TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Republican Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential ambitions and a court ruling tossing out several congressional district maps will cause upheaval among Florida’s representation in Washington, including political complications for a congresswoman considered one of the state’s few Democratic stars.
At least four and potentially five members of Congress are leaving to pursue the seat Rubio is giving up after one term, and the Legislature will begin a court-ordered special session next month to draw new maps that could affect most of Florida’s congressional districts.
“I don’t think either party comes out way on top,” said Screven Watson, a Democratic consultant and former executive director of the Florida Democratic Party. “It’s a shift in representation. You’re going to lose a D seat here, you’re going to gain an R seat here, but you’re going to look up and see a bunch of new people.”
Eight of Florida’s 27 districts have to be redrawn. But nearly all the state’s districts could change to fix the eight that violate Florida’s constitution. The biggest loser could be freshman Democratic Rep. Gwen Graham, who is considered a rising star for her party and is the daughter of former governor and former Sen. Bob Graham. The biggest winner could be former Gov. Charlie Crist, who wants to revive his political career by running for Congress.
The Supreme Court ruled earlier this month that Republican legislative leaders worked with political operatives to create maps that benefited their party, and that violates a 2010 voter-approved constitutional amendment requiring compact districts that don’t benefit incumbents or political parties.
Even before the court’s decision, Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis and Democratic Reps. Alan Grayson and Patrick Murphy said they would seek Rubio’s seat. After the ruling, Republican Rep. David Jolly also jumped into the Senate race; the court suggested that a heavily Democratic portion of St. Petersburg be added to his district. Republican Congressman Jeff Miller also is considering a Senate run.
“We’re going to see a lot of new blood,” said Evan Power, chairman of the Leon County Republican Party. “You’re going to get a much less Washington-centric congressional delegation with people less experienced in DC, which might not be bad for people as a whole.”
When Jolly jumped into the Senate race, Democrat Crist said he would run for the seat if the Legislature draws the district as the court suggested. Crist served one term as a Republican governor before running for Senate as an independent in 2010 and for governor as a Democrat in 2014, losing both contests. The new maps could give Crist a chance to become politically relevant again.
Simply reconfiguring Democratic Rep. Corrine Brown’s district, which runs from Jacksonville south to Orlando, will affect at least seven other districts if the Legislature follows the court’s suggestion to have it run west instead of south. That means a large chunk of Democratic voters will probably be taken from Graham’s district.
That could force a difficult choice: Graham could seek re-election in a Republican heavy district; challenge Brown, who’s been in Congress 22 years; run for Senate next year; or begin a 2018 campaign for governor. She’s not talking about any of those options.
“It’s still unclear how this ruling may change maps, but it doesn’t change my job or why I was elected to Congress,” Graham said in a statement.
Cutting off the southern end of Brown’s district also could make it more difficult for other incumbents seeking re-election as more Democratic voters are added to districts, including those of Republican Reps. Dan Webster and John Mica.
And changes ordered in five South Florida Districts could put Democratic Reps. Ted Deutch and Lois Frankel in the same district, which could force a primary.
Freshman Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo could find himself in a more competitive district in a seat that’s seemingly jinxed. He is the fourth person to hold the seat since 2010 after Republican David Rivera and Democrat Joe Garcia were voted out after one term. He’s being challenged by Annette Taddeo, who was Crist’s running mate for governor last year.