Seats Up for Grabs
A move away from partisan politics is stroking heated congressional battles and spelling trouble for incumbents across Florida. Here's a roundup.
Vern Buchanan [R]
Christine Jennings [D]
Incumbent: Rep. Vern Buchanan (R)
District: De Soto, Hardee, Sarasota and parts of Charlotte and Manatee counties
Background: Christine Jennings is seeking a rematch in Florida’s 13th District, where she lost to Buchanan by 369 votes in 2006. The ensuing dust-up over 18,000 undervotes in that close race resulted in a congressional investigation of the election and prompted Gov. Charlie Crist to overhaul the state’s
voting equipment, tossing its touch-screen voting machines in favor of optical scanners. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has designated the race as one of its top “Red-to-Blue” targets in 2008. It will undoubtedly be among the most expensive and most watched House races in the nation.
Money shouldn’t be an issue for either candidate. Both are millionaires with a solid base of support. Jennings, who founded a bank in Sarasota and is now retired, has raised money at a faster pace so far than the last time around, notes campaign manager Lonny Paris. Buchanan, the fourth-richest lawmaker on Capitol Hill and third-richest House member, owns car dealerships as well as interests in other businesses. He had the eighth-highest fund-raising total of any congressional candidate at $1.9 million at the end of 2007.
|A bit of discouraging news for Jennings: A poll released in March by the National Republican Congressional Committee has Buchanan beating Jennings 53% to 37%.|
Jennings differs with that assessment. “I would say that my opponent is trying to pretend that he’s a moderate. He has voted almost 92% of the time with this administration.” Jennings, who plans to talk about the economy, healthcare, the war in Iraq and environmental issues, also argues that she’d be a more powerful voice for the district, since Democrats are in the majority. “That is something that everyone needs to think about — which is who can be the most effective, who can get things done.”
But Jan Schneider’s entry into the race could complicate Jennings’ plans. The Sarasota lawyer, who has run for the seat three times previously as a Democrat, is running as an independent this time because of her concerns about the war in Iraq and “preserving the endangered middle class.” Don Baldauf, a registered Republican from Bradenton who owns a security company, has also filed to run as an independent candidate.