Now that the primary is behind us, I wanted to take a fresh look at where things stand in the Florida State Senate. This is an update from the Senate piece I wrote in January.
Let's start with the easy ones:
Republican Safe Seats: 19
District 1: Doug Broxson. After winning his primary, he can start looking for apartments in Tallahassee.
District 2: George Gainer: Gainer comes to the State Senate the best way possible: Unopposed.
District 4: Aaron Bean: Re-elected without opposition.
District 5: Rob Bradley (R-Busy Bee): Re-elected without opposition.
District 7: Travis Hutson faces nominal Democratic opposition in a seat Romney won by 17.
District 9: David Simmons returns without opposition.
District 10:Wilton Simpson re-elected without opposition.
District 12: Dennis Baxley's primary win leaves him just a write-in on his way to the Senate.
District 14: Dorothy Hukill will easily beat her NPA candidate.
District 16: Jack Latvala faces only a write-in.
District 17: I wish I thought my friend Amy Tidd had a real shot, but Romney won by 15. Senator Mayfield.
District 20: Tom Lee wins without opposition.
District 21: Soon to be Senate President Bill Galvano wins without opposition.
District 22: This seat gets interesting in Presidential years, but the Dem candidate here isn't strong. Stargel wins.
District 24: Jeff Brandes could spend the entire election in a driver-less uber drinking craft beer and still easily defeat his write-in.
District 25: Incoming President Joe Negron's seat will be competitive when he leaves (Run Larry Lee, Run!), but not in his last election.
District 26: Denise Grimsley wins without re-election.
District 27: Fellow American Council of Young Political Leaders alum Lizbeth Benacquisto faces only a write-in to complete her re-election.
District 28: After a bruising primary, Kathleen Passidomo only has a write-in left on her road to the Senate.
Likely Republican: 3
District 23: Had Patterson, Holder or Pilon won the primary, this would be in the safe category. Steube, who was a perfect fit for a primary is not as much in a more moderate Sarasota-centric general, and while he will likely win, i've seen two polls showing the race is surprisingly tight. However, the Democrats have several million problems here, namely, other than the GOP lean of the seat, they are several million dollars short of being able to compete here.
District 36: There is no reason to think Rene Garcia will lose, but when the GOP nominated Donald Trump, who will lose Dade County by historic margins, there are no seats in Dade that the GOP can take for granted.
District 39: See above, and replace Garcia with Anitere Flores.
Democratic Safe Seats: 14
District 3: Bill Montford faces nominal GOP opposition on his way to re-election.
District 6: Audrey Gibson returns without opposition.
District 11: After winning a tough primary, Randolph Bracy faces just a write-in on his way to the Senate.
District 13: While there are some that want Asher to be competitive, there is no reason to believe this seat that Obama carried by 13 -- and Clinton will carry by more, won't also send Linda Stewart to the Senate.
District 15: Vic Torres' opponent will make some noise, but in this Obama +17 seat, Torres will cruise.
District 19: Darryl Rouson's GOP opponent may have the most interesting story on his website, but the challenge will be far easier than his primary victory.
District 29: After winning an open primary, Kevin Radar heads to the Senate.
District 30: Powell faces a wealthy GOP opponent, but in a seat Obama carried by 15, he just needs to block and tackle to win.
District 31: Jeff Clemens beat a sitting state legislator who spent 2 million dollars. His write-in will offer much less resistance.
District 32: Lauren Book goes to the Senate unopposed.
District 33: Perry Thurston won without opposition.
District 34: Gary Farmer won a tough three way primary, and while he has a Republican opponent, this is Broward County. My former boss is heading to the Senate.
District 35: Democratic Leader Designate Oscar Braynon will return without opposition.
District 38: Daphne Campbell faces former State Rep Phil Brutus as an NPA, but should win easily with the district's overwhelmingly Democratic lean.
The Battleground: 4
These seats are in numerical order, not any kind of ranking.
District 8: Rod Smith v. Keith Perry.
This district and race has all the markers of a classic southern battleground seat: a liberal college town, growing republican-leaning suburban neighborhoods, rural communities and a sizable African American population. It is also the kind of district my party must win, not only to get to a majority in the State Senate, but to compete in the south generally.
