Rep. Vern Buchanan (R)
Florida 13th District
When the Ringling Brothers made a success of the circus they founded in the 1880s, they needed a place for performers and animals to rest during the winter months. They settled on the bayfront village of Sarasota, located behind a barrier island on the Gulf of Mexico. It was just far enough north to be reachable by railroad and just far enough south to be semitropical so the elephants would stay healthy. Here, on the calm Sarasota Bay, John Ringling established the Ringling Museum of Art, a huge sculpture garden, and his own Venetian palace, the Ca’d’Zan. Next door, his brother, Charles, built a pair of neoclassical revival mansions in pink Georgia marble, which are now part of New College of Florida. After World War II, the balmy Gulf Coast attracted new settlers—affluent, well-educated Republicans from upper-crust suburbs in the North. The population exploded. Manatee and Sarasota counties grew from 63,000 in 1950 to 732,000 in 2007. This part of Florida is no longer a winter community for snowbirds from the North. It has generated its own economy, one with as much vitality and diversity as the places from which its residents have come. In 2007, Money magazine ranked Sarasota as the 7th best city “to retire young.”
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 13th Congressional District of Florida runs from just below Tampa Bay to Charlotte Harbor, north of Fort Myers. It includes all of Sarasota County, which accounts for just over half the district’s population. It takes in all of lightly populated, rural DeSoto and Hardee counties, most of Manatee County to the north and an adjoining sliver of Charlotte County to the south. Idyllic beachfronts beautify the barrier islands, from sleepy Anna Maria down through pricey Longboat Key and Lido Key to more casual Siesta Key. The bayfront area, along the Intracoastal Waterway, is lined with high-rises and often clogged with traffic from Bradenton to Sarasota. Below that, Venice—established in 1920 as a speculative land venture by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers—sits directly on the Gulf of Mexico. Though some high-tech firms diversify the economy, the district as a whole remains a place of tourists and well-off retirees: 26% of its population is 65 and older, and it has 195,000 Social Security recipients, the second highest level of all congressional districts in Florida. For many years, the 13th District was heavily Republican, and it remains that way in party registration. But like the affluent northern suburbs from which so many of its voters came, it trended toward the Democrats in the 1990s. George W. Bush carried this district, but with just 54% of the vote in 2000 and 56% in 2004. In 2008, Republican John McCain won the district, 52%-47%, over Barack Obama.
Rep. Vern Buchanan (R)
Elected: 2006, 2nd term.
Born: May 8, 1951, Detroit, MI .
Home: Longboat Key.
Education: Cleary U., B.B.A. 1975, U. of Detroit, M.B.A. 1986.
Family: Married (Sandy); 2 children.
Military career: MI Air Natl. Guard, 1970-76.
Professional Career: Taekwondo instructor, 1971-74; Marketing representative, Burroughs Corp., 1975-76; Founder, Vern Buchanan and Associates, 1976-78; Founder and CEO, American Speedy Printing Centers, 1976-92; Founder and chmn., Buchanan Automotive Group, 1992-2007; Founder and chmn., Buchanan Enterprises, 1992-2007.
The congressman from the 13th District is Vern Buchanan, a Republican elected in 2006. Buchanan grew up outside of Detroit, the eldest of six children and the son of a factory foreman. He joined the Michigan Air National Guard and worked his way through college as a tae kwon do instructor. He earned a business degree at Cleary University and later an M.B.A. at the University of Detroit. Buchanan founded American Speedy Printing Centers and made his fortune by selling 700 quick-printing franchises before his 40th birthday. In 1990, he moved his family to Florida, where he found new success as an automobile dealer with franchises throughout the Southeast. Buchanan became active in Republican Party politics, serving as a top fundraiser for Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Mel Martinez. In 2002, he wanted to run for the 13th District House seat, but stepped aside for then-Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who had become a national Republican figure after her controversial role in the 2000 presidential vote recount.
|Vern Buchanan (R)||204,382||(56%)||($4,345,554)|
|Christine Jennings (D)||137,967||(37%)||($2,434,002)|
|Jan Schneider (NPA)||20,289||(6%)||($50,212)|
|Vern Buchanan (R)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (50%)
Buchanan got his chance in 2006, when Harris ran for the Senate. His party connections and personal finances made him the front-runner. In the primary, he stressed his conservative credentials and challenged his chief rival, former Sarasota Republican Party Chairman Tramm Hudson, for his positions on abortion rights and immigration. Hudson claimed that Buchanan resigned from his printing company just days before it declared bankruptcy. But Hudson stumbled when, in telling a story about his Army days, asserted that black soldiers were poor swimmers. After spending more than $2 million of his own money, Buchanan won 32% victory in the five-way primary. Hudson and moderate state Rep. Nancy Detert finished next with 24% each. The bruising primary left Buchanan little time to recover before the general election.
The Democratic nominee was Christine Jennings, who like Buchanan, was a transplanted Midwesterner and a self-made business success. An Ohio native, she rose from bank teller to bank owner. National Democrats took an interest in the Jennings campaign and pummeled Buchanan through the fall for his business dealings. Buchanan responded by characterizing Jennings as a pro-tax liberal, a charge that was tough to stick on the former Republican with a business background. Despite the Republican advantage in the district, Buchanan was hurt by the attacks on his business dealings, the poor political environment for Republicans and late-breaking revelations about Florida GOP Rep. Mark Foley’s sexually explicit e-mails to congressional pages. But he was able to spend over $8 million on his campaign, including $5.5 million of his own money. Jennings spent $3 million, about $2 million out of her own pocket. This was the most expensive House race in 2006.
Buchanan prevailed on Election Day, but Democrats disputed the results for another year. After a recount, Republican election officials certified Buchanan as the winner by 369 votes out of nearly 240,000 votes cast. Jennings filed a lawsuit challenging the results, pointing to more than 18,000 “undervotes” on ballots that registered a vote for other offices but did not indicate a choice in the congressional race. She suggested that a software glitch on touch-screen voting machines in Sarasota County was to blame for the unusually high number of undervotes. But several rounds of testing were inconclusive, and in November 2007, Jennings dropped her lawsuit.
In the House, Buchanan softened his ideological positions. He had the most moderate voting record of all among the 16 Republicans elected in 2006. And he was one of 19 Republicans who supported most of the Democrats’ early legislative agenda when they took control of the House in 2007. He voted for raising the minimum wage, cutting subsidies to industries, and allowing the federal government to negotiate lower drug prices with pharmaceutical companies. “I ran as a conservative, but I also ran as someone who is going to be independent,” Buchanan told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
Later in 2007, Buchanan voted to override President Bush’s veto of the Democrats’ expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. He worked with Democrats on a bill to clean up the Gulf of Mexico, and on other environmental and consumer issues. The former car dealer voted against the bailout of Detroit automakers in 2008 because, he said, the companies “failed to develop viable restructuring proposals.” The industry problems led him to sell several of his dealerships. On the Small Business Committee, he became the ranking member on the Finance and Tax Subcommittee.
In 2008, Jennings was back for a rematch. Though not as costly as the 2006 race, the contest was similarly bitter and expensive, with a crossfire of accusations of business fraud, slander, and campaign finance violations. Buchanan sought to emphasize his bipartisanship. With help from EMILY’s List and other national Democratic groups, Jennings’s campaign ads focused on his earlier corporate dealings. But she may have paid a price for her extended challenge of the 2006 results, and the outcome this time was very different. Buchanan outpolled Republican presidential nominee John McCain, and returned this district to its familiar pattern with a 56%-37% win. A third-party candidate got 6% of the vote.