House Updates: Florida

Background

The latest redistricting cycle in the Sunshine State was like a wild carnival ride the whole way through. From the beginning, outside observers expected the Republican-run state government to press its advantage by crafting an effective gerrymander. But the legislature’s will to draw a 17 or 18 seat GOP map and call it a day quickly stalled in the face of Governor Ron DeSantis, who made it his goal to produce a map with 20 Republican seats for 2022.

DeSantis’s motivation to bring home the electoral bacon for his party was two-fold. In the most general sense, the Governor is an up-and-coming national figure with aspirations to seek the GOP presidential nomination in 2024. He evidently saw an avenue to further endear himself to conservatives in taking a controversial stand on redistricting and holding his ground until victory was reached.

But DeSantis’s push was also altruistic. His first public refusal to sign a map with fewer than 20 Trump-won seats came directly after New York’s Democratic gerrymander was put in place with the support of the state’s new Governor: Kathy Hochul. That Empire State plan was recently overturned by state courts, making Florida’s aggressive draw more likely to boost the national Republican House baseline ahead of the midterm.

While the DeSantis map could end up being struck down by a state or federal court, such an outcome currently seems unlikely. As contributor Lakshya Jain recently noted, Florida’s conservative high court probably would not use a suit brought by Democrats to overturn a GOP map passed with the support of both DeSantis and the legislature.

There seem to be just two silver linings for Democrats over the coming decade. Florida did get fairer maps ahead of the 2016 cycle following a court ruling that claimed the 2012 lines violated the state’s fair district amendments, so potential mid-decade litigation is not out of the picture.

Even if these maps are not struck down or altered, there is a chance that the Governor overextended the Republican hand by pursuing such an aggressive plan. In other words, parts of this map *could* dummymander – or at least become less hostile to Democrats – if the environment is left-leaning as it might be in a future Republican President’s midterm.

But those are hypothetical conclusions that will play little to no role in the upcoming midterm elections. If the new Florida proposal holds up under scrutiny, it will go a long way to shift the nationwide House mean rightward. At the state level, no races are expected to be contested in earnest this year. Because Split Ticket assumes that these lines will stand for the time being, we feel comfortable issuing ratings. Find our full spreadsheet here.

  • FL-02 (Safe Republican)
  • FL-04 (Likely Republican – flip)
  • FL-07 (Likely Republican – flip)
  • FL-13 (Likely Republican – flip)
  • FL-15 (Likely Republican)
  • FL-23 (Likely Democratic)
  • FL-27 (Likely Republican)

FL-02

The most controversial change on the new map was the elimination of the 5th district: a black-plurality seat stretching from Tallahassee to Jacksonville. DeSantis justified the elimination of the Democratic district by claiming that its creation constituted racial gerrymandering. The Governor’s opponents argued the opposite, claiming that the seat was drawn to embolden black voting power. GOP arguments seem to have won the day, putting Congressman Al Lawson’s reelection in serious jeopardy.

Then a long-time legislator from the Tallahassee area, Lawson defeated Congresswoman Corrine Brown in the 2016 Democratic primary after her Jax-Orlando seat was fully reconfigured in mid-decade redistricting. Lawson had previously run two campaigns in more Republican versions of what was then the 2nd district, losing a Democratic primary to Congressman Allen Boyd in 2010 and falling short in the 2012 general election to Steve Southerland. Democrat Gwen Graham did flip the seat in 2014, but was dealt a poor hand by the courts two years later.

Lawson’s new seat is Trump +11, making it hostile to Democrats in any environment, but particularly difficult to contest in a red wave midterm. The Democratic base in the district centers on Leon County (Tallahassee), where a mixture of black voters and cosmopolitan whites account for roughly 37% of the seat’s population. Most Republican support comes from Bay County, where Panama City remains blood red despite favorable Democratic trends. The district’s rurals only further supplement GOP margins.

Because of the national environment and this district’s relative inelasticity, it is unlikely that any Democrat will be able to surpass Biden’s 44% ceiling. To gain ground, someone like Lawson would have to attract crossover support from rural whites. If Lawson firmly declares reelection, he would face Republican Congressman Neal Dunn in this year’s only redistricting general election. Safe Republican

FL-04

Jacksonville proper, previously located at the eastern end of the 2nd, is now split between the 4th and 5th districts. Both seats were won comfortably by President Trump in 2020, but local trends have favored the Democrats and could play a bigger role by the end of the decade. The 4th is the only theoretically-competitive seat of the two, with a partisanship of Trump +7. That makes the district practically safe in this environment, but Split Ticket is keeping it on the board for now because the candidate field for the fall primary remains uncertain. Likely Republican (flip)

FL-07

The 7th district is currently a Biden seat held by Democratic Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy, a lawmaker widely viewed as a rising star within her caucus. Straddling Seminole and Orange counties, the 7th takes in Orlando’s suburbs and outlying communities without entering the city proper. The Orange precincts lay the foundation for the Democratic base, but Seminole has also been trending leftward as of late. President Biden was the first Democratic nominee to win the county since Harry Truman in 1948.

