Tampa Bay ground zero for competitive legislative races

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The Sarasota Herald-Tribune‘s Jeremy Wallace did some interesting math that shows that 79 of the 120 Florida House races do not have both a Democratic and Republican candidate. Democrats have yet to file a challenger in 49 seats, while Republicans are conceding 30 districts.

As a corollary, there are at best 41 competitive House races up for grabs in 2014. But that number is misleading. Just because there is both a Democrat and a Republican filed in a race does not make the seat competitive. What makes a seat competitive is when both have a chance of winning.

What’s striking is how many of these races are in battleground Tampa Bay. At least five of the competitive legislative races are found in the Tampa Bay region; no other region shares this kind of battleground-y status.

In House District 63, Democrat incumbent Mark Danish is headed to a rematch against former state Rep. Shawn Harrison, who was unseated by Danish in 2012. While it’s always difficult to unseat an incumbent, Harrison appears to be more focused than Danish at this point in the campaign.

Across the Bay in House District 65, Democrat incumbent Carl Zimmermann is thought to be in real trouble of being turned out of office by Republican challenger Chris Sprowls, who is the darling of both state and local Republicans. This seat has a strong Republican registration advantage and it’s likely Zimmermann only won the seat in 2012 because he was running against flawed candidate Peter Nehr. Look for Sprowls to knock off Zimmermann in November.

Republican Chris Latvala never expected to walk into House District 67, where Republican incumbent Ed Hooper is term-limited, and his impressive fundraising effort to-date shows how hard he’s worked. However, it’s likely Latvala did not expect to draw an opponent like Democrat Shawna Vercher, who, on paper, is Latvala’s worst-case scenario. She’s a smart, telegenic, moderate woman running in a district many believe Democrats have a good chance of moving to their column. This race is still Latvala’s to lose, but now it’s a genuine race.

Democrat Rep. Dwight Dudley, running for re-election in House District 68, will likely benefit from Charlie Crist running for governor because HD 68 is Crist’s home district and he will likely turn out a higher-than-normal number of Democratic-leaning independent voters. Dudley will need whatever advantage he can muster against Republican challenger Bill Young II, the son of the late congressman. Dudley has turned into a one-issue candidate (anti-Duke Energy) and his retail political skills are lacking. Young is still an unproven commodity, but should be able to raise enough money to be in the fight to the end.

LJ Govoni dropping his primary challenge of Rep. Kathleen Peters certainly improves her re-election chances in HD 69, but she’s still slightly scarred from her failed congressional bid. Some of her political allies are questioning her decision to run, but Speaker Designate Steve Crisafulli has worked to rally support for Peters. Not much is known about Democrat Scott Orsini, but he appears credible. This is still a lean-Republican seat, but it should be a likely Republican seat. Peters needs to come back from Tallahassee in May and lock-up this seat.

Although there is both a Democrat and Republican running in other seats, such as House Districts 70 and 72, they’re not competitive enough to keep an eye on. However, with five competitive House races in Tampa Bay on the menu in 2014, there’s more than enough political action to go around.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, 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.