I Bet You Don't Know Much About Florida's 19th Congressional District, Do You?
If you're following the congressional races by paying attention to the drivel coming from the DCCC or if you get all of your info on House races from the lazy Beltway media types who act as stenographers for the DCCC, you are definitely missing out of some of the most interesting House races this cycle. But, of course, that's what DWT is for. I've been meaning to mention that barely a week goes by when a Democratic candidate doesn't call me and ask for contact info for Rachel or Big Ed or some media folks. I always ask them if they've asked the DCCC and they always say the DCCC fobs them off on local media that they're already in touch with and refuse to share the contact info for national media types. Go team! That's another way how the DCCC protects its turf and tries to monopolize the conversation so that, for example, when the messaging it about how destructive the Ryan budget is, media gets to talk to some schlemiel New Dem or Blue Dog rather than Ryan's opponent, Rob Zerban. And so on. You've heard it all before. But what you haven't heard about, in all likelihood, is the race in FL's 19th CD, the district crazy millionaire teabagger Connie Mack is giving up in order to run for the Senate. The district is in southwest Florida, centered on Fort Myers in Lee County and was the 14th CD before redistricting. The district went strongly for Bush both times with just over 60% but was less friendly to McCain (57%). Last time he ran, Bill Nelson won the district and took Lee County with 56% of the vote against Florida's notorious former Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who garnered 43%. Lee County, which makes up about two-thirds of the district, is no longer a majority Republican county. There's a steep decline from the days when the GOP had a 60% registration edge. Currently only 47% of registered voters are Republicans. Independent voters will determine who he next congressmember is.
There's a good, solid progressive Democrat running, Jim Roach, but what makes this district interesting right now is the August Republican primary, one of the most hilarious clown shows anywhere in the country. There are a half dozen woefully inexperienced candidates beating each other up for their party's nomination, a real pleasure to behold. Only one Republican has ever campaigned before. Two are termed-out State House representatives. The other 4 have never held office. Historically, the Republican primary voter turnout is less than 35%, fewer than 65,000 voters. The primary vote will likely be divided by a factor of four to five leaving the votes required to win below 15,000. The primary has no run-off election. The low number of votes levels the playing field between the Republican candidates who are well funded, party favorites and those who are running strong grassroots campaigns. Given the inexperience of the candidates, costly mistakes have already occurred and are likely to persist. The six clowns in contention are Gary Aubuchon, the candidate of the local realtors; Chauncey Porter Goss, son of the ex-CIA director who represented the district before Connie Mack and the endorsee of Jeb Bush, Agriculture Commissioner Adam "Howdy Doody" Putnam and Paul Ryan, who wants to end Medicare and Social Security for the district's extremely large population of retired seniors; Paige Kreegel, who was endorsed by teabagger Congressmembers Dennis Ross and Sandy Adams and by Florida's controversial Lt. Governor Jennifer Carroll; Henry "Trey" Radel, a Hate Talk Radio host who's being backed by Connie III and IV and by Rudy Giuliani; Joe Davidow, who has no support from anyone; and Byron Donalds, a teabagger backed by Herman Cain, Sheriff Mack and the Naples Daily News.
The supposed favorites are the 3 relatively mainstream conservatives, Aubuchon, Goss's son and Kreegel. Aubuchon’s strong area, Cape Coral has a history of very low Republican Primary turnout. Chauncey Goss recently moved to the area and is an outsider. Predictably enough, he's getting strong support from his father and pulling local Republican support from Aubuchon. Chauncey has changed his name on the ballot to include “Porter” as his middle name. It is likely to remind voters of the Mack Dynasty they just got rid of. Connie Mack IV is not well thought of by Republicans locally and was re-elected on his family’s name recognition. Kreegel, the third of the mainstream conservatives leans more to the right and is running a strong ground campaign. Kreegel is not from this area but held the termed-out State House seat in Punta Gorda, just north of the congressional district. He's not well known locally but at least has some experience in running for office. He doesn't live in the district but Florida voters don't seem to care about that. These three candidates are expected to divide the mainstream conservative Republicans between them.
