Florida is unusual in the sense that it has two different qualifying deadlines: one for candidates for federal offices, and another for candidates for state offices. The qualifying deadline for federal offices came and went last month, and the results have been widely reported, especially here. The qualifying deadline for state candidates happened on Friday, June 20, at 12:00 PM, and though local media has covered it in the sense of how many sitting legislators are unopposed for re-election (spoiler: a lot are), there has not really been a full and complete analysis, as far as I have seen. The point of this diary is to analyze who is running, who is not, and what it means for both the primary elections in August and the general elections in November.
Important note: The purpose of this diary is not for me to evaluate every single election taking place in Florida this year. That will be the subject of a later diary, I promise. My purpose right now is for me to analyze where we are running candidates and where we are not. As the primary approaches, I will publish another diary that outlines my predictions and suggests races that might be interesting. And then, as the general election approaches, another diary that rates the congressional races, statewide races, and the legislative races.
Governor—As expected, the primary will be between former Governor Charlie Crist and former State Senator Nan Rich. Though a number of other Democrats filed to also run in the primary, none of them qualified, and my August 26 ballot will be a choice between Crist and Rich. (Hint: I’m happily, proudly, enthusiastically voting for Charlie Crist.) On the Republican side, Governor Rick Scott faces two nominal primary challengers, Elizabeth Cuevas-Neunder and Yinka Abosede Adeshina, and he should easily win over both of those challengers. Something to watch, though, is how high his percentage ends up; he has been an unpopular Governor, and though his approval rating within his own party is recovering to relatively normal levels, it would not surprise me at all if he was held to somewhere in the 60-70% range. Charlie Crist and Rick Scott, the presumptive Democratic and Republican nominees, respectively, will face Libertarian nominee Adrian Wyllie, independent candidates Joe Allen, Glenn Burkett, Farid Khavari, and a host of write-in candidates.
Attorney General—Incumbent Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi has filed for re-election, and is unopposed in her primary. The Democrats who qualified to run against her are Perry Thurston, a State Representative and the Minority Leader of the Florida House of Representatives, and George Sheldon, who has held a number of positions throughout the years, including State Representative, Associate Law School Dean, Secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families, and Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services. Bondi and the eventual Democratic nominee will face Libertarian nominee Bill Wohlsifer in the general election, which promises to be quite competitive.
Chief Financial Officer—Back in August, Allie Braswell, the former CEO of the Central Florida Urban League, announced that he would run for CFO, and he was viewed as a top-tier recruit for Florida Democrats. Just days later, after a past record of bankruptcies came to light, Braswell dropped out of the race. I hoped that Florida Democrats would find a top-tier candidate to challenge incumbent Republican CFO Jeff Atwater, such as State Senator Jeff Clemens, retiring State Representative Jim Waldman, or Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner, but it was not meant to be. Will Rankin is the only declared Democratic candidate, and he has previously worked as the Director of Asset Management for the Ohio State Treasury and as the Director of Florida’s statewide 2000 Census operation. Local media has questioned Rankin’s resume, and, honestly, I do not know enough about financial policy or insurance law to know if the criticism levied against him is valid. Either way, I am disappointed that Rankin was the best that we could do, as Atwater is a relatively mainstream Republican who would be a formidable gubernatorial or Senate candidate at some point in the future, and it would have been nice to defeat him for re-election. Atwater, unsurprisingly, filed for re-election, and is unopposed in the Republican primary. The general election will just be between Rankin and Atwater.
Agriculture Commissioner—This race has been exceedingly disappointing to me, but it is hardly surprising that it developed the way that it has. Democrats controlled this position as far back as the eye could see before Commissioner Bob Crawford resigned in 2001, and it’s all been downhill since then. Charlie Bronson was appointed by Jeb Bush to replace Crawford, and since then, Republicans have controlled the office with ease. In 2002 and 2006, no-name Democratic candidates were the nominees, but in 2010, we had a real nominee in former Tallahassee Mayor Scott Maddox…who then performed worse than the previous two nominees. This year will be no different. The nominee is Thad Hamilton, who was elected as a member of the Broward County Soil and Water Conservation District in 2008 unopposed and re-elected in 2012 unopposed. He actually ran for Agriculture Commissioner before, in 2010, as an independent...because he was not able to qualify as a Democrat. Incumbent Commissioner Adam Putnam, who is also a potential candidate for statewide office in the future, is a lock for re-election. The question in my mind is whether he will break 60% of the vote.
