The Buzz: Handicapping key Florida congressional races

Published Mar. 9, 2014

As the special election in Pinellas' Congressional District 13 hurtles to a finish this week, the Buzz is handicapping the most vulnerable U.S. House seats in the Florida delegation.

Florida's delegation includes 15 Republicans and 10 Democrats, plus two vacant seats, both previously held by Republicans.

The following list ranks incumbent members by how vulnerable their party is to losing the seat. The seats are listed in descending order.

1. District 13 Seat left vacant on the death of Rep. C.W. Bill Young (R)

This Pinellas seat has attracted national attention as a potential bellwether for 2014 congressional races because the district is highly competitive between the parties. Democrats are cautiously hoping that the patterns of mail-in ballot returns so far suggest a slight boost for Democrat Alex Sink. But the race will likely to go down to the wire.

2. District 2 Rep. Steve Southerland (R)

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee named this North Florida seat to its "Red to Blue" program that aids the party's most promising House challengers, and the political arm of the moderate-to-conservative Democratic Blue Dog Coalition has promised to support Gwen Graham, daughter of popular former Sen. Bob Graham. Southerland can expect his weaker financial haul to be bolstered by support from outside groups; the conservative Americans for Prosperity has already aired a pair of ads on his behalf.

3. District 26 Rep. Joe Garcia (D)

Garcia remains vulnerable due to the resignation of top aides amid allegations of absentee-ballot fraud in the 2012 Democratic primary. The GOP field includes Miami-Dade School Board member Carlos Curbelo, former Miami-Dade Commission Chairman Joe Martinez, Cutler Bay Mayor Ed MacDougall, Miami lawyer Lorenzo Palomares-Starbuck and 2012 candidate Jose Felix Peixoto. Curbelo, a former congressional aide and political consultant, is the front-runner, particularly after snagging the heavyweight endorsement of former Gov. Jeb Bush. Democrats are hoping the Miami-area district's overall Democratic leanings will enable Garcia to win a second term in November.

4. District 18 Rep. Patrick Murphy (D)

Murphy's Treasure Coast seat is competitive, but he has dodged a bullet in the field of GOP challengers. Former state Rep. Adam Hasner, who would have been a strong opponent, has opted against a 2014 bid. The remaining Republicans in the hunt include former state Rep. Carl Domino, former Tequesta City Council member Calvin Turnquest and former Connecticut state Rep. Alan Schlesinger. The deep-pocketed Domino is considered likeliest to win the nomination, although his two most recent races — for state Senate and state House — both ended in primary losses. Murphy, meanwhile, is raising money at a good clip.

5. District 16 Rep. Vern Buchanan (R)

This far down our list, the chance of a partisan flip decreases significantly. Buchanan, despite a series of ethical issues, has consistently managed to hold on to his Republican-leaning seat in the Sarasota area. The Democrats have a potentially interesting — but politically untested — candidate in Henry Lawrence, who won three Super Bowl rings during his 13-year career with the Oakland and Los Angeles Raiders. However, national Democrats have yet to boost this contest into the top tier of takeover prospects, so we won't either.

6. District 10 Rep. Dan Webster (R)

Webster's narrow 2012 re-election victory over Val Demings, the former police chief in Orlando, gave Democrats hope for 2014. But Demings opted to run for Orange County mayor, leaving Democrats without a top-tier candidate in this GOP-leaning district in Central Florida. The current Democratic field includes former Eustis City Commissioner Bill Ferree, Navy veteran Michael McKenna and lawyer Shayan Modarres.

7. District 22 Rep. Lois Frankel (D)

Frankel won her seat by defeating Hasner in a hotly contested open-seat race in 2012. But her surprisingly wide 10-point margin over Hasner in the Boca Raton-West Palm Beach district appears to have scared off top-tier challengers for 2014. The GOP field includes artist Andrea Leigh McGee, software engineer Jeremy Rodgers and contractor David Wagie. Neither party is expecting this seat to be anywhere near as competitive as it was two years ago.

8. District 19 Seat left vacant on the resignation of Rep. Trey Radel (R)

This is a solidly Republican district in the Naples-Fort Myers area, so most of the activity is on the GOP side. The presumed front-runner for the April 22 primary is state Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto. Other contenders include former state Rep. Paige Kreegel and businessman Curt Clawson. On the Democratic side, public relations executive April Freeman is the only announced candidate for the June 24 general election. But whoever wins the GOP primary is expected to prevail.