It is a fascinating race on many levels. Rod Smith is the best perfect Democrat for the race, and Keith Perry is a proven winner. Rod has the kind of profile to win some southern Democratic votes, while at same time, this is a district Trump should win - which is the one factor that helps Perry. Neither candidate should have a spending advantage, since this is one of the cheaper districts in the state. If Rod can run up the score in Gainesville, and keep his floor in the outlying counties above Hillary, he should win. And Perry's recent dust-up with the police isn't going to help. I like Rod's chances, but it is the kind of race that will always be close and uncertain.
Senate District 18: Young v Buesing + Redner & Upthegrove
This is the classic Tampa Bay area competitive race. Dana Young is a proven political figure and an excellent fundraiser. Bob Buesing is the kind of candidate on paper that hack's love: longtime community record coupled with no actual political experience. And in the mix, the ultimate Florida Man, Joe Redner, Tampa strip-club king and perennial candidate.
On paper, this is a jump ball. Public polling shows two candidates with relatively low name ID, in a district I suspect Clinton wins by a few points, largely fueled by a strong showing from the 25% or so of voters who are either African American or Hispanic.
For me, this race comes down to four questions: How much will Clinton turnout in minority communities help Buesing? Can Young hold on to moderate women in South Tampa who may lean Clinton? What does Redner do and how much will it hurt Buesing (assuming Redner stays in)? And will Buesing ever have enough money to compete? Honestly, it is that last question which is by far the most important, and for that reason, the race starts advantage Dana Young.
Senate District 37: DLP vs JJR
The battle between Miguel Diaz de la Portilla and Jose Javier Rodriguez is the kind of race my party has been dreaming about for almost a decade, a real legitimate shot at breaking up the Republican hold on Miami's Hispanic districts.
Like the other two races, on paper, this has everything you want. DLP is a Republican who has tried to carve out a moderate voting record & who has built a broad coalition of support, running in a district that is quickly running away from Republicans. JJR is a Harvard-educated Democrat, who has won two exceptionally tough general elections in a row, and is the kind of bright star that my party can build around in the future. The race really boils down to one thing: Can DLP overcome what will almost surely be a very strong Clinton win in SD 37?
In 2012, Maria Sachs beat Ellyn Bogdanoff in a similar kind of race between two established candidates, laregly on the back of a strong Obama performance in Palm Beach County. For this reason, I'd argue JJR has a slight edge, but the story here is a long ways from being written.
District 40: Bullard v Artiles
This race confounds me, to be honest. On paper, you could make an argument that it should be a sure thing for either one of them.
In the Artiles column, the district will be well over 60% Hispanic, and roughly 10% Black (both African American and Caribbean).
In the Bullard column, Obama won his district by 10, and give the woes of Trump, Clinton could win it by as much as 20 points. To give some context, that would mean this district is roughly as Democratic as the one Gary Farmer is running for, or as Republican as the one held by Travis Hutson. In no world would any operative give the other party much chance in either of those races.
And unlike the District 37 race, where both candidates have some crossover appeal, Artiles and Bullard are two of the most partisan members of the Florida Legislature.
There is no question that Artiles will vastly outspend Bullard, but at some level, it may make no difference. Most of the Republicans I talk to think Bullard wins, based on party alone. I am not convinced yet, which may be because I lost a race early in my career that came down to ethnic loyalties over party. In SD 40, will party matter more, or ethnic loyalties? That is really the only question that matters here.
As of today, the Republicans hold a 22-14 advantage in the Senate. As the above describes, the Democrats could run the table and get to 18, but that is a very hard road. Winning the Bullard seat makes it a lot more likely they get to 17, but overreaching elsewhere could bring them back at 14-15. I will say this: Oscar Braynon is running the best Senate political operation I've seen in years, and outside of District 8 -- where he arguably has his A candidate, all of the races are being played in districts Clinton will win. If Oscar continues to play his cards right, he should get to 16 or 17, and as anyone who follows the Senate knows, that small shift will make a huge impact.
I'll take another stab at this in October, but in the meantime, if you have any questions, give me a holler.