When Senator Mel Martinez announced last fall that he would not seek re-election, a firestorm rolled through Florida political circles. Any politician with even a bit of a name, or an ego that thinks there is a name, has to consider running. After all, how often does an open seat in the nation’s highest legislative body come along? (Only three open seats since 1974: In 2004 when Bob Graham retired, in 2000 when Connie Mack retired, and in 1988 when Lawton Chiles retired from the Senate.)
The most prominent Republican, former governor Jeb Bush, decided not to run. So did the most prominent Democrat, Florida’s CFO Alex Sink.
That is causing a scramble.
On the Democratic side, Congressman Kendrick Meek is in. So is State Senator Dan Gelber. Congressman Ron Klein is considering a run. So is Congressman Allen Boyd.
On the Republican side, former House Speaker Marco Rubio is considering a run. So is Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum (who lost a bid for the Senate in each of the last two open seats). Congressman Connie Mack, the son of the former Senator, is mulling a run. Congressman Vern Buchanan is looking at it.
Does anyone see a pattern here?
Beth Reinhard of the Miami Herald sees one: all male. She’s right.
I see another one: no one from the I-4 cooridor.
Oh, McCollum was a Congressman from Orlando for a time – and had a law practice there – but his term ended 8 years ago, and there have been a heck of a lot of changes in population. Don’t forget by the time the 2010 election comes around, a full decade will have passed since his stint in Congress.
Some may also say that Buchanan from Sarasota is part of this corridor. I don’t really consider Sarasota to be part of the “swing” that can take place between St. Pete and Daytona. The voters tend to be older, whiter, and richer in Sarasota county – which means they tend to vote Republican (Even McCain won by 200 votes).
Republican Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty will be running for Congress against newly elected Democrat Alan Grayson.
Republican Congressman Adam Putnam will be running for Commissioner of Agriculture (& Consumer Services).
The War for I-4
If Klein, Boyd, Mack and Rubio get into the race, the I-4 cooridor will be wide open — especially on the Democratic side. In fact, I would say a Democrat from Tampa Bay could easily win the primary, with Meek-Gelber-Klein splitting the large bloc of Democrats in South Florida and Boyd taking the moderate “Dixiecrats” north of Ocala.
Former Congressman and Democratic candidate for Governor Jim Davis would be very strong; but the conventional wisdom is that he will be running for Mayor of Tampa.
Current Congresswoman Kathy Castor would be even stronger. She would potentially be the only woman in the race. Her mother has run statewide previously, most recently against Mel Martinez in 2004. And she would have a solid base from which to run.
Finally, the biggest name yet to decide on the race, Governor Charlie Crist, hails from the Bay area. To be sure, if he jumps into the race he becomes the odds-on favorite regardless of his geographic base (And the scramble shifts to the governor’s mansion). But I think he runs for re-election.
There aren’t many more I-4 names that can be tossed around: Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio could make a bid. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer has a bit of a scandal (from which he was cleared) to deal with. county commissioners or state legislators would have a difficult time raising money and their profile enough to be strongly considered.
This election will be a challenging fight, and we can expect to see the candidates from both parties quite a bit over the next 20 months.
My guess: Gelber wins the Democratic primary and Rubio wins the Republican nomination. Then the real fun begins.