With the new year started, campaign watchers have started keeping tabs on former Governor Jeb Bush. Will he or won’t he? (Run for the U.S. Senate that is).
The State of Sunshine takes a look at the impact of the decision. Today, Part I: He runs.
In a country sick to death of the Bush name, many national pundits will be surprised when Jeb Bush announces his candidacy for the United States Senate. To be sure, he will wait until February or even March to make the formal announcement, although the machinations started in late 2008. What does a Jeb candidacy mean for Florida politics?
Governor & Cabinet
First, it means all major office holders remain in place, at least on the Republican side. Governor Charlie Crist and Attorney General Bill McCollum both run for re-election to their respective posts. They will draw token opposition, if any, from the Democrats because of Crist’s continued popularity and McCollum’s visibility.
Second, the interesting side of the U.S. Senate campaign will be on the Democratic side. Will Chief Financial Officers Alex Sink give in to the pressure from Washington and run? I don’t think she takes on Jeb. Her re-election is virtually assured.
That leaves a void I think will be filled by State Senator Dan Gelber, who was selected to the upper chamber last year. A new quirk in Florida law will allow Gelber to run for U.S. Senate without having to resign his current position. You might see other Democrats as well, such as Congressman Alan Boyd – but I think Gelber comes out on top.
That leaves only one really contestable cabinet race: Agriculture Commissioner. On the Republican side there are two or three major candidates: former State Representative Marty Bowen and State Senator Carey Baker are already in the race and Congressman Adam Putnam is rumored to be considering a run.
On the Democratic side, it’s hard to find anyone. The democratic leaders on the legislative committees are from urban districts in South Florida (Sen. Larcenia Bullard from Miami and Rep. Mary Brandenburg from West Palm Beach). Almost all “rural” legislative seats, where agricultural issues are critically important, are held by Republicans. The best exception might be State Representative Debbie Boyd from North Florida. Another option might be former State Senator and lieutenant governor candidate Rick Dantzler , who says he will probably run for office again.
Most of the Congressional offices will remain the same. If Putnam does decide to jump, then expect a scramble in Polk County. Republican State Senators Paula Dockery, JD Alexander, and perhaps Ronda Storms would explore the race. State Representative Seth McKeel would surely jump in, as would former State Representative Dennis Ross. A seat most felt would be Putnam’s for decades to come would create quite a spectacle during the primary.
However, like the Ag position, the field of potential Democratic candidates is weaker. The only county-level Democrat in the district would be Supervisor of Elections Lori Edwards (a former State Representative) and Polk County Commission Jean Reed. The DCCC might be at a loss on this one, if they can’t find a prominent Democrat among the civic and business leaders in Lakeland.
Beyond the effects of the Agriculture Commissioner and possible Polk County congressional race, open seats could add to the turnover in the Florida Legislature.
In the Senate, even numbered districts are up for election this year, several will be open:
- District 2 – Durell Peaden (R) – Outgoing State Representatives Dave Murzin and Greg Evers have already filed for the seat.
- District 6 – Al Lawson (D) – A historically black seat, expect former State Representative Curtis Richardson or possibly former Republican Candidate Peter Boulware to run for this seat.
- District 8 – Jim King (R) – Former State Representative Aaron Bean has already filed for the seat, as has Jacksonville City Councilman Art Graham.
- District 12 – Victor Crist (R) – State Representative Kevin Ambler is running against Hillsborough County Commissioner Jim Norman.
- District 20 – Carey Baker (R) – Although Baker could run for re-election, his candidacy for Ag Commissioner will require him to not seek re-election. State Representative Alan Hays, who took Baker’s House seat when Baker moved to the Senate, has filed for the Senate seat.
- District 28 – Ken Pruitt (R) – Former State Representative Joe Negron has filed for the immediate past Senate President’s seat.
- District 36 – Alex Diaz de la Portilla (R) – State Representative Julio Robaina has filed, but will former representative Renier Diaz de la Portilla try for his brother’s seat?
- District 38 – Alex Villalobos (R) – This could be a ‘bloody’ battle between State Representatives David Rivera and Marcelo Llorente, with State Representative Antiere Flores trying to avoid the crossfire.
- District 40 – Rudy Garcia (R) – Former State Representative Rene Garcia has filed for the seat.
The open seat permutations for the House are too many to mention, especially given the turmoil. However, we can say for certain that if the Democrats can find viable candidates who can raise their own campaign funds, the balance of power could be radically changed… but that is quite unlikely to happen.
What does it mean?
In general, if Jeb Bush decides to run for Senate, it provides a significant amount of stability for the 2010 elections. Stable electoral cycles become rather predictable, as they benefit incumbent office holders and the incumbent party.
Part II in this series will explore a different angle of a Jeb Candidacy – resources.