I’ll be brutally honest—recruitment by Democrats for State Senate seats this year was abysmal. I will concede that the State Senate map is terribly gerrymandered and that it is difficult to win as a Democrat in a district where President Obama did not win, but there is really no excuse for not actually recruiting candidates in districts where Romney beat Obama by single digits, and especially in districts where Obama got 47% of the vote or higher.
Below is a table of the status of Republican State Senators running for re-election this year, and I’ll summarize briefly.
Two Republicans representing 47% Obama districts are entirely unopposed, and, like the aforementioned Senators, can transfer unlimited funds to the state party. One of these Republicans, Dorothy Hukill of the 8th District, was actually a target of the Florida Democratic Party in 2012—the party spend considerably to boost her Democratic opponent, Volusia County Council Chairman Frank Bruno, but ultimately, Bruno drastically underperformed the President, receiving only 43% while the President scored 47%. The other Republican, Wilton Simpson, has not faced any opponent whatsoever during his entire Senate career—in 2012, he won the Republican primary and general election unopposed, and will do the same thing this year.
A Republican who represents a 45% Obama district, which is a bit of a stretch, is also unopposed—Nancy Detert of the 28th District, who has always been popular in her district because of her genuinely moderate reputation. It’ll be a shame when she’s term-limited in 2018, because she’ll be replaced by a partisan Republican. The fact that Democrats did not run candidates in the 2nd District, represented by Greg Evers, where Obama received 33% of the vote; the 4th District, represented by Aaron Bean, where Obama received 34% of the vote; and the 26th District, represented by Bill Galvano, where Obama received 41% of the vote, is understandable, but still inexcusable, because Evers, Bean, and Galvano will be able to transfer their funds to the state party.
There are four more Republicans who will not, as of right now, be able to transfer their funds to the state party, but that could change as the election gets under way, for reasons I will elaborate on later. David Simmons in the 10th District, where I live, is opposed by independent candidate Walter Osborne, and Obama got 46% of the vote here. That 46% is a floor in the district, as Leo Cruz, a friend of mine and Simmons’s 2012 opponent, got 45% without spending hardly anything at all. Thad Altman in the 16th District, where Obama got 44% of the vote, faces a Republican primary opponent and a write-in opponent in the general election. Jack Latvala in the 20th District, where Obama got 48% of the vote, has a Republican primary opponent and a Libertarian opponent in the general election. Tom Lee of the 24th District, where Obama got 47%, has a Republican primary opponent and a write-in opponent in the general election.
Now, you might think that Florida has closed primaries, and that’s essentially true. Florida has MOSTLY closed primaries, but if there are only candidates of one party running for a position, the primary is opened and anyone can vote. If there are any other candidates running, the primary is closed. Another deliberately-created quirk in Florida election law allows a primary to be closed even if a write-in candidate files, and write-in candidates have very loose requirements to file. Therefore, it is exceedingly common for a write-in candidate to file, causing the primary to be closed, and then to drop out after the primary but before the general election, meaning that one party can get entirely locked out of ever having an office on their ballot. I mention this not only because it is incredibly relevant, but because it explains something I said earlier, that some of the Republicans’ inability to transfer funds could change as the election progresses. My understanding of the law is that if a candidate faces a write-in candidate, they are not able to transfer funds to the state party, but if that write-in candidate drops out after the primary and the candidate is “unopposed,” they are suddenly able to transfer funds. So this means two things for our discussion. First, Thad Altman and Tom Lee likely recruited the write-in candidates to file so that their primaries could be closed, as both write-in candidates are Republicans. Second, Altman and Lee will likely be able to transfer their funds to the state party in the likely event that their write-in opponents drop out after the primary.
