Hillary Clinton needs a united Democratic front in Florida to boost her chances of winning the White House, but events in recent days made that a lot more difficult as the Sunshine State’s ultimate political opportunist and Florida’s leading liberal took center stage.
The Florida Supreme Court ruled last week that eight of the state’s 27 congressional districts didn’t pass constitutional muster. Most congressional representatives from Florida won’t be greatly impacted. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Kathy Castor should still be in Congress after the 2016 elections.
But there will be some competitive races impacted by redistricting. Carlos Curbelo already had a fight on his hands with Annette Taddeo and now his swing district could be impacted. But David Jolly’s Tampa Bay district is getting most of the attention as Charlie Crist appears to be making yet another political comeback attempt.
Representing a swing district, Jolly was already being targeted by Democrats and now his district could start turning bluer which is music to Crist’s ears. Even after his changes in political affiliation and jettisoning most of the principles that helped him win three state offices, Crist remains popular in his Pinellas County homebase and he would prove difficult for Jolly to beat.
Granted, most former governors would find being a freshman in the congressional minority a demotion but Crist needs a political win badly after ditching the GOP primary in 2010 when Marco Rubio caught him in the Senate race; getting blown out by Rubio in the general election; and losing to Rick Scott in 2014 when he tried to return to Tallahassee. If Crist wants to remain a political power or have a final chance at his dream of a Senate seat, first winning a seat in Congress could be his last launching pad.
A Crist comeback isn’t exactly welcome news for Democrats, even if the former governor gives them a good shot at picking up a House seat. Liberals and moderates are set to duke it out in primaries across Florida next year. Crist is backing moderate Patrick Murphy for the Senate and new candidate Alan Grayson is looking to get liberals fired up in the primary.
Already in the news for his ugly divorce proceedings and over-the-top rhetoric against Republicans, Grayson is making no efforts to unite the party as he begins his Senate bid. Reminding primary voters that Murphy is an ex-Republican, Grayson insists moderate Democrats haven’t been able to win in Florida and has pointed Crist out as the best example of this. The Murphy team is already claiming Grayson can’t win the Senate seat but, of course, the same people said Crist was the only Democrat who could beat Scott last year.
Clinton needs Florida if she is going to keep the White House for Democrats and doesn’t want a fractured party. But that’s where Democrats might be headed in Florida if they aren’t careful. Murphy and Grayson will battle it out in the Senate primary and moderate Darren Soto, left-leaning Susannah Randolph, Ricardo Rangel and perhaps others will wage war for Grayson’s now-open seat.
Democrats swallowed their principles last year to back “Chain Gang Charlie,” the former pro-life Republican. Many liberals stayed home in November instead of voting for the ex-conservative. Now, as Democrats are faced with contentious primaries between moderates and liberals, Crist is starting to resurface, ripping the bandages off old political wounds, and Grayson is ready to draw sharp lines between himself and fellow leftists on one end and ex-Republicans on the other. Clinton can't be happy with the idea of sharing a ticket with either an obnoxious liberal like Grayson on one side or an opprtunist and political loser like Crist on the other. A strong state party could help clear things up, but Allison Tant and her team in Tallahassee have led the Democrats to one disater after another.
But what do Crist or Grayson care about Clinton's chances? Neither of the Florida Democrats has ever shown signs of being a team player.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.