dramatically far ahead of Salazar, who has $1.2 million on hand. In April, Shalala also had to apologize for not reporting stock trades as required, which came at a sensitive time – shortly after she had been named to an oversight panel for coronavirus relief spending. In Miami’s expensive media market, Shalala may end up needing some help from allied Democratic groups.

4th – District 16: Rep. Vern Buchanan (R) (Previous: 3rd, tie)

If there’s any Republican who can ride out a Democratic headwind, it’s Buchanan, thanks to his deep pockets. The seven-term incumbent from this Sarasota-based district has been targeted again and again by Democrats. This year, he faces Margaret Good, who won a 2018 special election for a state House seat that overlaps with the district, defeating Buchanan’s son James. Good has experienced some turbulence within her campaign – she split with her campaign manager in April – but she’s put together strong fundraising numbers. Good has $1.06 million on hand – less than Buchanan’s $1.7 million, but probably enough to remain competitive. Both sides have taken shots about the other for family members benefiting from Paycheck Protection Program funds, but it’s unclear whether that issue will resonate for voters. In a 10-point Trump district, Good will have to run a near-perfect campaign to win.

Potentially vulnerable

5th – District 13: Rep. Charlie Crist (D) (No change)

As in our previous ratings, we see a significant dropoff in vulnerability at this point on our list. Crist, a Democrat who previously served as governor as a Republican and an independent, is a fixture in his St. Petersburg-Clearwater seat. There’s a large Republican field seeking to knock him off. Amanda Makki, a former congressional aide whose family emigrated from Iran, has received the support of senior Republicans, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. Still, Makki trails Crist badly in the money race: Crist has $3.1 million on hand, compared to $791,000 for Makki.

6th – District 7: Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D) (No change)

Murphy, a Vietnamese-American former refugee, is a rising figure in national Democratic circles and has pitched herself as a moderate. Her Orlando-area district voted for Clinton by seven points and is home to a substantial Democratic-leaning, Puerto Rican population; she won in 2018 by an impressive 16-point margin. The frontrunner in the three-candidate GOP primary field is probably radiologist Leo Valentin, who received the endorsement of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. He’ll be facing off against businessman Richard Goble and real estate investor Yukong Zhao. But Murphy has shown little sign of vulnerability; she has more than $1.3 million on hand, compared to $330,000 for Valentin, the best-funded of the Republican contenders.

7th – District 18: Rep. Brian Mast (R) (No change)

Mast, an Army bomb-disposal expert in Afghanistan who lost both legs below his knees, was re-elected in 2018 by 8 points in his Palm Beach-Treasure Coast district. He has two Democratic opponents – Oz Vazquez, who previously worked in the state attorney general’s office, and Pam Keith, a former Navy JAG officer who lost a 2018 Democratic primary for the seat. Vazquez has been endorsed by the Florida chapter of the AFL-CIO and by the former holder of the seat, Democrat Patrick Murphy. But neither Democrat has even one-tenth of the cash on hand as Mast, whose war chest exceeds $1.7 million. If Mast were to lose, it would be a significant upset.

Off our list

District 6: Rep. Mike Waltz (R) (Previous: 8th)

This Republican-leaning Daytona Beach-St. Augustine district was considered competitive in 2018, but without a notable recruit in 2020, Democrats have essentially given up on the seat. We won’t be including it on future lists.

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