Election 2006 Analysis: Florida
An Opportunity for More Change
The 2006 elections yielded mixed results for Florida Democrats. Great gains were made, but they fell behind many expectations. We reelected Bill Nelson (D) to the United States Senate, but we fell short of electing a Democratic governor. We have a new Democratic Chief Financial Officer, but the majority of statewide offices are still held by Republicans. We made gains in the state legislature, but we are still outnumbered in both chambers. The biggest gain came from the U.S. House seats. Only four districts in the whole Southeast region flipped—two of them were in Florida. Another one is currently contested, and might end up in a recount.
Below I will examine our gains and losses while making suggestions for future strategies.
U.S. House Delegation
First, our victories:
FL-16 (map) (R+2)
This race was catapulted to national status when disgraced Republican Rep. Mark Foley was accused of inappropriate communication with young pages. Foley resigned, but because of Florida election law his name remained on the ballot. Democrat Tim Mahoney went from likely loser to superstar.
While Foley’s name remained on the ballot, Joe Negron was nominated by the state Republican Party to take his place in the event Foley won. The GOP subsequently launched a massive voter education campaign to notify voters of the change. A court ruling also allowed neutral notices of the switch to be placed at polling places at the option of the individual election supervisors.
The final vote was 49-48 for Mahoney, or a 4,404 vote margin. Many conservatives claim Mahoney will simply be a one-term wonder and voters in FL-16 will elect Joe Negron in 2008.
I think this assessment ignores many key points:
The Republican PVI in this district is fairly small (+2)
Ruling out Mahoney for a second term largely ignores the power of incumbency and his obvious fundraising advantage
Voters in FL-16 have been shown more than anyone else the corruption present in the Republican Party
Finally, election notices were posted informing voters that a vote for Foley counted for Negron. So while having Foley’s name on the ballot did play a role in Negron’s defeat, it was minimal.
The bottom line in this district: Tim Mahoney’s fate is by no means decided in 2008. The power of incumbency coupled with the low Republican PVI may keep him in Congress for many years to come. The outcome of the next race will be intimately dependent on the national mood in 2008, and whether or not the Democratic Presidential nominee will help Mahoney.
One additional thing is clear: Mahoney must work hard to turn out Democratic voters in the heavily blue eastern (D+14) part of his district in 2008.
Long-term projection – Tossup (as long as Mahoney stays in)
FL-22 (map) (D+4)
In a historic battle, Democrat Ron Klein beat long-term incumbent Republican Clay Shaw by 51-47. This district leans Democratic, so it look like Ron Klein will avoid the challenges facing Mahoney and keep his seat easily. FL-22 will be an integral part of a long-term Democratic majority.
Long-term projection – Lean Dem
Note: We should continue to look for more districts in Florida with a Republican incumbent, but a small Democratic or Republican PVI. SCR will have more on that later.
FL-13 (map) (R+4)
This is Katherine Harris’ old seat, and it is only fitting for there to be serious election difficulties. On the first count, Republican Vern Buchanan beat Democratic candidate Christine Jennings by a 368-vote margin. While this is a small enough margin for an automatic recount, many of the votes were cast on electronic voting machines, making a recount impossible. Somehow precincts in Sarasota County registered 18,000 undervotes in this race. Jennings has pledged to pursue every avenue possible, including taking the results to court.
Long-term projection – depends on recount/court result
FL-15 (map) (R+4)
This district is one of the two on the Space Coast, so naturally we’ll be heavily involved in covering this race in 2008. This year long-term incumbent David Weldon won by a 56-44 margin. This was Weldon’s worst showing since he was elected to Congress in the Republican “Revolution” of 1994.
From an email by Weldon’s Democratic opponent Dr. Bob Bowman:
First, the phenomenal stats: our percentage of the votes was 9% higher than the previous Dem candidate for District 15. Our final percentage was 43.7%, a VERY respectable showing against a six-time incumbent who raised six times what we did, from his corporate friends. This was the best Democratic percentage ever against Weldon as an incumbent.
We can be very proud of our grassroots campaign, composed almost entirely of dedicated volunteers. From the beginning, we were the underdogs. For those of you who were with us back in February, you remember that even getting enough petitions to get on the ballot seemed a miracle – but we did it!
This race is winnable, especially due to some of Weldon’s completely radical stances (Weldon introduced the Terri Shiavo legislation into Congress). The two things we need are massive people-power and a moderately well financed Democratic candidate who is willing to campaign aggressively.
Long-term projection: Lean Republican
FL-24 (map) (R+3)
FL-24 is the second district on the Space Coast.
This race gained some unusual attention when a Zogby poll showed incumbent Republican Tom Feeney only two points ahead (45-43) of Democratic challenger Clint Curtis.
Clint Curtis was asked by the corrupt Rep. Tom Feeney to create a program that would flip votes in computerized election machines undetectably. Curtis has since testified against Feeney in front of Congress. Then he ran against him.
Unfortunately, he ended up losing 58-42, but was massively outspent. Also, Tom Feeney drew this district for himself when he was Florida House Majority leader Speaker .
This district may end up being more competitive in the future because of Tom Feeney’s ties to lobbyist and felon Jack Ambramoff
It was a shame Feeney’s ties to Jack were never publicized in the media, but who knows what 2008 may bring.
Long-term Projection: Lean Republican
What can I say, it was a blowout. Democrat Bill Nelson carried the day against Katherine Harris 60-38. Nelson was driven largely by his moderate image, astronaut past, and willingness to talk to his constituents.
It is imperative Bill Nelson, buoyed by sky high popularity, campaign heavily for Democratic candidates in 2008. This alone should push a few races over the top. Imagine if the map could always look this blue.
Statewide Constitutional Offices (R:3 – D:1)
Republican Charlie Crist defeated Democratic candidate Jim Davis by a healthy 52-45 margin. This race most exemplifies the challenges progressives will face in Florida for many years to come. Naturally, the Republicans lead in fundraising, gaining millions from the insurance industry. Crist began running ads against Davis right after the primary, while Davis did not get on the air until a few weeks before the election.
The only way a Democrat, running for Governor or President, can win in Florida is by instituting a massive GOTV operation in Democratic areas while microtargeting Democratic voters elsewhere in the state. Also, Democrats must work extremely hard on the voter registration front, where an increase in the youth vote can have a substantial impact. In fact, while the battle won’t be completely won on the registration front, it can certainly be lost. Florida is a retirement state, so conservative-leaning seniors must be neutralized by new Democratic voters. Fighting hard on the Medicare and Social Security front is also a must.
Chief Financial Officer
Democrat Alex Sink defeated Republican candidate Tom Lee 54-46, ending the GOP’s 4-year monopoly on the Florida cabinet. This raises the total of statewide Democrats from 1 to 2. Hey, a 100% increase ain’t bad!
Bill McCollum beat Democrat Walter "Skip" Campbell 53-47. This was a fairly close election, but allegations that Campbell supported a bill requiring mothers putting children up for adoption to list all of their sexual partners in the newspaper probably cost him the election.
Incumbent Republican Charles Bronson had an easy time with Democratic candidate Eric Copeland, beating him 57-43.
The changes here were all in the positive direction. Unfortunately, there weren’t many.
The state senate remained static
SENATE: D=14; R=26 (no change)
HOUSE: D=42; R=78 (D+7)
Not much, but these are the first state House gains for Democrats in 16 years.
Seriously contesting every U.S. House and state House/Senate race is extremely important. It is much easier for Democratic candidates to win when other Democrats are running up and down the ticket. This will be our biggest challenge in 2008 and beyond.