Florida’s Moderate Lawmakers Are in Trouble Thanks to a New Congressional Map

Both of the Florida Democrats representing “Romney districts” and two of the three Republicans in “Obama districts” could be on their way out in 2016.

If the Florida Supreme Court accepts a circuit judge's choice for a new congressional map, Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo will be pushed into a more Democratic district.
Johnny Louis AFP/Getty
Oct. 13, 2015, 12:53 p.m.

A Flor­ida judge ruled last week in fa­vor of a new con­gres­sion­al map that’s bad news for some of the state’s most pop­u­lar—and mod­er­ate—mem­bers of Con­gress.

Fresh­man Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Car­los Cur­belo, in par­tic­u­lar, will be pushed in­to double-di­git Demo­crat­ic ter­rit­ory if the state Su­preme Court ac­cepts Cir­cuit Judge Terry Lewis’s se­lec­tion of a new con­gres­sion­al map. And Demo­crat­ic Rep. Gwen Gra­ham might face even steep­er odds to re­turn to Con­gress in 2017 un­der the new map, which fa­vors the op­pos­ite party in both of their dis­tricts.

Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Dav­id Jolly’s dis­trict will also fa­vor Demo­crats, with Jolly tak­ing on a run for Sen­ate in­stead of a try for reelec­tion after it be­came ap­par­ent that the GOP would struggle in his new House dis­trict. And Demo­crat­ic Rep. Patrick Murphy’s dis­trict hasn’t changed much, but he was one of just a hand­ful of House Demo­crats (along with Gra­ham) to win dis­tricts that Mitt Rom­ney car­ried in 2012, and now he has left that seat to run for the Sen­ate, too.

If the latest map is ad­op­ted, Cur­belo’s dis­trict will have changed the most from the draft maps that cir­cu­lated in the le­gis­lature this sum­mer after judges ordered law­makers to re­draw con­gres­sion­al bound­ar­ies more in line with the state’s “Fair Dis­trict” rules.

Re­pub­lic­ans are con­fid­ent in Cur­belo’s abil­ity to win over in­de­pend­ents, and he over­came a Demo­crat­ic lean when he first won his Miami-area seat in 2014 after Pres­id­ent Obama car­ried it with 53 per­cent of the vote in 2012. But the new map puts Cur­belo in one of the toughest GOP-held seats in the coun­try. Obama won 55.4 per­cent of the vote there in 2012, ac­cord­ing to Demo­crat­ic re­dis­trict­ing con­sult­ant Mat­thew Is­bell.

In 2014, one of the best elec­tions for the GOP in mod­ern his­tory, only four House Re­pub­lic­ans won dis­tricts that leaned that far left in the last pres­id­en­tial race: Reps. Dav­id Valadao, Robert Dold, Rod Blum, and John Katko.

By com­par­is­on, the House seat that Jolly aban­doned to seek the Sen­ate in­stead was slightly friend­li­er, by the num­bers. Obama won 54.6 per­cent of the vote in that Tampa-area dis­trict in 2012.

But Re­pub­lic­ans don’t think that Cur­belo’s chances at reelec­tion are hope­less. As a Span­ish-speak­ing His­pan­ic law­maker who sup­ports im­mig­ra­tion re­form, he has the abil­ity to win over voters who may not have taken a shine to Rom­ney or oth­er bal­lot-top­ping Re­pub­lic­ans in past elec­tions, said GOP con­sult­ant Rick Wilson.

“55 per­cent is not—do you want that? No. Is it an in­sur­mount­able cata­strophe? No,” Wilson said. “Be­cause Car­los speaks Span­ish, he’s of the com­munity, he’s got some ad­vant­ages, and the oth­er side will likely have a 57-way primary for this seat.”

But even if Cur­belo can win reelec­tion, Flor­ida’s con­gres­sion­al mod­er­ates are en­dangered. Cur­belo, Gra­ham, Jolly, and Murphy have proven to be some of the best Flor­ida law­makers at win­ning over in­de­pend­ents and cros­sov­er voters. Gra­ham and Murphy are the only Flor­ida Demo­crats to rep­res­ent dis­tricts that Rom­ney won in 2012. Cur­belo, Jolly, and Rep. Ileana Ros-Le­htin­en—who still ap­pears to have a sol­id lock on her seat—are the state’s only Re­pub­lic­ans who rep­res­ent dis­tricts Obama won in 2012.

The map isn’t set in stone. The state Su­preme Court called for a single sub­mis­sion from Lewis, mak­ing any more changes un­likely. But con­sid­er­ing that the de­bate came down to just a few neigh­bor­hoods in Cur­belo’s dis­trict—which ended up push­ing it even fur­ther in­to Demo­crat­ic ter­rit­ory—it’s not safe to write Cur­belo off yet, Wilson said.

“The prob­lem with this dis­trict—a lot of the com­ment­ing on it—is that it is still not fi­nal­ized, and even trivi­al changes at the edges could still be mean­ing­ful,” Wilson said.

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