Two of the candidates (Radel and Donalds) have Tea Party support and are dividing the extreme right of the Republican Party. Radel, a former right wing local Fox Radio host, has name recognition. Radel is the “bad boy” of the candidates; he purchased the website names of his opponents and posted negative information on the sites. Unfortunately, this brought his prowess on the internet into discussion and it was discovered that he also registered several pornographic website names. The other teabagger in the race, Donalds, has a large and very active grassroots volunteer base. Donalds has also been selected by the national anti-politician organization, GOOOH, as their candidate. He's described as a gifted speaker and has consistently won all the candidate forums where straw polls were taken. To date a couple thousand people have attended forums, almost all of them sponsored by Tea Party groups. Donalds has unified the various splintered right wing factions and groups, from the Tea Party, the Tea Party Patriots, and the Oath Keepers, to all the various and sundry offshoots of the Religious Right. Donalds' followers are the more activist conservatives and more likely to vote in a primary. These two candidates are expected to divide the far right and extremist vote although Donalds looks to be the stronger in a divisive primary. Davidow has little support from the Republican Party and is expected to be a minimal factor in the primary but will help dilute the GOP vote in a kind of wild card way.
Who will win the Republican primary on August 14th? Who will get a mere 15,000 voters fired up enough to vote in the primary? Based on the inexperience of the Establishment Republicans the likely Republican primary winner is Donalds. The result will be that the Democrat, Jim Roach, running against an “outsider” Tea Party Republican, and making this race analogous to the Christine O’Donnell race in Delaware and the Sharron Angle race in Nevada, will be in real contention for November.
There have been 3 major candidate forums attended by most of the candidates. Marco Island, Naples and Cape Coral have hosted over 2000 attendees with 600 straw poll votes (similar to the number of people in official polls). The forums have been held in Baptist Churches and hosted by Republican clubs, GOOOH, the Tea Party, Americans for Prosperity, the Patriots, the Oath keepers, the 9-12 Project and other conservative groups. The forums allowed plenty of time for each candidate to answer the same, mostly conservative questions, providing a good comparison. Straw polls at the end of each forum were conducted fairly with observers watching the votes. Byron Donalds won each of the forums by a large percentage of votes. Surprisingly, Democrat Jim Roach, received the second largest number of votes. Aubuchon, Radel, Goss, Davidow and Kreegel all received fewer votes than Roach. The forums were conducted in the southern, central and northern areas of the 19th CD with little overlap of attendees. With 6 Republican candidates bringing their supporters and conservative sponsorship, the forums were made up of a substantial conservative majority. Jim Roach’s experience and in-depth knowledge of legislation and the issues gained more support than the rhetoric and botched sound byte answers from the Establishment Republicans.
In the most recent straw poll, hosted by the Cape Coral Chamber of Commerce, where the Establishment Republicans were the majority, Roach received more than double the straw poll votes that Donalds got, who scares mainstream crowds, even mainstream Republican crowds! That's good news for Roach's campaign, which understands that if Donalds wins the primary, he'll have an excellent chance to win in November. And Donalds does have the advantage among the ultra conservative crowd that comes out to vote in obscure congressional primaries. In the November, it will be independents who decide the race and there's some reason to believe that Donalds is unpalatable even for mainstream Republicans.
So... who's Jim Roach? Glad you asked. He was the Democratic candidate against Connie IV in 2010 and did respectably well against an entrenched incumbent in a murderous year for Democrats. He certainly gained some experience-- and name recognition-- in the process and has become a regular on local talk radio stations. A combat decorated veteran, family man, and small businessman, he's a good fit for the district and has already received endorsements from national and local unions and from the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans. He goes to Tea Party meetings and to Occupy meetings and doesn't change his message for either, emphasizing how both sides agree on an astounding number of issues. His goal is to cut through the rhetoric and sound bytes with calm determination and a reservoir of facts on economic justice issues like jobs and health care, and on "hot button" issues like LGBT equality, immigration reform and women’s rights. His knowledge of the issues and his practical solutions helps him to defuse the rhetoric that, at minimum, earns respect even from the Tea Party crowd.
OFA is targeting the 19th CD for a big registration drive and for a massive get out the vote effort. Both Obama and Nelson need Lee County votes to win. Romney isn't well thought of by Republicans in the area and GOP turnout isn't expected to be very high. The demographics of southwest Florida hasn't produced a wealthy Republican district. About a third of the voters don't have health care, 44% are on Social Security and unemployment is still above 10%.
Should the Establishment pull its shit together and nominate either of the faves, Aubuchon or Goss' son there are a couple of damaging facts that have been seeping out recently. Aubuchon’s construction company built homes with cheap poorly-made drywall from China. He then was appointed to a State House seat and was a leader in passing one bill-- to limit the liability of builders who used Chinese drywall. Goss' son, who doesn't know the district very well, kicks off all his campaign speeches with how he worked on the Ryan budget plan in D.C. and knows why Medicare and Social Security need to be privatized. This is not a good way to win in a 44% Social Security and Medicare crowd.