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Florida Democrats' gains may not fuel House takeover

11:13 AM, Oct 11, 2012   |    comments
In Florida's District 18, Republican incumbant Allen West lost a very tight race against Democrat Patrick Murphy.
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WASHINGTON (Florida Today) -- Democrats angling to retake the House in November will get a boost from Florida, but it probably won't be enough.

With less than a month before Election Day, analysts and polls indicate Democrats could win as many as 10 of the state's 27 congressional races. That would be significantly more than the six seats they have now.

Florida currently has 25 House seats, 19 of which are held by Republicans. It's adding two more thanks to population gains over the past decade that have benefited the Sun Belt at the expense of the Northeast and the Midwest.

But even if Democrats pick up an additional four seats in Florida, that probably won't give them control of the House. Democrats say they need a net gain of 25 seats nationwide to recapture the House and would like to add at least six seats in the Sunshine State.

"Our path to 25 seats flows straight through Florida," Rep. Steve Israel, the New York Democrat leading party efforts to retake the House, said last year.

A number of factors, including redistricting and the economy, have blunted Democratic efforts to make the advances they sought, experts said.

"Some of the districts that people thought would be competitive (in Florida) really aren't," said Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the the University of South Florida in Tampa.

Republicans now control the House 240-19. Most say Democrats probably won't gain more than about a dozen seats.

Still, Democrats are expected to make progress in the Sunshine State, according to several analyses. Their best chance of winning are in:

  • The 9th District, a new seat that includes the southern suburbs of Orlando. President Barack Obama won 60 percent of the vote there in 2008, and former Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson is favored.
  • The 22nd District, a new seat that runs from West Palm Beach to Fort Lauderdale, both Democratic strongholds.
  • The 26th District, the state's southernmost district, which includes much of the Everglades, Homestead and the Keys. Democrat Joe Garcia, who also ran in 2010, is leading embattled GOP freshman Rep. David Rivera.
  • The 18th District, which runs along the Treasure Coast and includes Port St. Lucie. Republican freshman firebrand Allen West, a tea party darling and polarizing figure, is in a tossup race with Democrat Patrick Murphy.

But political experts say the makeup of the district, which includes a mix of liberal enclaves in Leon County and wide swaths of rural conservative communities, favors Southerland slightly.

"Voters in this district are incredibly polarized," Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, wrote Tuesday. "It's unlikely that 51 percent of the voters in this district would vote for any liberal Democrat, while close to 47 percent of district voters will always vote for the Democrat, no matter who he or she is."

It may seem odd that Republicans hold more than three-quarters of Florida's congressional seats, considering registered Democrats outnumber them. Of the nearly 11.6 million voters registered as of Aug. 12, 4.6 million are Democrats, 4.2 million are Republicans and 2.8 million either belong to a third party or have no party affiliation.

But many Democrats in North Florida vote Republican and much of the rest of the Democratic vote is clustered near cities in South Florida.

That made it easier for Republicans running the state legislature this past year to redraw congressional districts so that a majority lean Republican while still adhering to new rules designed to limit gerrymandering, said David Wasserman, who studies House races for the Cook Political Report.

The current economic climate also helps incumbents, MacManus said.

"It's been hard to recruit candidates that can raise money in a recession," she said.

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