Identifying and analyzing emerging trends in campaigns and elections.

Political Fun in the Sun: Murphy vs. Hasner

In House on August 29, 2013 at 10:13 am

The 18th Congressional District of Florida has, so far, lived up to its billing. Stretching through the central portion of the Sunshine State while hugging the Atlantic coast, CD-18 includes all or parts of St. Lucie, Martin, and Palm Beach Counties, and was drawn as a marginal political entity.

Last November, first-time candidate Patrick Murphy (D), a Jupiter attorney, upset nominal incumbent Allen West (R) by just over half a percentage point, or 1,904 votes of more than 330,000 cast ballots. Why categorize West as a “nominal incumbent”? Because redistricting drastically changed his 22nd District to the point where he chose to run in the new 18th, a seat that contained only about one-third of the constituency that originally elected him.

The 2012 eastern Florida political climate should have been sufficient for Rep. West to win, however, because Mitt Romney outpaced President Obama here by more than four percentage points, 51.7-47.6 percent. The closeness of the congressional race and Romney’s 18th CD performance gives the Republicans hope for a conversion in this next election under what should be a more GOP friendly mid-term turnout model.

Toward that end, the Republicans are apparently on the verge of getting the candidate who they believe can propel this challenger race into the top-tier. Though the numbers and political history suggest that the 2014 race will be close, the currently announced candidates have shown little, and Rep. Murphy is rated as the clear early favorite.

The presence of former state House Majority Leader Adam Hasner (R), however, may quickly change the campaign’s status. Believed to be close to declaring his candidacy, Hasner is the strongest possible GOP candidate.

Originally in the 2012 Senate race, Hasner dropped down into a congressional race after redistricting was complete. Deferring to then-Rep. West for the 18th, Hasner took his chances in the heavily Democratic 22nd CD, facing former West Palm Beach mayor Lois Frankel (D). The race went to Frankel on a 55-45 percent count, virtually the same margin that President Obama scored in the district.

But Hasner’s firepower comes in his ability to attract campaign resources. Even in a losing effort, for a race few thought any Republican could win, the former state House leader raised more than $3.37 million for his 2012 campaign, almost $3 million of that total coming from individuals. Since Hasner’s potential against Rep. Murphy will be viewed more favorably, his financial standing should be even greater for this proposed race. For his part, Murphy attracted more than $4.75 million for the 2012 campaign and already has more than $1 million banked for the coming race. Therefore, we can expect an eventual Murphy-Hasner contest to be among the most expensive campaigns in the country.

Assuming the Supreme Court’s Voting Rights Act decision, rendered this past June, does not lead to changes in the Florida congressional boundaries for 2014 we will likely see as many as four hotly contested campaigns in the state. But, the 18th will likely become the most competitive challenge of all.

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