Previewing the Florida House Primaries
Of all the member-versus-member primaries in 2012, the Florida 7th District Republican primary between Reps. John Mica and Sandy Adams offered the clearest, sharpest personal and ideological contrast. On the one hand, Mica's 20-year congressional career led him to the top spot of the House Transportation Committee and is filled with support for federally funded local projects. On the other hand, the freshman Adams embodies many of the stereotypes of her class, and called Mica "the personification of all that went wrong" for Republicans in Washington. And while Adams's side of the divide might be in ascendance nationally, Mica seems poised to hold the line for the "establishment" in Tuesday's primary.
It's not that Adams's arguments lack merit with the conservative base that votes in Republican primaries. But she completely lacked the resources to break through against Mica's entrenched incumbency. Adams spent less than a quarter-million dollars before the financial reporting deadline at the end of July; Mica spent over $820,000. Mica had the institutional support of many other elected officials in the district, with whom he'd worked on federal projects for years.
For all the talk of the tea party edge against the establishment in GOP primaries, tea party candidates are most often successful when they've had what you might call the "tea party establishment" on their side. Texas GOP Senate nominee Ted Cruz marshaled a conservative insurgency against his opponent last month, but outside groups pitched in over $6.5 million in allied independent expenditures and the Club for Growth bundled nearly $900,000 in contributions to Cruz.
In Florida, the Eagle Forum PAC spent less than $2,000 on telephone calls supporting Adams. That's the only independent expenditure she got. Volunteer support and organizing by groups like Tea Party Express is nice, and it can make a difference in a close race. But it couldn't close the gap that Mica's name recognition and resources opened up in the member-against-member race in the 7th District.
Several more of Florida's 26 congressional districts also have important primaries on Tuesday. Below the jump, a rundown of what to watch for in the Sunshine State.
FL-02: Democrats still perform alright in this Panhandle district, though then-Rep. Allen Boyd was trounced by GOP freshman Steve Southerland in 2010 and John McCain and George W. Bush each carried it with over 51 percent in the last two presidential elections. At issue is what kind of Democrat could best challenge Southerland. Former state Sen. Al Lawson challenged Boyd from the left in the 2010 Democratic primary, while prototypical Blue Dog legislator Leonard Bembry would come at Southerland as a more traditional Southern Democrat. Lawson is an energetic campaigner and had more money in reserve for the end of the campaign than Bembry, giving him a primary edge even though he might not be as viable a general election nominee.
FL-06: This new, Republican-leaning district along the coast east of Orlando has drawn several challengers, and the emerging head-to-head between state legislator Fred Costello and attorney Ron DeSantis suggests they've broken through to the top of the field. DeSantis had over $200,000 on hand for the stretch run after July 25, while Costello was nearly out of money. Plus, DeSantis -- backed by the Club for Growth -- has banked at least another $35,000 in donations since then. He's run into some bad publicity about voter participation in the final weeks, but DeSantis was far better positioned for the final days of the campaign.
FL-09: Former Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson has the primary portion of his comeback bid sewn up, so he's been occupying himself by meddling in the GOP primary. Puerto Rican Republican John Quinones could be a strong challenger for the polarizing Grayson -- the GOP hopes to peel off some of the district's large, fast-growing, Democratic-leaning Puerto Rican population. So Grayson and a Democratic outside group have hit Quinones via mail, and Grayson even cut a TV ad against the Republican. Even after the 2010 wave, just one House Republican held a seat this Democratic-leaning, so Grayson has fundamentals on his side. But the early Democratic effort against Quinones signals his strength in a seat that should be safely blue.
FL-18: The results here aren't in doubt: Freshman GOP Rep. Allen West and Democratic businessman Patrick Murphy will advance to the general election over a small field. But the primary margins might offer some clues about each candidate's position heading into November. Neither West nor Murphy comes from the seat, and it has been very close to a 50-50 district over the last two presidential elections, leaning slightly Republican in 2004 and slightly Democratic in 2008. West has a little-noticed moderate primary challenge, from local sheriff Bob Crowder, and the percentage of GOP primary votes that Crowder pulls from West could foreshadow whether or not the firebrand freshman will have trouble with moderate Republicans in the general election.
FL-19: GOP Rep. Connie Mack left the seat open to run for the Senate, and a crowded, closely packed field of Republicans is vying to replace him. State legislators Gary Aubuchon and Paige Kreegel have the advantage of previous runs for elected office, while radio host Trey Radel has built name recognition on the air. Whoever replaces Mack can expect to cruise into the 113th Congress in a safe seat, though that doesn't mean they won't be in danger next year. Many freshmen who won crowded primaries in 2010 have faced tough primaries this year after winning a low percentage in their first run.
FL-22: Former West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel has a lock on support from D.C.; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi appeared at a forum with her last week, and there's no greater stamp of Democratic approval. But she still has to navigate a spirited primary challenge from Broward County Commissioner Kristin Jacobs, who entered the race late and immediately laid into Frankel. Frankel seems to have overcome the challenge, though, and has kept her eye trained on the looming general election battle with Republican former state House Majority Leader Adam Hasner.
FL-26: Freshman Republican Rep. David Rivera has had ethics troubles since before he joined Congress, and Democrats have thought his district was vulnerable for pickup all cycle, though McCain carried it in the 2008 presidential race. The main Democratic challengers are Joe Garcia, Rivera's 2010 opponent, and businesswoman Gloria Romero Roses. Both candidates entered the race late after another Democratic recruit flamed out, but Garcia started with the advantage of having appeared on ballots before. Garcia also has bruises from his two previous campaigns, while Roses would start the effort against Rivera with a cleaner slate. This campaign is essentially a race against time; Roses has been making inroads, but the question is whether she had enough weeks on the trail to break through.