There are three districts where Democrats are actually running candidates: the 6th District, represented by John Thrasher, where Obama got 39% of the vote; the 22nd District, represented by Jeff Brandes, where Obama got 50% of the vote; and the 32nd District, represented by Joe Negron, where Obama got 39% of the vote. This means that Democrats will only be seriously contesting ONE State Senate district currently represented by a Republican, the 22nd District.
Now, it’s likely that there will only be TWO competitive Senate elections this year out of twenty, one represented by a Republican, and one represented by a Democrat. As I mentioned before, Brandes in the 22nd District is the one Republican currently targeted by Democrats. He’s a freshman State Senator representing parts of St. Petersburg and Tampa in Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties, and he’s facing University of South Florida professor Judithanne McLauchlan. Brandes has been stockpiling money, and though McLauchlan is fundraising well for a legislative candidate, she will not be able to come close to matching him. This is a district that President Obama narrowly, narrowly won with 49.72% of the vote, by less than 2,000 votes, so it will be close. It’s possible that Charlie Crist could boost turnout in Pinellas County, where he’s lived for decades, and that he could have some coattails in his home territory, but the advantage still lies with Brandes.
In the 34th District, Democratic State Senator Maria Sachs is facing former Republican State Senator Ellyn Bogdanoff. Sachs and Bogdanoff were both incumbents in 2012 who were drawn into the same district, which stretches along the eastern coast of Florida from Palm Beach County to Broward County. Bogdanoff faces opposition in the Republican primary, but she should win easily, and then a brutal general election will follow. Make no mistake, the advantage rests with Sachs in this district, as it gave President Obama 52.86% of the vote in 2012, but Bogdanoff is a strong competitor. And that’s it. There are no other remotely competitive State Senate elections in the state.
I don’t have much to say about the districts currently represented by Democrats that are up for re-election this year. First, there are so few of them, and second, none of them, save for Sachs in the 34th District, will be remotely competitive. Republicans deliberately drew them to be Democratic vote sinks, so they did not bother running candidates in most of them. Unfortunately, no Democrats are currently unopposed. Oscar Braynon of the 36th District might end up unopposed after the primary election, as he has a primary opponent in the Democratic primary, and a write-in candidate in the general election whose presence closed the primary.
We are running candidates in 35 districts currently represented by Republicans, out of 75 districts. This is pretty abysmal overall, especially when you look at the list of Republican-controlled districts where we are not running candidates. There is a lot of bad news with recruitment this year, but for now, let us consider the good news.
However, 11 of the Republicans who are not facing Democrats in the general election this year had Democratic opponents in 2012. In some cases, this is extremely disappointing, because the Democratic candidates in 2012 got close to winning. In the 24th District, currently represented by Travis Hutson, where Obama got 42% of the vote, 2012 Democratic nominee Milissa Holland got 47%, and actually held Hutson to only 49%, and came within 2,000 votes of winning. This was a heavily-targeted district in 2012, despite the fact that Obama did so poorly in it, so it’s a shame that Hutson is winning his second term entirely unopposed. In the 50th District, currently represented by Tom Goodson, where Obama got 46% of the vote, 2012 Democratic nominee Sean Ashby got 47%, and Goodson does not face a Democratic opponent this year. In the 120th District, currently represented by Holly Raschein, where Obama got 52% of the vote, 2012 Democratic nominee Ian Whitney got 48%, and she’s skating to a second term without an opponent, which is truly tragic.
Additionally, some truly odious Republicans have no Democrats running against them. Consider Charles Van Zant of the 19th District, where Obama got 31%. This is tough territory for a Democrat, no doubt, but earlier this year, it came to light that Van Zant said, of Common Core, “These people…[will] attract every one of your children to become as homosexual as they possibly can.” He has no opponent.
