As I sit in a ballroom at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort where Ron DeSantis has been crowned as the next Republican gubernatorial nominee for Florida, I want to give you a little insight into some of the other races that will shape Central Florida’s political landscape for years to come.
In one of the most watched congressional races in the state, it was no surprise that Darren Soto basically wiped the floor with Alan Grayson in CD 9. Grayson was running uphill from the very beginning. He touted polls that showed he was a better known candidate in the district than the incumbent Soto, but identity politics can be difficult to overcome sometimes. Grayson simply did not work hard enough to earn the win. He chose to run a highly-targeted television campaign when he simply needed to press a lot more flesh. CD 9 is heavily Hispanic and Soto has been on the ballot too many times for Grayson to just waltz in and believe since it used to be his district, he would win again.
Four years ago, when faced with the possibility of challenging Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, current Congresswoman Val Demings declined to run. It was the right call. Maybe the two men who decided to challenge Jerry Demings for that seat four years later would have been wise to do the same. Demings is a well-known sheriff with a wife that is a congresswoman. It was no surprise that he easily cruised to victory in the non-partisan Orange County mayoral race. Two Republicans–Commissioner Pete Clarke and businessman Rob Panepinto–ran a spirited race but simply could not match the name recognition of one of Central Florida’s true power players. This is a moment that the Democrats in Orange County have been waiting for since they began their rapid ascent in voter registration numbers. The Orange County Commission has been predominantly Republican for a long time, in part because party affiliation does not appear on the ballot in these races. Democrats feel like this is the year they can seize control of that commission, and they may be on their way to doing so.
Businessman Scott Sturgill pumped a lot of his own money into the Republican race in Congressional District 7, and was confident all along he could squeeze out state Rep Mike Miller in the primary to take on freshman Democrat Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy. This is a swing district but the voters are now in Orange County, not Seminole County. If Republicans hope to take this seat back, they should focus more effort on those Orange County voters. Sturgill simply could not crack Miller’s base in Winter Park. Miller faces an uphill climb if he wants to beat Murphy but he is off to a good start.
The most fascinating race in my mind going into November for Central Florida is Congressional District 6 which covers St. Johns, Flagler, and most of Volusia County. Army veteran and former Dick Cheney aide Michael Waltz won the GOP primary and former State Department official Nancy Soderberg won the Democratic nomination by flooding the airwaves with television commercials late in the race to cement their leads. They will now face off in what should be a reliably Republican district. If there is a blue wave coming, Soderberg could win with her foreign policy chops and voter discontent with the Trump White House. However Waltz is the favorite to keep this seat red. The winner will replace DeSantis on Capitol Hill.
The GOP primary to replace retiring Congressman Dennis Ross in District 15 came down to Neil Combee and Ross Spano. The tight margin was not a surprise. Both of the Republicans tried to stay out of the fray, avoiding debates and mixing it up with the lesser known candidates. Spano came out on top despite a mild cardiac event with just weeks to go in the campaign and should be heavily favored in Polk and eastern Hillsborough counties come November.
Reach Mike Synan at Mike.Synan@floridadaily.com.