With the contest for the Republican presidential nomination capturing all the political attention, South Florida members of Congress, along with actual or potential challengers, their staffs and donors, are quietly preparing for next year’s battles.
Most of the activity, so far, involves money.
More than $26,000 a day has poured into the campaigns of the six incumbents from Broward and Palm Beach counties so far this year, with some bolstering substantial war chests. Four challengers have collectively taken in more than $8,000 a day.
One thing that hasn’t emerged: a challenger to U.S. Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a Democrat serving his first term representing a Broward/Palm Beach county district, even though his 2022 victory was closer than many expected and Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis carried his district.
Overall, a review of campaign filings and interviews with party insiders and analysts paints a picture of stability for the six incumbents who represent all or parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties.
- Five of the six are seen as exceedingly safe bets for reelection. And the sixth, Moskowitz, is favored to win another term. All six are, so far at least, seen as so safe that neither of the national political organizations for Democratic and Republican congressional races are targeting contests in the two counties.
- Three incumbents – U.S. Reps. Lois Frankel, Brian Mast and Debbie Wasserman Schultz – had million-dollar war chests at the beginning of summer 2023 — more than a year before the state’s primaries and more than 15 months before the November 2024 general election.
- Frankel, who represents Palm Beach County, and Wasserman Schultz, who represents Broward, are well known and heavily favored. But the two Democrats each have two challengers who are out raising cash.
Part of what’s going on, said Sean Foreman, a political scientist at Barry University, is that the congressional districts in the two counties are crafted in a way that gives a big advantage to one of the parties. Gerrymandering by state lawmakers who crafted the district maps last year means none of the Broward and Palm Beach counties are especially competitive.
“We have the same districts as the last time around. We know what to expect,” Foreman said, adding the ultimate results are “very baked in. We know a Democrat’s going to win here and a Republican’s going to win there.”
Candidates, especially incumbents, are raising and spending money.
A formidable war chest, along with signs of fundraising prowess, can help ward off potential challengers or make some people less likely to finance opponents. If the political environment shifts, and the elections look tighter than expected, campaign money is available in the home stretch.
If they end up with easy glide paths to reelection, they can divert some of their own campaign money to colleagues in tighter races, with some of that already taking place.
Wasserman Schultz, for example, transferred $150,000 from her campaign to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the party political organization that helps other candidates.
Moskowitz is the only South Florida member of Congress in their first term. The first reelection campaign has often been the toughest; after one win it’s harder to dislodge an incumbent.
A former elected state representative and Parkland city commissioner, former appointed county commissioner and state emergency management chief, and son of the longtime late Democratic Party leader Mike Moskowitz, the congressman is well known.
He won the 23rd Congressional District last year with 51.6% of the vote to Republican Joe Budd’s 46.8%. Two no party affiliation/independent candidates receiving a combined 1.6%.
Budd won the Palm Beach County part of the district; Moskowitz won the more populous Broward territory.
The nonpartisan Inside Elections newsletter rates the 23rd District as “likely” Democratic. (The other five Broward and Palm Beach county districts are “solidly” for one of the parties.) And the partisan voting index from the nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates the district as D plus 5, which means it performed 5 points more Democratic than the nation during the past two presidential contests.
And the Moskowitz-held 23rd District isn’t on the Republican National Congressional Committee’s list of districts it’s looking to flip or the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s list of districts that warrant extra efforts to defend.
Late last year, Budd said he was considering another run, but his thinking has changed.
“I’m not likely running again,” Budd said. “The national party would have to recruit me to run — and come up with the money. I don’t think that’s something that would be in their plans.”
Budd said that support would be essential, but the 23rd District is too far down on the list of districts national Republicans see as a pickup opportunity. “I think this past (2022) election it was a missed opportunity,” he said. “Had they spent the money, we would have won in 2022.”
Foreman said it’s surprising that Moskowitz doesn’t have a challenger. He said it likely reflects the assessment Budd said he’s gotten from people at the national level. “Republicans are looking around deciding where to spend resources, and figure it’s better not to challenge moderate Democrats and go after more flippable seats.”
Tom Powers, chairman of the Broward Republican Party, sees an undercurrent of voter sentiment that could help a Republican unseat Moskowitz. “That’s not an unwinnable race,” Powers said. “I have not heard of anyone who’s ready to announce, but we have several people who have very strong interest.”
“People want to see this country move in a different direction. And we will have candidates,” Powers said. “Until those candidates are ready to announce I’m not going to get out in front of them. I am optimistic we will have a very strong presence, everything from commissioner up to being involved in the presidential race.”
Would-be challengers don’t have a lot of time even though the 2024 primaries seem as if they’re in the distant future.
“If someone’s going to be running for Congress, they’re gearing up their campaign now, or at least they should be,” Foreman said. “Someone who wants to start in January or later would be late. We’re at the point now where people need to decide if they’re going to jump in or not.”
Campaign disclosures filed in July with the Federal Election Commission show Moskowitz took in $310,335 during the first six months of the year, which averages more than $3,400 a day.
He spent $225,756 and had $167,203 in his campaign account on June 30.
The Moskowitz campaign still owes $225,700 in loans he made to his campaign for the 2022 primary campaign.
In 2022 he showed the ability to raise lots of campaign money when needed. Top Democrats have shown their support this year. Contributions include $4,000 from House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries and $14,000 from former Speaker Nancy Pelosi and committees affiliated with her.
One South Florida district is getting national attention. Democrats are targeting U.S. Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar, a Miami-Dade County Republican serving her second term. The Cook Political Report’s partisan voting index is even, with neither party having an advantage. Inside Elections rates it “likely” Republican.
