Looking for Democratic Hope in the State Senate Map, Part 1

Looking at the Big Picture

All eyes around the state are on the Senate in a big way, as the redistricting ruling suddenly bringing a glimmer of hope for democrats on the state level. With a number of competitive seats on the table, legislative Democrats see a path to relevance for the first time since Jeb Bush was in the Governor’s mansion.

But nobody seems to have a clear picture of exactly how to do this. The idea of having winnable seats is such a new concept that there is not a straight path forward. And while these seats are competitive, with some cases less than a point between Romney and Obama, which makes them truly toss-up seats that are going to take millions of dollars to win.   As we see in the house, Florida Democrats are not really into fighting for the hard seats, so this change of political landscape forces them to be more aggressive in a big way if they want to take the Senate.  However, now is the time to do so as we look at the political map ahead.

2018 will be the most important election for Florida Democrats in a generation. We’ve talked about how desperately the Democrats need to win a state-wide election and with Bill Nelson still maintaining he is going to have another go of it for Senate, everything is on the line here – Governor, US Senate, cabinet, and now the State Senate. This will be the last big chance for Democrats to make a play for the Senate before redistricting (as there will simply not be enough competitive odd-numbered seats to take the majority in 2020). Moreover, there will also be a slew of Constitutional Amendments from the Constitutional Convention, which more than likely will be a slew of terrible ideas from the panel mostly hand-picked by Rick Scott. 2018 will be epic and will set the next decade of Florida politics. It is essential for Florida Democrats to win a statewide seat so that they have a seat at the table.

This makes 2016 almost a dry run. In the last few presidential cycles, Florida Democrats have relied heavily on the presidential apparatus in order to turn to the vote. With Florida being the epicenter of the presidential race this year, party politics are in full swing and with the hope of a Senate seat in the air, there will be plenty of national resources helping out. But around that state, Democrats are still hesitant to jump in races, even though this is probably one of the best times to do so considering the outside support. This is an early sign that spells trouble for 2018.

What will it take to change the midterm game? First, Democrats have to realize that they have to reverse the coat-tails in order to win. No democratic candidate has enough name recognition throughout the state (with the possible exception of Gwen Graham if she decides to run) to help down ballot races. Turning out the vote means running as many candidates as you can, so you have multiple levels of outreach and engagement. Therefore, they are going to need viable local races in key areas – Hillsborough, Orange, and South Florida particularly – to be on the ground turning out voters. And the key to all of this is going to be the Senate races, both in 2016 and in 2018.

The goal needs to be as many seats as possible by redistricting.  The only path to Senate control is paved with incumbents and powerful ones at that.  The first thing to take into account is that there are odd-numbered seats, which will be up in 2020, and even numbered seats, which will have to run again in 2018. All even-numbered seats will have to run for re-election two years from now and then will face the 2022 redistricting.  While this creates potential 10 year seats (provided they can get a similar seat in redistricting) they will be hard to maintain with the notorious low-turnout of midterm elections – which both 2018 and 2022 will be. And while there are many Democratic seats on the board, many of them cannot be held in a mid-term year

This year, the priority must be to take on odd-numbered seats, as they will be on the presidential cycle and will have the Democratic advantage. Therefore, with Senate Democrats probably sitting at 15 (assuming Senator Bullard does run and win SD40), the goal has to be 6 seats for 2016 and 2018 in order to win a one-seat majority by 2020. More would be better, but at millions of dollars and all of the Republican machine behind powerful incumbents, this is going to be hard enough.  With extremely limited seats available for 2016, most of the battle will be in 2018.   The only hope is to get a few Democratic incumbents in 2016 to drive out the vote in 2018.

The really only competitive odd-numbered seats are 39, 37, and 25. Democrats do not stand much of a chance at 25 while Negron sits in it, but the odds of winning 4 competitive seats in a midterm are slim.  While they will have another shot at them in 2020, it is imperative that they start going after these seats before another redistricting.

