Dan Webster, a top Democratic target in 2012, increasingly appears to be a solid favorite to keep his congressional seat in November.
First elected to the state House in 1980, Webster has been one of the leading Republicans in Florida for more than three decades. He eventually rose to become House speaker and moved over to the state Senate in 1998 where he became majority leader. During his rise, Webster emerged as one of the leading conservatives in Florida, often highlighting his faith in public and showing how it guides his decisions.
While hes had some troubles moving up the political ladder to hold statewide office, making an unimpressive bid for the U.S. Senate in the 2004 election cycle and fumbling his chance to become state Senate president, Webster utterly crushed liberal incumbent Alan Grayson in 2010 to win a seat in Congress. Despite an aggressive smear campaign from Grayson, including mocking Websters faith, the Republican routed him by almost 20 percent in the general election.
Despite his big win in 2010, Webster faced a major challenger in 2012 after redistricting. After serving as police chief of Orlando, Democrat Val Demings offered Webster major competition and won national attention from her party. Webster went on to win with 52 percent of the vote but his 3.6 percent margin of victory was a far cry from his rout of Grayson in the last election cycle. Granted, Demings was helped out by having the likes of Barack Obama and Bill Nelson on the ballot, but she did come surprisingly close to defeating Webster.
Democrats at the national, state and local levels wanted Demings to challenge Webster again in 2014 and she certainly left the door open all of last year even as buzz grew she would take on Teresa Jacobs instead. This week, Demings made her decision and announced she would be taking on Jacobs instead of another congressional bid.
With Demings out of the picture, Webster can breathe a little easier as he gears up to run for a third term in 2014. Democrats will have to scramble to find a major candidate to challenge Webster since their current crop simply wont be competitive. Navy veteran Michael McKenna was going nowhere in his primary challenge against Grayson and so switched over to take on Webster. McKennas fundraising has not impressed and hed be hard-pressed to offer Webster a major challenge. Attorney Shayan Modarres is young and eager but he has little in the way of ties to the area, moving to Central Florida back in 2008. Webster should have no problem dispatching either of these candidates.
While hes been in Florida politics for almost three and a half decades, Webster is only 64. Even as Democrats make inroads in Central Florida, Webster could remain a force in Congress for years to come, especially if he can cruise in 2014.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.