With Bill Young leaving Congress, Florida has a new political battleground in 2014 as Republicans and Democrats alike look at an open congressional seat which had been filled for more than four decades.
While the name of Charlie Crist will be tossed around to run for the seat, Crist is expected to run for governor in 2014. In spite of that, there should be some major Democrats looking to run in a race that now looks much more winnable.
Based on her strong effort against Young in 2012 and her early start for next years race, Jessica Ehrlich will be one of the lead candidates to win the Democratic nomination. A hard-working candidate who is focused and sharp on the campaign trail, Ehrlich brings some strengths to the table.Youngs retirement is good news for her, especially as she had been in the news in recent days for her attacks on the Republican on the federal shutdown.
But the Democrats have a solid bench in Pinellas County and Ehrlich should expect major opposition in the primary. Ken Welch from the County Commission is popular with Democrats and his name is already surfacing as a possible candidate. There are other Democrats who could make a splash as well, including Charlie Justice who has done well in seeking legislative and county offices. But Justice flopped badly against Young in 2010 and showed little ability to raise funds.
Republcians will also be lining up for the open seat and there are some top contenders who could emerge. Jeff Brandes could attempt to move up from the Florida Senate and he has shown a marked ability to raise campaign cash. Rick Baker could also make a go at running for the Republican nomination. There could be other Republican candidates as well.
Youngs retirement makes this a swing seat. Republicans have a small edge in registration, but Democrats can do well here. Barack Obama beat out Mitt Romney to carry the district last year, yet he did so by only 1 percent. Not only is this the only open congressional seat in Florida in 2014, this race should be one of the most competitive in the nation.
Florida is increasingly looking like one of the top battlegrounds as Democrats try to win the House from Republicans. Democrats now have two major opportunities to win congressional seats currently held by Republicans in Florida. Besides Youngs seat, Democrats are going after Steve Southerland who is expected to face a serious challenge from Gwen Graham. Democrats could also have an opportunity to offer a threat to Dan Webster. Val Demings, who came close against Webster in 2012, is thinking about running again. though she also has other opportunities. The good news for Republicans is Democrats seem to be backing off from their hopes in knocking off Vern Buchanan.
Republicans will have opportunities of their own. Carlos Curbelo has shown some momentum as he looks for the GOPs nomination to challenge Joe Garcia, and the Democrat incumbents gaffes and missteps only make that race more competitive. Republicans could also pose a serious threat to Patrick Murphy.
Youngs retirement turns this race from a slam dunk for Republicans to a major chance for Democrats to pick up a seat. Unlike the last off-year cycle in 2010, Republicans will be looking to play defense in 2014 as they look to keep their majority in the House.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.