Florida Map Coming Into Focus

by Jessica Taylor February 1, 2012 · 4:41 PM EST

As Florida Republicans approach a compromise on redistricting, a game of musical chairs between GOP Reps. Allen West and Tom Rooney could potentially save one of the most endangered members of Congress.

With Rooney announcing he’ll run in the solidly Republican 17th District, which includes about 40 percent of his old 16th District, West is poised to run instead in the now-open 18th District. According to Republican sources, about a quarter of West’s former constituents are now in the 18th District, which runs along the coast and takes in St. Lucie and Martin.

The switch doesn’t guarantee West an easy election campaign, but it does make his path back to Congress a bit simpler.

The 22nd District, where West currently lives, is an uphill climb for any Republican. It voted 56 percent for President Obama in 2008 and 55 percent for John Kerry in 2004. But the 18th District is about six points better for a Republican. Obama carried it with just 51 percent, while George W. Bush won it narrowly four years earlier.

Always a prodigious fundraiser, West kept up that pace in the last quarter of 2011, pulling in $1.7 million, leaving him with an imposing $2.7 million in the bank.

It’s not fully clear what West’s declared challengers, who have already been raising money rapidly to take on the tea party icon, will do. Former West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel said in a statement she’ll stick with the 22nd District, while businessman Patrick Murphy blasted West, a Army veteran, as a “coward” and said he’d continue to “monitor the redistricting process.”

Republican insiders are optimistic about former state Rep. Adam Hasner’s candidacy in the 22nd, who dropped his Senate bid to run here instead. The district takes in much of his old legislative district, but it’s still a difficult one for Republicans, although they believe Frankel has weaknesses during her tenure as mayor they can exploit.

If the House map is enacted, Democrats could pick up two to four seats under their best case scenario, but that’s still not the outcome they had hoped for. With this map, Republicans are able to be competitive in new seats and possibly even keep several districts that their endangered freshmen hold.

The map, as it stands now, has nine solidly Republican seats, with eight additional seats leaning toward the GOP. Two seats appear to be pure toss-ups – West’s new 18th District and longtime Republican Rep. Bill Young’s 13th District. If Young retires – or whenever he does retire – this seat would immediately become competitive, but as long as he’s running, the veteran has the edge. Two seats lean Democratic – the now-open 22nd and the new 9th District – while Democrats have six safe seats.

Freshman GOP Rep. Steve Southerland’s Panhandle district becomes slightly more Democratic, going from a district McCain took with 54 percent to one the Republican presidential nominee won with 52 percent.

Freshman Republican Daniel Webster, now in the 10th District, would see his district getting about five points more Republican. Under the new lines, McCain would have carried the district with 52 percent and Bush with 57 percent, making the race more difficult for former Orlando Police Chief Val Demings, one of Democrats’ top recruits this cycle.

Former Rep. Alan Grayson, who lost handily to Webster in 2010, is expected to run in the new 9th District. The Orlando-area district has about 40 percent Hispanic voting age population, and is one Obama won with 60 percent in 2008. Bush took it with just over 50 percent in 2004. Those 2004 numbers give Republicans hope, and a likely candidate there could be Osceola County Commissioner John Quinones.

Freshman Republican Rich Nugent is drawn into the same 11th District as veteran Rep. Cliff Stearns, but one of them is expected to run in the neighboring 3rd District – currently open – instead. The 3rd District is about four points more Republican.

Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan, now in the 16th District, would see his Sarasota seat get slightly less Republican, though both McCain and Bush carried it. The congressman has faced investigations into his campaign accounts, and former state Rep. Keith Fitzgerald (D) has announced he’ll challenge him.

The district of another embattled Republican, freshman Rep. David Rivera, would get about a point more Democratic. But it still would have gone narrowly for McCain, while Bush took 54 percent in the new 26th District. Rivera, facing a possible indictment over his campaign finances, raised only $42,000 in the fourth quarter of 2011 and has only $92,000 cash on hand.

Another big question mark is what will GOP Rep. John Mica do. The transportation chairman was drawn into the same 7th District as fellow Republican Rep. Sandy Adams, who has already declared her intention to seek reelection there.

His other option could be to run in the 6th District, where former Ruth’s Chris CEO Craig Miller just announced he’ll run instead of continuing in the GOP Senate primary.

Mica’s campaign has said he’s waiting for the process to be completed before making a choice, and while he’s certainly sounded like he’s going to run, some Republicans say they wouldn’t be surprised if he chose retirement.

While this map is only tentative and hasn’t been officially passed in the legislature, there are certain to be court challenges under the new Fair Districts law that would alter the landscape yet again.

A coalition of interest groups supporting the Fair Districts criteria have already complained to GOP Redistricting Chairman Will Weatherford, arguing that the number of safe Republican seats more than doubles safe Democratic ones, which they say doesn’t accurately reflect that state’s partisan breakdown. A number of legal battles are likely.