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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Democrats play defense in upcoming House races

Incoming House Minority Leader Kionne McGhee, D-Miami

[Florida House of Representatives]

Incoming House Minority Leader Kionne McGhee, D-Miami



At a time when Democrats hope the unpopular Trump administration will help them gain legislative seats in coming elections, it’s the absence of prominent Democratic candidates in some special legislative elections that’s drawing attention.

But state Rep. Kionne McGhee, D-Miami, incoming House minority leader, who’s in charge of recruiting and helping Democratic state House candidates, said his goal for the 2018 cycle is not to gain House seats, but just to hold onto those the party now has.

“My goal is to maintain in the off-season our pickups from the presidential year, which is something Democrats have never done before,” McGhee said.

“We’re not going to play in a district just because we can,” he said. “We’re going to go after those races that we believe we can win.”

Democrats typically perform better in presidential years, when there’s a higher turnout of some of their core constituencies, including black, Hispanic and young voters.

But after gaining legislative seats in presidential years, they’ve often lose them in off-years. In Tampa’s District 63 House seat, for example, Republican Shawn Harrison won in 2010, then lost to Democrat Mark Danish in 2012, then took it back in 2014. Harrison narrowly held the seat in 2016.

McGhee said Democrats had a net gain of two seats in the 2016 election, bringing them to 41 of the 120 House members, and his goal is to hold those seats.

Political parties typically don’t want to spend money and other resources on elections unless they believe they have a good chance of winning.

But in the House District 44 special election set for Oct. 10 in eastern Orange County, only one Democrat, Paul Chandler, a relative unknown, qualified to run, even though Hillary Clinton won in the district by seven percentage points, according to an analysis by MCI Maps, a political data mapping firm.

And a lawsuit was filed this week seeking to throw Chandler off the ballot, alleging he hasn’t lived in the state long enough to qualify. The lawsuit, by Orange County voter Charles Hart represented by Tallahassee elections law specialist Richard Coates, includes records purporting to show that Chandler voted in Missouri in November. The Florida Constitution says a candidate must have lived in the state for two years.

Chandler couldn’t be reached for comment late Wednesday.

In the House District 58 special election set for Dec. 19 in northeast Hillsborough County, the Democrats’ best hope, former Plant City Mayor John Dicks, announced Wednesday he won’t run, leaving only Jose Vazquez representing Democrats in the race.

That seat is open because State Rep. Dan Raulerson, R-Plant City, is resigning for business and health reasons. Vazquez, who lives just outside the district, lost to Raulerson in 2016 by 58-42 percent.

Qualifying is set for Aug. 15-16.

Hillsborough County Democratic Party Chairman Ione Townsend said the state party has shown little interest in recruiting a candidate for the race, and that she was waiting for a party staff member to return her call.

District 58 leans more strongly Republican – Trump won in the district by 10 points in 2016.

[Last modified: Thursday, August 10, 2017 11:57am]


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