2016 state House races continue to take shape

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The crash landing that ended the 2015 regular legislative session in the Republican-led Florida House would be a gift to Democrats in any other state, but few seats are in any real danger of flipping come Election Day 2016.

With 25 term-limited seats, District 114 is one of the few with a real chance to flip – though Democrats will also make a play for District 63, currently held by Republican state Rep. Shawn Harrison in the first term of his return trip to the House.

The Hillsborough County-based District 63 has flipped parties the past couple of elections, with former state Rep. Mark Danish riding the Obama wave to a slim victory over Harrison in the 2012 election. Harrison took the seat back in 2014, but the prospect of  Hillary Clinton at the top of the ballot could spell trouble for him if Democrat Mike Reedy — or another candidate – can run a strong campaign. As it stands, neither candidate has impressed in the money race.

Reedy, a state organizer for the LGBT group Equality Florida, is making his first entry into state-level politics. Though he’s already on the attack, he has only been able to pull in about $8,000 compared to Harrison’s session-limited $23,000 tally.

Altamonte Springs Republican state Rep. Bob Cortes may not want to get too comfortable in his District 30 seat yet, as there’s a chance Democrats could yank the rug out from under him the same way he did to former Democratic state Rep. Karen Castor Dentel in 2014. Sanford-based criminal defense attorney Ryan Yadav filed for the seat May 4 and brought in $7,075 in contributions and loaned his campaign $25,000 in his first month on the trail. With $31,728 on hand, he edges out Cortes’ current war chest of $30,000.

Cortes beat out Castor Dentel by 2.5 points in 2014 despite her monumental $400,000 campaign. If the pendulum swings the other way in 2016, he’ll need a focused ground game to see a second term.

With Miami Republican state Rep. Erik Fresen termed out, District 114 is also in play.

Republicans have a slim registration margin in the district, though those numbers were tested in 2012 when Democrat Ross Hancock took 49 percent of the vote against an incumbent Fresen. A presidential election and the lack of a strong incumbent could make a winning combination for Democrats.

Currently, Republicans John Couriel and Jose M. Pazos have filed alongside Democrats Hancock and Alberto Santana. Couriel, who was the Republican nominee for the District 35 Senate seat in 2012, is the only candidate with any fundraising numbers to speak of – as of the end of May he’s brought in $40,694, with $6,000 of that coming from loans to the campaign.

Hancock, in his third stint as a District 114 candidate, isn’t shaping up to be the strong candidate he was in 2012. He told media he would run his entire 2016 campaign on $99. He was supplanted for the Democratic nod in 2014 by Daisy J. Baez, though he appeared as a no-party candidate on that ballot. Santana, who filed in early May, has raised about $5,000, including $3,000 in loans, but he’ll need to pick up the pace to flip the district.

At 18 months out, most of the 2016 action is centered on primary races. In Jacksonville-based District 16, two Republicans have filed to take over for state Rep. Charles McBurney. Former state Rep. Dick Kravitz entered the race in mid-November, though he’s currently being trounced in the money race by Duval County School Board member Jason Fischer. Since filing in December, Fischer has raised nearly $95,000 to Kravitz’s $24,200.

There also looks to be a hotly contested primary for termed-out state Rep. Charles Van Zant‘s District 19 seat, where two Republican filers — one of whom is Van Zant’s wife, Katherine — are neck and neck in fundraising. Katherine Van Zant filed to take over the seat in December and has raised $25,646 so far. Robert Bruce Payne, who filed in March, has brought in $28,700. It’s hard to predict how the race will play out — District 19 hasn’t had a Republican primary since redistricting.

In Polk County-based District 52, two Republicans have filed to replace term-limited Republican state Rep. John WoodSam Killebrew and Edwin Van Smith.

Killebrew joined the race after attempting to recruit and fundraise for other prospective candidates. He’s posted $33,200 through May, with another $28,000 in loans to the campaign. Smith has $27,275 on hand, though, so the race isn’t a runaway yet.

District 54, currently held by Vero Beach Republican Debbie Mayfield, is also hotly contested. Four Republicans have filed for the seat, and two of them – Erin Grall and Lange Sykes – are neck and neck on the fundraising front with more than $70,000 raised for each campaign. The close competition caused Jay Kramer, a Vero Beach city councilman, to bow out of the race in early May to run for the Indian River County Commission instead.

On top of the money, Grall has landed an endorsement from Republican Senate budget chief state Sen. Joe Negron. The third candidate in the race, Dale Glading, raised $11,199 through the end of May.

Musical chairs between chambers could also switch things up in the House. In addition to the eight-term-limited Senate seats, the seats currently held by state Sens. Nancy Detert and Gwen Margolis could be in play. Both senators have entertained leaving the Legislature – Detert for the Sarasota County Commission and Margolis for retirement.

If Detert leaves, which is not unlikely, Republican state Reps. Ray Pilon and Greg Steube will run for the seat and both representatives already have replacements lining up to take their place. Robert Wyatt, a Rick Scott appointee to the State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota District Board of Trustees, has already loaned his campaign $150,000 to take over Pilon’s District 72. Joe Gruters, who has run for state office before, filed for Steube’s seat on June 1. He hasn’t had a full month of fundraising yet, though his position as vice chairman of the Republican Party of Florida may make raising money a little easier — RPOF chair Blaise Ingoglia put him in charge of the party’s fundraising efforts for the 2015 session.

Margolis’ heir apparent, should she retire, might be state Rep. David Richardson. He announced his candidacy for the seat in January and has already raised the ante with a $200,000 loan to his campaign.

However, Miami Democrat Andrew Korge may well have something to say about that. Though the attorney and son of millionaire Democratic fundraiser Chris Korge is currently listed as a 2020 Senate candidate, he has said if Margolis retires he will set his sights on the seat in 2016.

Two candidates have already filed to take over for Richardson in District 113 – Deede Weithorn and Reinaldo Valdes.

Weithorn is currently on the Miami Beach City Commission, and has raised $9,500 since announcing her run in January.

Drew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for SaintPetersBlog and FloridaPolitics.com. While at the University of Florida, Wilson was an editor at The Independent Florida Alligator and after graduation, he moved to Los Angeles to cover business deals for The Hollywood Reporter. Before joining Extensive Enterprises, Wilson covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools.