Until the Legislature holds a special session on redistricting later this month, Florida’s congressional races will be up in the air. One thing’s already clear though: the Republicans aren’t exactly tripping over themselves to squelch Charlie Crist’s latest comeback attempt. Crist has already said he will run if there’s an open seat in Pinellas County. That looks like a near certainty, especially with current incumbent David Jolly switching gears to run for the Senate in 2016.
While the former governor is damaged goods at the state level, Crist remains secure in his Pinellas County stronghold. Yet, there is still buzz that he could face some competition in the Democratic primary and Eric Lynn, who had been running against Jolly, is showing no signs of getting out.
Jolly might have scored a win over Alex Sink last year, but observers are expecting the seat to morph from being competitive, as it is now, to leaning Democratic after redistricting. There’s been talk that Rick Baker could run for the Republicans. Another possibility is Manuel Sykes. Sykes could run, though challenging an ex-Democrat against an ex-Republican like Crist doesn’t seem like the wisest course of action.
The NRCC has been surprisingly quiet about Crist’s latest resurfacing. Granted, redistricting could leave Crist high and dry, but that seems unlikely. The NRCC has shown no hesitation in getting involved in Florida, firing off attacks at Gwen Graham and Annette Taddeo whenever the opportunity has arisen. But when it comes to Crist, the NRCC hasn’t been active so far taking shots at the former governor.
Democrats currently hold 10 of the 27 congressional seats in Florida. Even with Graham and Patrick Murphy holding swing seats, it’s tough to imagine the number of seats controlled by Democrats will decrease after redistricting.
Chances are, with the help of their allies on the bench and in groups like the League of Women Voters, Florida Democrats will end up gaining seats after redistricting. That puts the NRCC and other Republican groups on the defensive to protect Carlos Curbelo and possibly incumbents like Dan Webster and Vern Buchanan, depending on how redistricting goes.
Republicans might be willing to take a loss against Crist to protect other seats. There’s a temptation to dismiss Crist as a has-been after his losses in 2010 and 2014. He would be a freshman in the congressional minority. But Crist is only 59 and has shown the ability to bounce back from political losses that would have crippled other politicians. Republicans who write Crist off as a nonfactor or who are willing to concede a congressional seat will do so at their own peril.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.