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Florida Redistricting Creates Giant Game of Musical Chairs

Jolly represents a legally controversial district in a Florida redistricting trial. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Jolly represents a legally controversial district in a Florida redistricting trial. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The music has started in a game of musical chairs in Florida that will have sweeping implications for the state’s political landscape.  

Republican Rep. David Jolly will likely announce a bid for Florida’s open Senate seat next week, the first implication from the Florida State Supreme Court last week striking down the state’s congressional map.  Jolly’s 13th District is likely to favor a Democratic candidate after the map is redrawn, pushing the one-term Republican to enter the already crowded GOP Senate primary to replace GOP Sen. Marco Rubio, who is forgoing re-election to run for president.  

Jolly’s decision presents a major shift in the political dynamics in the state, creating a now four-way Republican Senate primary in a tossup contest. But the game of musical chairs will continue right up until the primary filing deadline.  

“The dust is still in the process of settling, but this is one of these things where there’s going to be three or four waves of how this impacts the Senate race, how this impacts the congressional level, and then we have a bunch of state senators and state representatives who want to make a run for Congress,” said one Florida Democratic operative. “It’s going to be something like 100 elections that are brand new.”  

When the state Supreme Court nullified the current congressional map, it ordered the redraw of districts 5, 13, 14, 21, 22, 25, 26 and 27. Operatives from both parties expect the 5th and 13th districts to change the most — both of which will have consequences for surrounding districts, which must also be redrawn to create equally populated districts.  

Jolly’s 13th District is likely to take in the southeast corner of St. Petersburg — a Democratic stronghold that’s currently a part of Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor’s 14th District. The new 13th would include more black voters who favor a Democratic candidate, creating a prime pickup opportunity for Democrats looking to make a dent in Republicans’ historic 30-seat majority.  

Living in that chunk of the county is former Gov. Charlie Crist, whom Democratic operatives say is contemplating a run for the new district. Crist, a Republican-turned-Democrat, is popular in the Tampa area and would be a top contender.  

“I think he’s seriously considering it,” Tampa-based Democratic consultant Ana Cruz said. “He had talked to people this weekend and he will live in the district as it will be drawn.”  

But it’s a redrawing of the 5th District that will have the most impact on the map, creating changes in seats from Orlando all the way north to Tallahassee. The district — which in its current form is a spindly majority-black seat which starts in Jacksonville and snakes about 140 miles south to Orlando — is what sparked the initial court case over the congressional maps.  

Democratic Rep. Corrine Brown of Jacksonville has held the heavily Democratic district since 1993. She is unhappy with the court ruling, and operatives from both sides of the aisle say she’s considering filing a lawsuit that would delay drawing a new map.  

In the meantime, operatives say the 5th District’s boundaries are likely to move to the northern state line, taking in black voters from Jacksonville and spanning more than 160 miles west to encompass black voters in Tallahassee.  

Voters in Tallahassee are unfamiliar with Brown, 68, and Democratic operatives say a candidate from that chunk of the district is likely to emerge.  

Democratic operatives mentioned Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a 35-year-old black politician who won the mayoral contest in 2014, as a possible primary opponent. Brown — who has yet to file her second-quarter fundraising report — had just $12,000 in the bank at the end of March, not nearly enough to run a competitive election in unfriendly territory.  

A redrawn 5th District would also affect freshman Democratic Rep. Gwen Graham’s 2nd District, which currently includes a large chunk of black voters from Tallahassee. With those voters drawn out of the district, Graham’s seat is likely to become so Republican-leaning that it would be nearly impossible for Graham to carry it.  

Democratic operatives speculate Graham would not seek re-election in the redrawn district, and instead look toward an open-seat gubernatorial contest in 2018.  

Graham’s office declined to comment on her plans, saying too much uncertainty remains.  

“It’s still unclear how this ruling may change maps, but it doesn’t change my job or why I was elected to Congress,” Graham said in a statement to CQ Roll Call. “I’m focused on serving my constituents, representing our district, and bringing The North Florida Way to Washington.”  

With the 5th District running east to west on the northern border of the state, the southern portion of the 5th District would then become an issue in the 7th and 10th Districts. The southern end of the current 5th District juts up against those two seats, and includes a sizable Hispanic population that favors Democrats on the ballot.  

The 7th District, held by GOP Rep. John L. Mica, and the 10th District, held by GOP Rep. Daniel Webster, are seats Republicans have carried by mid-single digit margins in presidential years. But depending on how the districts are redrawn, one or both of the seats are likely to become more Democratic, potentially causing troubles for Mica and Webster’s re-elections.  

The legislature has a 100-day deadline  to draw a new map, which must be signed off on by a court. After it all shakes out, operatives from both parties expect Democrats to net at least one seat from the redistricting shuffle.  

“This was not about getting a better map for Democrats,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz told CQ Roll Call of the ruling last week. “This was about making sure at the end of the day voters can choose their members, not the other way around.”  

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