When Democratic Sen. Gwen Margolis (then Senate President) threw a monkey wrench in the post 1990 census Congressional Redistricting by drawing a tri-county coastal seat she could run in, the thought was it could be a competitive battleground or even a Democratic seat for years to come. But incumbent Rep. Clay Shaw (R-Fort Lauderdale) was too popular even among Broward County Democrats to be seriously threatened until the Gore/Lieberman wave in Broward and Palm Beach Counties almost wiped him out in 2000, when Elaine Bloom came within 500 votes of unseating Shaw. Democrats took several more well-financed swipes at Shaw (with the help of the sugar industry who opposed Shaw strongly) until finally beating him in 2006 with Ron Klein (D-Boca Raton).
This district, the only consistently competitive battleground from 2000 to 2010 in the state now sits as an open seat for the first time since the 1970s. The seat is open because Tea Party superstar Allen West (R-Plantation) has opted to run further north in a better performing GOP district. While both party establishments have their preferred candidates, that is not going to stop ambitious current office holders or even one or two outsiders from giving the seat a strong look. Open competitive House seats in Florida come around once every 12 years or so, so don’t be surprised if more and more potential candidates feel out this race.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee appeared to have recruited the strongest possible candidate in former House Minority Leader and West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel, who has been an office holder for the better part of 30 years. Frankel was challenged briefly for the Democratic nomination by young political neophyte Patrick Erin Murphy, who was backed by a few activists and political professionals associated with southern Palm Beach county. When West opted to move north, Murphy decided to follow him, leaving Frankel temporarily unopposed in the primary.
West’s exit from the race opened the door for for former State Rep. Adam Hasner (R-Delray Beach), whose flagging Senate campaign had become a source of amusement in local political circles. Hasner compiled a right wing voting record in the Legislature while also scoring points for outlandish and bombastic rhetoric despite representing a moderate district that leaned Republican. Hasner’s vote-getting ability locally has never been questioned. In 2002, as a virtual unknown, he squeaked by in a four way GOP primary against better established candidates based on his personal appeal and hard work. The Democrats took several shots at Hasner with well connected though underfunded candidates and always fell well short.
Broward County Commissioner Kristin Jacobs has also decided to jump into the race. Jacobs was first elected in 1998 defeating scandal plagued incumbent Sylvia Poitier who had the backing of the party establishment. A strong environmentalist in a county where politicians have traditionally pontificated about preservation while voting for any and every development possible, Jacobs has carved out an independent reputation. But Jacobs hasn’t shown a particularly strong commitment to the issues that motivate Democratic voters and based on her history on the County Commission their is zero guarantee she will be a solid liberal vote in Washington.
In Jacobs announcement speech last month she made strong reference to civility and working to build consensus. Quite frankly, these are the wrong chords to strike with Democratic Primary voters. While Jacobs is aligned with certain lobbyists and monied interests in Broward County, voters in a Democratic Primary are likely to vote based on regional and ideological considerations. Add to that the breath of experience Frankel possesses as a legislator versus that of Jacobs and you quickly determine that Frankel has a tremendous advantage in a potential two way primary.
However, the Democratic Primary may not stop at two. Mark Bell, the Boca Raton based proprietor of Penthouse Magazine is considering running as a Democrat. Bell is a registered independent currently, but if he were to run in a Democratic Party he can expect the vocal opposition of feminists and other liberal advocates who are coalescing behind Frankel. Given Frankel’s long career of outspoken advocacy and collecting political enemies within the Democratic ranks, Bell is unlikely to be the last person sniffing around a primary challenge to the former West Palm Beach Mayor.
Democratic performance is good in this coastal district but it is also worth noting that the majority of local elected officials within the district are Republicans and that the GOP has traditionally outperformed their Presidential performance numbers in Legislative and Congressional races in this area. The Democrats since 2000 have taken several well funded shots at seats in this area and with the sole exception of Ron Klein’s 2006 win over Clay Shaw the most Democratic wave election since 1964, the GOP has always come out ahead. Three times in the past 12 years, the Democrats have targeted the State Senate seat in this area with well funded and attractive candidates and all three times they have come up well short. Regardless of who runs and what the performance numbers state, District 22 (absent a major court redraw) will be the most competitive 2012 Congressional election in the state.