Republicans picked up the U.S. House in 2010 with a big helping hand from Florida where four Democratic incumbents lost their seats. As Democrats look to flip the House in 2014, Florida will once again be in the national spotlight since there are two prime opportunities to take back seats currently held by Republicans. But, based on an early look, Democrats wont be able to repeat what Republicans did here in 2010.
Democrats have high hopes for winning the now open seat which had been held by Bill Young for more than 40 years. It appears increasingly likely Alex Sink will run for the open congressional seat, though she can expect opposition for the Democratic nomination at least in the form of Jessica Ehrlich. There are some prominent Republican names being kicked around, including Rick Bakers and various members of Youngs family, but this district is trending blue and Democrats have a good chance of winning the open seat. Until Rick Scott calls a special election, this race will be in flux.
Things are much less complicated in the Big Bend as Gwen Graham has impressed and won support from Democrats around the nation as she looks to topple Steve Southerland. Graham has one of the biggest names in Florida politics and she has started strongly, keeping more in the bank than Southerland. Both sides are already turning to outside groups and the Tallahassee airwaves are already full of attack ads. Southerland has often been underestimated since he came out of nowhere to win the Republican primary back in 2010 and certainly has a chance in this contest, but Democrats correctly sense an opportunity to pick up a seat here.
But those could be the only real chances for Democrats to pick up seats in Florida since two Republicans they went after in 2012 look increasingly safe. Democrats would love for Val Demings to seek a rematch against Dan Webster but that doesnt appear to be happening. Vern Buchanan held off Keith Fitzgerald by 8 percent in 2012 and Democrats wont have Barack Obamas and Bill Nelsons coattails in 2012. Still, Democrats are starting to line up against Buchanan. Mitch Mallett launched his effort to defeat Buchanan earlier this month and Democrats are hopeful former NFL player Henry Lawrence gets in the race. Fitzgerald hasnt closed the door to a rematch but it appears a second bid is unlikely. Regardless, like Buchanan, he starts as the strong favorite here.
Nor do things look better for Democrats in the rest of the state. Jeff Miller, Ted Yoho, Ander Crenshaw, Ron DeSantis, Bill Posey, Rich Nugent, Gus Bilirakis, Mario Diaz-Balart,Tom Rooney, Trey Radel and John Mica represent solid Republican districts. So does Dennis Ross, though former television reporter Alan Cohn -- who is seeking the Democratic nomination -- could offer him a spirited, if ultimately unsuccessful, challenge. In South Florida, Ileana Ros-Lehtinens seat is trending Democratic but, like Young, she could be strong enough to keep winning big despite that.
Democrats also have to defend the seats they currently hold. Republicans are targeting two Florida Democrats in Patrick Murphy and Joe Garcia. Both Democrats start off with early leads but neither can be called a heavy favorite and Garcia has been hampered by a series of questions and reports on ethics.
But those are the only seats Republicans have a remote chance of winning. GOP candidates will make a lot of noise against Alan Grayson and Debbie Wasserman Schultz but ultimately fall flat. Ted Deutch, Frederica Wilson, Kathy Castor, Alcee Hastings and Corrine Brown should easily keep their seats in the Democratic column.
To be sure, Democrats have their chances here. But Florida wont be anywhere near as important to flipping the House in 2014 as it was in 2010.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis piece exclusively for Sunshine State News.