TFS Editor-In-Chief Kartik Krishnaiyer contributed to this story
The long anticipated announcement came yesterday from former Senator Ellyn Bogdanoff (R-Fort Lauderdale), who formally declared that she would challenge Senator Maria Sachs (D-Delray Beach) in a rematch of a race she lost two years ago. Ramifications are far and wide for Democrats especially, whose resources are stretched beyond its limits already and now will have to spend several hundred thousand dollars at a minimum defending Sachs in what appears to be a Republican year. What was the nastiest and most expensive Senate race of 2012 is set up for a repeat performance and this will send ripple effects through the state.
2012 Re-Cap: After re-redistricting, Senator Sachs and Senator Bogdanoff were drawn into the same district, but the majority of it was Senator Sach’s old district so she did have the advantage. It was the most expensive race of the cycle, with both parties spending millions of dollars, but the Democrats managed to prevent the Republicans from taking a two-thirds majority in the Senate. In the end, Senator Sachs pulled it off by 6 points and won handily, with her old district to pull her over the edge.
This brings the truly competitive senate races up to a grand total of 2 out of 20 seats up in November. Because of redistricting, every district elected a new senator in 2012 but only even numbered seats are up for re-election after just two years. Both races will have to face the deep pockets of the Florida Republican Party, who have nothing to loose and everything to gain if they manage to secure a veto-proof majority with the possibility of a Democratic governor. The biggest impact of this announcement could be on Senator Jeff Brandes (R-St Petersburg) who is sitting in a Democratic-leaning district and faces a challenger in Judithanne McLauchlan, a USF political science professor. Brandes got a pass in 2012 from the Democrats in an inexplicable decision after surviving an ugly Republican Primary with then Rep. Jim Frishe (R-St Petersburg). He stands to safely defend his seat if the focus of the party shifts elsewhere. Overall, this move is a huge boost for Republicans, who have few other competitive races to worry about.
In the big picture, McLauchlan might just be the biggest loser of a potential Bogdanoff run as the Florida Democratic Party’s Senate campaign money would then likely be stretched and unable to properly fund her challenge to Brandes. There just is not enough money for the Democrats to play in both. McLauchlan has proven to be a relatively effective fundraiser for a newcomer, posting over $80,000 dollars so far with about $20,000 from the Florida Democratic Party and she has spent less than $30,000. She is also running an impressive ground game with lots of grassroots support and growing enthusiasm among activists and volunteers. However, Senator Brandes is sitting on over $230,000 and has spent over $200,000 already with plenty more to come in from the deep pockets of the RPOF. While the district leans Democratic, this will be a fight up until the end and will be determined largely by GOTV efforts. This one promises to be a nail-bitter, but without added monetary support from the party McLauchlan faces an uphill battle.
The Florida Democratic Party has a difficult choice to make. As previously stated, a Bogdanoff and Brandes win would put the Republicans over a veto-proof majority in the Senate; Democrats have to defend Sach or push McLauchlan to victory in order to prevent that. The chances of doing both are slim. As we remember well, the Senate has been the rational body of governing for the past few sessions: ‘Parent Trigger’, prison privatization, and a slew of other bad legislation was all killed in the Senate. Even though it has a strong Republican majority, it is vital to keep as many Democrats in the Chamber as possible. Should Governor Rick Scott keep the governor’s mansion, a veto-proof majority may swing right and it is well established that the House is never going to be the voice of reason. There is also the overlying question of reapportionment; everyone has been paying attention to the Congressional redistricting trial but the Senate maps are also being challenged by the coalition led by the League of Woman Voters. As we have repeatedly stated on TFS, the State House maps were fairly drawn but the State Senate ones were not.
The voting records of Sachs and Bogdanoff are very different. However for the average voter the reputation of both women are that of moderates. Republican activists and many voters see Bogdanoff as a one of the more moderate voices in the Broward GOP. For sure, Bogdanoff was once a clearly defined moderate, demonstrated by her unsuccessful 1998 State Senate run in a heavily Democratic district where she managed to pry half the African-American vote away from Democrat Steve Geller. She also was the arguably the most moderate candidate in a jumbled seven-way Republican Primary for State House in a 2004 Special Election. But once elected to the State House in that Special Election, her voting record drifted towards the right and the same could be said for her two year Senate career from 2010 to 2012. Sachs’ also has the reputation among Democratic activists of being a moderate though her voting record has tended to skew left for most of her legislative career. From the perspective of some progressives she’s suspect but in reality has been a pretty solid vote.
It will be interesting to see how the parties handle this situation and attempts to juggle the governor’s race and still keep the Republicans away from that magical two-thirds majority.