Democrat Jim Roach faces uphill fight for Southwest Florida congressional seat

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Facing a well-funded Republican opponent with no extra help from his own party, Democrat Jim Roach has taken on what many consider a quixotic quest to represent the residents of Congressional District 19 in southwest Florida, reports Michael Peltier of the News Service of Florida.

A decorated Vietnam veteran and former GM engineer, the 60-year-old underdog says he understands the odds but still thinks he’s got a shot to become the next congressman for the residents of the Republican stronghold district in Collier and Lee counties.

Saying his stance on health care, especially Medicare, resonates with area voters, Roach says he hopes to galvanize support across party lines to defeat a conservative opponent.

Roach faces Trey Radel, a tea party-backed political newcomer who survived a six-candidate Republican primary and won with less than 30 percent of the vote, beating a trio of GOP insiders who split much of the rest.

Roach said he hopes to appeal to moderate Republicans and independents that may find Radel, a former television anchor and radio talk show host, too conservative.

But the numbers aren’t in Roach’s favor.

In 2010, registered Republicans held a 47 percent to 28 percent advantage over Democrats. With numbers like that, Roach has tried to be as non-partisan as possible.

“Any time you are the 30 percent party going against the 47 percent party, you are not going to do very well by attacking the Republicans,” Roach said. “I went out of my way to get in front of as many Republicans, independents and Libertarians as I could.”

Roach’s optimism belies the fact that state Democratic leaders have not included the District 19 race in a handful of targeted districts that presumably will receive special attention. The head of the state Democratic Party recently said publicly that the contest wasn’t really on the party’s radar as one worth spending a lot of effort on.

As such, Roach and his cadre of supporters face the challenge largely alone.

“It’s a really uphill battle for Jim,” said Keith Arnold, a lobbyist who was the last Democrat to win a seat in the state House from the region. “It’s one that is almost an insurmountable battle.”

For the past 19 years, residents in the GOP dominated district have been represented by Congressmen Porter Goss and Connie Mack IV, who is now running for the U.S. Senate.

Since the Aug. 14 primary, Radel has spent his time rallying his base and mending fences with establishment Republicans who backed his opponents during the GOP primary.

Radel defeated former state House members Gary Aubuchon and Paige Kreegel and Chauncey Goss, whose father, Porter Goss, represented the district for more than a decade.

Radel attributes his win to a mood shift within the Republican Party that took place following President Barack Obama’s victory in 2008 as conservatives began a grassroots effort to swing the party to the right.

“I think that what happened in November 2010 was just the beginning of a fundamental shift and change in Washington,” Radel said. “For the Republican Party, specifically, November 2010 signified a change in men and women who are going to Washington to not just toe the line and be part of the status quo.”

Roach isn’t conceding an inch. He says the Democratic platform, including the Affordable Care Act, benefits constituents within the region, a third of whom are Medicare recipients. If voters can get past party affiliations, he said he’s got a shot.

“I want to reflect the community that I’m from and I will, Roach said.”The voters’ opinions are more important than the party rhetoric.”

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including,,, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.