Dennis Baxley of the 23rd District, where Obama got 39%, again represents a district that is difficult for a Democrat to win. He, however, was the Florida sponsor of the controversial “stand your ground” legislation, and stands by it.
Speaking of “stand your ground,” what about Matt Gaetz of the 4th District, where Obama got 26%? Gaetz is a rising star for Republicans, as he is the son of State Senate President Don Gaetz, and is all but assured to win his father’s State Senate seat in 2016 when his father will be term limited. Gaetz is the Chairman of the Criminal Justice Subcommittee in the Florida House, and was tasked with reviewing “stand your ground” in the aftermath of the Zimmerman trial. He claimed impartiality, but also declared that he would not change “one damn comma” in the bill, and then sponsored legislation that would allow people who successfully used a “stand your ground” defense to be able to apply for certificates that would expunge any information related to their defense from their criminal records. He, like the others, has no Democratic opponent.
One of the most low-key members of the House, James Grant of the 64th District, where Obama got 43%. Following a Tampa Bay Times expose of truly awful and inhumane abuse at unlicensed Christian children’s homes that found that “virtually anyone can claim a list of religious ideals, take in children and subject them to punishment and isolation that verge on torture—so long as they quote chapter and verse to justify it.” Legislation was proposed that would require the Florida Association of Christian Child Caring Agencies to disclose information about the homes that they accredited, and Grant promptly sponsored an amendment that would have removed all of those requirements. Thankfully, it was opposed, but Grant still thought that it was a logical course of action, and he has no Democratic opponent. The point is that there a lot of Republicans who deserve Democratic opponents, and they did not get them.
Furthermore, a number of the districts in Table 2.2 might be moved into Table 2.1 after the primary comes and goes—there are a number of Republicans facing primary challengers who also “coincidentally” face write-in opponents who conveniently close the primary to only registered Republicans, which is explained above. In particular, the 3rd District, 15th District, 16th District, 64th District, 74th District, and 77th District all feature Republican primaries that have been closed due to the candidacy of a write-in candidate…who happens to also be a registered Republican! So all of those districts are effectively unopposed in the general election.
Ultimately, in taking a look at the elections in Florida following the conclusion of qualify week, a few conclusions come to mind.
For one, as was noted in the Digest, United States Senator Bill Nelson is not running for Governor, as he did not file. Former Governor Charlie Crist is a lock for the nomination and will face Governor Rick Scott in a brutal general election, which I consider a tossup.
The only reasonably competitive statewide race other than the gubernatorial election is the Attorney General election. Both the CFO and Agriculture Commissioner elections will result in landslide Republican victories. However, we have two top-tier recruits for Attorney General. Pam Bondi, the incumbent, has outraised both Perry Thurston and George Sheldon, and she has the edge. However, as the gubernatorial election continues and as Florida voters learn about Bondi's missteps, such as rescheduling an execution because it conflicted with a campaign fundraiser, I am confident that the race will tighten.
Democrats will not win control over the State Senate or the State House this year. The State Senate is mathematically impossible, as we simply are not running enough candidates for that to happen, and the State House is logistically impossible, as there are not enough competitive elections and enough credible Democratic challengers. We do have the opportunity, however, to make some minimal gains in some key districts. If Crist is able to beat Scott by a solid margin, it is possible that we could see a larger gain, but, just like we saw in Virginia last year, a large number of competitive races does not easily translate to a large number of gains when a map is gerrymandered. Admittedly, I did not go into detail about where we have top-tier challengers and where our incumbents face top-tier challengers, which, as I mentioned in the introduction, will be the subject of a later diary, I promise. However, until then, I can say that Republican-held districts where we can expect to, at least theoretically, compete include the 21st District, 27th District, 35th District, 41st District, 42nd District, 59th District, 66th District, 67th District, 69th District, 103rd District, 105th District, 111th District, 114th District, 115th District, 118th District, and 119th District. And Democratic-held districts we will likely have to place defense include the 29th District, 30th District, 36th District, 47th District, 63rd District, 65th District, 68th District, 84th District, and 112th District.