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Politics

2014 a Big Year for Florida Delegation and Presidential Hopefuls

December 25, 2014 - 6:00pm

The Florida congressional delegation had a busy 2014 and as the year ends, there are a few new faces representing the Sunshine State in Washington, D.C.

Floridas two U.S. senators took very different paths this past year.

While he was not on the 2014 ballot or in the spotlight much outside of leaving the door slightly open to run against Republican Gov. Rick Scott, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., had a rough year. Had Democrats kept control of the Senate, Nelson would be one of the leading figures in the chamber. As the Democrats ready to cede control of the Senate to Republicans in the coming days, Nelson, now in the middle of his third term, will rank as one of the senior Democrats but hold far less clout now that the party is in the minority.

The Senate Democratic leadership announced its committee assignments earlier in the month and Nelson won a few plum assignments. Nelson will lead his party on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and sit on the Armed Services, Finance and Aging committees. Nelson will be the second highest Democrat on Armed Services and is the senior -- but not ranking -- member of his party on the Aging Committee. Had Democrats remained in charge, Nelson would have far more power.

Unlike his Democratic colleague, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., tried to seize the limelight as he continues to generate presidential buzz. Rubio hit the campaign trail in states like Iowa, New Hampshire, Arkansas, Colorado and South Carolina as he helped Republicans flip the Senate and looked ahead to 2016. But he spent most of the year lagging behind other Republican presidential hopefuls in the polls. Still, the senator from Miami took the lead in pushing back against President Barack Obamas efforts to normalize relations with Cuba, giving the Florida Republican something of a lift needed badly after former Gov. Jeb Bush, R-Fla., announced he was going to launch a presidential exploratory effort.

On the other side of Capitol Hill, Florida has four new faces sitting in the U.S. House. Republican David Jolly won the special election for the House seat left open by the death of his mentor, longtime U.S. Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla., by pulling an upset over former state CFO Alex Sink who came close to beating Scott in 2010. After pleading guilty to cocaine possession, U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla., finally resigned his seat in January, setting up a hotly contested special Republican primary between businessman Curt Clawson and Florida Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers. Clawson won the primary and cruised in the special election and later on in November.

There are two other new faces in the delegation. Gwen Graham provided one of the few bright spots for Democrats on Election Day when she upended U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla. But Republicans picked up a seat of their own in November when Miami-Dade School Board member Carlos Curbelo defeated U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Fla.

Other members of the Florida delegation cruised through their re-election efforts in 2014. Even with Republicans outnumbering Democrats in his district, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., kept his seat easily, besting former state Rep. Carl Domino by 20 percent in November. Other members of the Florida delegation were in even less competitive races.

But, despite that, there has been some drama. In his role as chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., had a large seat at the table as the VA faced reports about altered waiting lists at medical centers across the country. As the ranking Democrat on the committee, U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., often defended the Obama administration on VA matters.

Other members of the delegation continued to climb the congressional ladder. U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., took a spot among leadership as deputy majority whip while U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., despite not yet starting his second term, will chair the U.S. House subcommittee on National Security and vice chair the subcommittee on the Constitution. U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., will now be on the House Social Security subcommittee, the only member of the Florida delegation on it. On the other side of the aisle, U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla., was in the mix to lead the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and she continues to move up the now-depleted Democratic ranks in Congress. But U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., earned far less accolades for leading the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in a bad year for her party.

Other members of the Florida delegation focused more on policy. After eight years of efforts, U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., finally got his ABLE Act bill, setting up tax free savings accounts for disabled Americans, into law. U.S. Rep. Ted Yohos, R-Fla., bill pushing back against Obamas executive action on illegal immigration passed the House while U.S. Rep. Bill Posey, R-Fla., often teamed up with Murphy to protect the Everglades. U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., the chairman of the House subcommitte on the Middle East and Northern Africa remained a leading Republican on foreign affairs, often working across the aisle with her ranking Democrat, U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., in supporting Israel. Ros-Lehtinen and U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., often tried to find a middle ground between Obama on the left and conservative Republicans on the right on immigration.

The end of 2014 saw focus turn again to the presidential contest with Bushs announcement and Rubio saying he will decide to run in the first quarter of 2015. Add into the mix Dr. Ben Carson who left Maryland to head to South Florida and already has a following among conservatives. With Florida remaining the largest swing state in the Electoral College, look for 2015 to be all about 2016 in the Sunshine State.

Reach Kevin Derby at kderby@sunshinestatenews.com or follow him on Twitter: @KevinDerbySSN

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