Florida Democrats committed a near criminal act when they left the St Petersburg based SD-22 without a candidate this year. The seat was carried twice by President Obama as well as by Alex Sink in 2010. The winner of this seat, Jeff Brandes won with big money and the help of Joe Negron who seeks to be Senate President beginning in 2016. Brandes defeated Senator Jack Latvala’s ally Rep. Jim Frishe in a primary that was characterized by big money and served as a proxy race for leadership.
Why the Democrats choose not to field a candidate in this important seat is anyone’s guess. Like many winnable State House races, the Democratic Party seemed to take a pass even though in many cases incumbent Republicans were running in unfamiliar territory. In this seat, the Democrats appear to be turned off by the amount of money spent on the Republican side, or perhaps they simply didn’t bother.
Brandes is almost sure to be a polarizing figure in the Senate. As a big money candidate who spent thousands of his own fortune and benefited from outside forces, Brandes may not be easy pickings but certainly is vulnerable. His ideology is a mismatch for this district and if the Democrats can do a similar job of turning out Pinellas County voters as in 2006 (when Charlie Justice beat Kim Berfield in a similar district and Janet Long/Bill Heller/Rick Kreisman all won local House seats), Brandes can be beaten.
As Florida Democrats plan for 2014, this seat needs to be at the top of the list.