Targets for 2016:

Senate Seats 37 and 39 – Miami. Again, the Presidential and Senate races are going to depend heavily on south Florida turnout. The Miami-Dade seats are all favorable for a Democratic candidate – Bullard is expected to sit in 40, leaving Flores in 39, which is Obama+4 seat. Andrew Korge, after announcing against Annette Taddeo, this week came out and said that he was interested in that seat. With Flores unwilling to moderate on many of her extreme stances on woman’s issues (she is the co-sponsor of many of the anti-choice bills moving through that Brook Hines wrote about yesterday), there is a real chance this seat could flip.

As we saw with the campus carry bill, the threat of a competitive race is enough to moderate some of these candidates, which is one of the reason that challenging these politicians is so important. When rumors that Representative Rodriguez challenging Senator Diaz de la Portilla, that was enough for campus carry to not be heard in committee. While this would be a blockbuster race, the policy implications for the rest of session are huge.

Senate Seat 25 – East Coast (Vero Beach, Jupiter, parts of Martin and Indian River) Yes, this is seat of the incoming Senate President Negron, yet President Obama only lost the seat by 2 points and this district overlaps Patrick Murphy’s Congressional Seat, which is open this year.  In reality, this may be the one seat that will have a better shot in 2020 when it is open.  But practically, finding a credible challenge to Senator Negron is the only way that stop fracking in the Senate.  Clearly, all the rallies and online petitions and phone calls are not going to sway these folks and the only way to get them to listen is to run against them. While the possibility of a win against Senator Negron is slim, the possibility of moderating is real if the right candidate can be found. While this district is in a redder part of the state than the others, these are environmental voters who would not stand behind him if he helped usher fracking through the Senate.

Overall, the Democrats need to take 2 of these in 2016 and lay groundwork in a third because waiting until 2020 to mount a serious challenge will leave the party spread too thin.  Taking out Negron will be a challenge, but there should be overlap with the Congressional race.  These seats have to be a priority for the party, even at the expense of more house seats.

Throughout this week, the Squeeze will be looking at the primary battles heating up in the Democratic seats (especially in Senate District 13) and then a closer look at the 2016 even-numbered seats with an eye toward 2018 possibilities. Stay tuned.


  1. Mark Lynn · ·

    It should be a no-brainer for Ron Saunders to run in District 39. He is now free of the gerrymandered district which elected the Bullards. Yes, there is a strong Hispanic presence (Westchester & environs), but that could be overcome by his strength in South Dade and the Keys. Plus, he represented parts of West Dade from 2006-12. I think this is his chance. Hadn’t heard about Korge looking at it. This guy comes off as a rich kid looking to buy a political seat. Doesn’t really know what he wants to do. Jose Javier would be a dream candidate versus Diaz de la Portilla, but it is a huge gamble for him. His promising career would come to a halt if he were to lose. Right now he is unopposed for re-election. JJ will have to make a tough decision. This is not to say there aren’t others who could give DP a race, but JJ is obviously the strongest opponent. Gwen Margolis is doing the right thing in moving to the northeastern coastal district. She should hold that fending off a challenge from DINO Daphne Campbell. The Broward & Palm Beach County districts have been scrambled so much, I don’t think the dust has settled yet.


    1. Agree with all except for Ron Saunders. I live in the district and he actively campaigned for the Republican in the FL-120 race and backed Daphne Campbell all the way, even after her notorious presser with the Repubs on the steps of the Capitol. On top of that he bankrolled the campaign of James Bush in the Senate race with the express purpose of splitting the Black vote. The Dem grassroots will not support him anymore.


      1. Yep Saunders was the ultimate bi-partisan Democrat. In this polarized political climate he’s far from a favorite of the party these days.


  2. Gonna take 3 things to win back seats, in any race(s): 1. voter registration, 2. good candidates, 3. GOTV. Given the FDP’s almost nonexistent VR work since (at least) 2008, I’d bet we don’t get much traction, even with close races.


  3. Lucky Strikers Sad Rowdies · ·

    Good work Katy!

    Nice to see Florida politics back on this site. Kartik isn’t even covering soccer properly anymore.

    He seems SOOOOOOOO obsessed with Rubio that he’s missed tons of legislative and soccer stories these past few weeks.

    We all hate Rubio the most corrupt Miami pol to ever run for President. But one or two articles would have done the trick not the daily barrage of different angles from him. It’s old and stale.


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