Redistricting shifted the partisanship of Murphy’s seat to roughly Trump +6 by removing all of Orange County and replacing it with redder territory in nearby Volusia. Unlike Seminole, Volusia has been trending Republican at the Presidential level. The changes more than justify Murphy’s decision to retire last year and set the GOP up for success this fall.

As for Democrats, the field remains uncertain as of this writing. It ultimately seems probable that speculative contenders like state Representative Anna Eskamani will pass on contesting the redrawn 7th.

On the Republican side, the primary is unsurprisingly more crowded. Two candidates worth watching right now are defense consultant Cory Mills, representing a more mainstream brand of Republicanism, and state Representative Anthony Sabatini, representing the GOP wing of Marjorie Greene and Madison Cawthorn. Other competitive contenders include Erika Benfield, Brady Duke, and Rusty Roberts. Likely Republican (flip)

FL-13

Much like the 7th district, the current 13th is a Biden-won seat represented by a well-known Congressional Democrat. That lawmaker is Charlie Crist, a former Republican Governor who flipped this district to the Democrats in 2016. Crist is retiring this year to run for Governor; he was previously his party’s nominee for Florida’s highest office in 2014.

The new gerrymander removed solidly Democratic turf running along the southeastern coast of Pinellas County, shoring up Kathy Castor across Tampa Bay but adjusting the 13th’s partisanship to a hostile Trump +7.

Democratic state Representatives Ben Diamond and Michele Rayner are currently battling it out for their party’s nomination. Rayner, the more progressive candidate, could have a post-redistricting edge because half of Diamond’s St. Petersburg base now finds itself in the 14th district.

Much like in the 7th district, the GOP primary in the 13th is pitting the establishment and anti-establishment Republican wings against each other. The race is a rematch between Anna Paulina Luna, the 2020 nominee, and Amanda Makki. Interestingly, the House Leadership appears to be sticking with Paulina Luna after backing Makki’s losing primary bid last cycle. Likely Republican (flip)

FL-15

The new 15th district lies between Hillsborough, Pasco, and Polk counties. At just Trump +3, it is one of the map’s more competitive seats on paper. 2/3rds of the voting population – and most of the Democratic vote – comes from the 15th’s portions of Hillsborough in the vicinity of Tampa Bay.

This seat does include part of Lakeland, but Republican Scott Franklin actually plans on seeking reelection in the redder 18th. That district contains more of his native Polk county, which was split three ways this cycle.

In a less hostile environment, Split Ticket would expect this seat to be more competitive. For now, though, the fundamentals point to a relatively-easy Republican hold in the 15th. Former Congressman Dennis Ross, who retired in 2018, recently announced a comeback bid. Likely Republican

FL-23

The 23rd district is currently represented by Democrat Ted Deutch, a long-time Congressman who announced his retirement earlier this year. Broward County Commissioner Jared Moskowitz has since become the primary frontrunner in the seat, which has a large Jewish constituency.

At Biden +13 following redistricting, the 23rd has the softest partisanship of South Florida’s Democratic districts. Republicans do not have any well-known candidates yet, but the environment could be enough to bring Moskowitz’s margin of victory below Biden’s.

Nonetheless, the voting power of communities like Coral Springs and Ft. Lauderdale will probably prevent the district from fluctuating too wildly from its 2020 baseline. Out of an abundance of pure caution, the 23rd will be on the edge of our board. Likely Democratic

FL-27

Republican Maria Elvira Salazar defeated Democratic Congresswoman Donna Shalala two years ago in a marginal Biden seat. President Trump’s excellent performance in Miami-Dade County raised the GOP baseline enough to keep the old 27th in contention, but Salazar’s own local brand allowed her to outrun the top of the ticket by the necessary margin to achieve victory. In other words, Salazar was a good candidate despite the fact that Shalala had weaknesses.

Salazar remains a popular, independent-minded lawmaker dead set on winning reelection. Her newly-drawn seat narrowly voted for Trump, meaning Salazar’s fall baseline will be observably higher than it was in 2020. Assuming the environment remains poor for Democrats, there is strong evidence to suggest that Salazar will overperform again to post an easy reelection. Shalala is considering running again this fall, but would probably lose comfortably in a rematch. Likely Republican

Conclusion

Florida’s new gerrymander, assuming it stands, effectively helps House Republicans in the state and around the country. The majority of the seats on the board lean comfortably rightward and the GOP is already expected to flip three seats (4, 7, 13). While the long-term stability of this map remains uncertain, Split Ticket feels comfortable calling this the most significant redistricting victory for the GOP this cycle.

My name is Harrison Lavelle and I am a political analyst studying at the College of New Jersey. As a co-founder and partner at Split Ticket, I coordinate our House coverage. I write about a variety of electoral topics and produce political maps. Besides elections, my hobbies include music, history, language, and fitness.

Contact me at @HWLavelleMaps or harrisonwlavelle1@gmail.com

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