Yesterday, the Polk and Osceola County Republican Parties had to pick their candidate to replace disgraced Representative Mike Horner. Both parties had a number of choices for this selection, including former State House member Frank Attkinson, County Commissioner Fred Hawkins Jr., and former Kissimmee Mayor Ken Smith (according to the Orlando Sentinel). Instead, both GOPs decided to go with little known Republican Mike La Rosa. While La Rosa is a wealthy real estate businessman, his name identification among the electorate is very small. Does this mean that the Republicans are already conceding House District 42?
Let’s look at how this process might have played out. Of course, this is all speculation on my behalf, but is more then likely the process that both parties went through. On Thursday, September 20th, our website was aware that there was an issue regarding Mike Horner and prostitution. We must assume that if we at the Political Hurricane knew something was going on, both the Florida Democratic Party as well as the Republican Party of Florida knew that something was going to go down. Therefore, once the news broke on Monday, it would be smart for both sides to poll the district and see the immediate impact to the reaction of the news.
During the mid-week, both parties took vastly different approaches toward moving forward in this district. First, let’s look at the Florida Democrats and House Victory. It must have been obvious to the Democrats that Horner’s situation was a fatal blow to the Republicans in this district. Immediately, the Democratic Party sent out a hit piece on Mike Horner and is working with the Game campaign to make sure that she wins the seat. The actions by the Democrats in this race seems to show that they are highly confident.
As far as the Republicans, we have seen another route. As was mentioned earlier, a number of candidates could have thrown their hat into this ring, but they didn’t. Why is that?
Let’s look at the involvement of the Republican Party of Florida. While the party did make a statement regarding the decision of Horner to withdraw as well as La Rosa’s appointment, the RPOF really did a “hands off” approach to the race. Instead of taking an active role in the recruitment of La Rosa, the state Republicans left it to the local Republicans in Polk and Osceola County to make the candidate decision. It almost seems that the state party was perfectly comfortable with the local decision. In most cases the party wouldn’t do a hands off approach unless they truly felt that it wasn’t a winnable seat.
With the local parties making the decision, it will be interesting to see if the party actually puts money into this race. Early indications are that the Republicans aren’t going to attack this seat whatsoever. Statements from the Republican Party of Florida have not mentioned the level of commitment to the campaign. Instead, they are just saying they support La Rosa. The Florida Democratic Party is boldly saying that they support the Game campaign and are behind her. The recent attack mailer shows that they are behind her as well. Therefore, it might be safe to say that the RPOF has written off the seat.
Or have they?
What is interesting in this race is that Mike La Rosa is wealthy. So, while the Republican Party doesn’t have to sacrifice any of their own money in this race, La Rosa can use his own money to promote his candidacy. He does have the money to do this, but will he? That will be the big question. If he does put a large personal investment in this campaign, he might be able to move the needle in his favor. But from the actions so far, it seems obvious that it will be La Rosa that will have to win this race, not the RPOF.
House Victory and the Florida Democratic party were “textbook” in their execution of their plan. They went to the Game campaign, got involved, sent out a mailer letting the Republicans know that they are now serious about targeting House District 42 and, more than likely, kept out all the serious competition in this race. Christian Ulvert and the FDP worked this perfectly.
This will be a nice gift for the Democratic Party, but will also be a hard seat to retain in 2014. It is likely that a number of highly financed Republicans will enter this race. While they might beat each other up in the primary, they will more than likely have the upper hand in the general election. True, Eileen Game might be able to connect with the electorate, especially with her views on “stand your ground” and the “Glocks and Docs” legislation, which she strongly supports, but will that be enough?
The Florida Democratic Party will have to determine if this is a one-time shot, much like the Republicans defeating Dan Rostenkowski in 1994 with Republican Mike Flanagan, who was easily defeated by Rod Blagojevich in 1996. Or will this be a gift that keeps on giving? Usually in cases like this, the party that was in command before the scandal usually retains the seat after one term. And while this district might be a slightly-performing Republican district with a slightly-registered Democratic advantage, it really isn’t trending toward either party.
It will be interesting to see what happens in this race in 2014. Eileen Game has easily won this seat for this election cycle. We shall see what happens once the Republicans put their resources to work.