538 gives Democrats slim odds to win new Florida congressional district

Democratic candidate Alan Cohn questions the assumptions that went into the analysis.
Republican Jackie Toledo and Democrat Alan Cohn are competing for the new District 15 congressional seat.
Republican Jackie Toledo and Democrat Alan Cohn are competing for the new District 15 congressional seat. [ Special to the Times ]
Published July 15, 2022

The polling analysis website has posted discouraging words for Democrats in the new, east Hillsborough-based congressional District 15.

But the Democratic primary frontrunner, Alan Cohn, disputes its validity of the analysis, and so do some Republican insiders.

FiveThirtyEight assumed Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa, will win the Republican primary in the district, calling it a “best guess” based on incumbency, polls, fundraising and endorsements.

It then gave Toledo a 95 percent chance of beating Cohn.

But that’s based on scarce data.

Toledo is one of three prominent Republicans in the primary, including state Sen. Kelli Stargel of Lakeland and former Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee, the wife of former state Sen. Tom Lee.

Neither Lee, Stargel nor Cohn, all comparatively new to the race, has yet filed a fundraising report.

Toledo reported raising $353,027 through March since filing in February, and Cohn said he raised more than $100,000 in his first 10 days as a candidate.

Stargel tweeted this week that she has raised $250,000 since filing in May. Lee said she has raised more than $510,000, including $65,000 of her own; she could also benefit from some $2.3 million previously raised in a PAC by Tom Lee.

Laurel Lee has announced an endorsement by Americans for Prosperity, an influential conservative group.

One poll of GOP voters, done by pollster Ryan Tyson for the Republican Party, showed Stargel with a small lead in the primary — 13 percent to 10 percent each for Lee and Toledo — but with 58 percent undecided. That poll had a small sample, 400 respondents, and a high error margin, 4.9 percent.

Nonetheless, Toledo said in a news release, “The data proves it — our campaign will win in November.”

Cohn said FiveThirtyEight is “making a judgment based on a candidate who has been in the race for months compared to someone who just got in.”

“This crop of Republican candidates are extremists, and they don’t represent this community. Some don’t even live in this community,” he said, a dig at Toledo, who lives in South Tampa.

“I’ve lived here more than a dozen years, Patty and I have raised our children here, and they’ve seen me expose corruption and get veterans the benefits they deserve” as a former broadcast investigative reporter.

The district, taking in northeast Hillsborough, Zephyrhills and western Lakeland, leans slightly Republican. In 2020 it went for Donald Trump over Joe Biden by 3 points and Ron DeSantis over Andrew Gillum by less than 1 point.

Cohn called it a “moderate suburban district” and a “classic swing district,” and said recent GOP-backed moves on abortion rights and guns will help a Democratic candidate, while a tough primary handicaps Republicans.