One problem for the Democrats (like the challenge for Republicans in the Moskowitz-held district) is they don’t have a candidate against Salazar.
“It’s hard to see who that strong challenge will be to Representative Salazar, who is now the incumbent and has been very active in office. … She has her detractors, but she’s been putting forth possible solutions to problems, most of all with immigration.”
Democrats are also targeting U.S. Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, a Tampa Bay Republican in her first term. The Cook Political Report partisan voting index is R+6; Inside Elections rates it as “likely” Republican.
In an email, Justin Chermol, spokesperson for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, argued that Luna and Salazar were “more focused on catering to the far-right than delivering real results for everyday families.
“The DCCC is busy at work ensuring these MAGA extremists are held accountable for stonewalling progress and voted out next November.”
And Republicans are challenging U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, a Central Florida Democrat serving his fourth term. The Cook Political Report’s partisan voting index is D +8; Inside Elections rates it “likely” Democratic.
“Darren Soto has voted against funding the military and protecting parents’ rights and has embraced an anti-law enforcement agenda. Soto tows the extreme Democrat party line and Floridians are looking for a change,” Delanie Bomar, spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said via email.
One unknown factor is the impact that the top of the ticket — the presidential candidates — will have on other races. “A lot’s going to come down to who’s on the top of the ticket and the Trump factor, one way or another, particularly in Florida,” Foreman said.
In 2022, DeSantis, now running for the Republican presidential nomination, cruised to an overwhelming reelection and the Democratic gubernatorial campaign collapsed, congressional races were affected.
With solid Republican turnout and poor Democratic turnout, well-known Democratic incumbents didn’t run up the kind of margins they usually do.
Wasserman Schultz won reelection with 55% of the vote, but it was a lower percentage than she’s ever received before in Broward. She had averaged 63% in her previous elections in Broward, though the district was significantly reconfigured this year as part of the once-a-decade redistricting to adjust for population changes uncovered in the 2020 Census.
Frankel finished 20 percentage points ahead of her challenger in 2020. She won reelection last year, but finished just 10 percentage points ahead of her challenger in a district with boundaries somewhat changed because of redistricting.
Democratic turnout is generally better in presidential than midterm elections, and party leaders hope that’s the case next year.
The Broward County 25th District is currently represented by Wasserman Schultz of Weston, who is serving her 10th term and is the senior Democrat in the Florida congressional delegation. She holds a leadership role as a cochair of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee and is the top Democrat on the military construction and veterans affairs subcommittee.
The 25th District has a partisan voting index of D +9 from Cook Political Report and is rated “solid” Democratic by Inside Elections.
In the first six months of the year, reports filed with the Federal Election Commission show Wasserman Schultz raised $776,190, spent $497,633 (including the $150,000 to the DCCC) and had $1.06 million cash on hand on June 30.
Weston Commissioner Chris Eddy is seeking the Republican nomination to challenge Wasserman Schultz. He is a retired Air Force brigadier general and a retired FBI intelligence leader and has been an adjunct professor teaching national security, foreign policy and intelligence issues.
Eddy became a candidate in March. Through June 30, he raised $72,838, including $12,180 he contributed or loans to his campaign. He’s spent $27,122 and had $45,717 in cash.
Republican Carla Spalding, who has run for Congress several times, has filed paperwork to run again. Spalding raised $186,496 and spent $180,315 during the first six months of the year. She had a cash balance of $19,101 and her campaign committee owed $20,550 in outstanding obligations.
Frankel, a Democrat in her sixth term, represents the all-Palm Beach County 22nd District.
Frankel is a former mayor of West Palm Beach and previously was a member of the state House of Representatives where she served as Democratic leader.
The 22nd District has a partisan voting index of D+7 from Cook Political Report and is rated “solid” Democratic by Inside Elections.
Frankel raised $434,771 from January through June, spent $135,107 and had $945,371 cash on hand.
Republican challenger Andrew Gutmann’s said in a statement that “major demographic shifts and the Democratic Party’s radical shift to the left has made this race winnable for the first time in a very long time.”
Gutmann’s campaign describes him as an “anti-woke education activist, businessman, and author” and declared he’s the party’s frontrunner based on fundraising.
He raised $301,911 in the first six months of
the year, with more than one-third ($110,000
) in loans to his campaign. He spent $14,348
and had a cash balance of $287,563 on June 30.
Republican Daniel John Franzese, whose website describes him as a businessman who has worked in finance, is running again. He narrowly won the 2022 primary but lost to Frankel, 55% to 45%, in November.
Franzese reported raising $202,883 in the first six months of the year with more than half ($150,000) in loans to his campaign. He spent $124,808 and had a cash balance of $86,055 on June 30. He has a total of $1.3 million, in debt to himself mostly from his previous candidacy.
Deborah Adeimy who narrowly lost the 2022 primary to Franzese barely registers financially for the coming election.
She didn’t report raising any money this year, loaned her campaign $2,000, spent $1,947, and reported $497 in her campaign account on June 30. She reported total outstanding debt to herself of $13,440, mostly from last year’s campaign.
Moskowitz isn’t the only member of Congress who represents Broward or Palm Beach counties who doesn’t have a challenger raising money.
U.S. Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick is a Democrat who represents parts of both counties.
She raised $144,368, spent $40,401 and had $106,746 in cash on June 30. She also reported $3.85 million in outstanding loans to herself, mostly from a 2021 special congressional primary, which she won.
U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, a Republican who represents northern Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties, raised $661,811 from January through June, spent $727,308 and had $2.05 million cash on June 30.
U.S. Rep Frederica Wilson, a Democrat who represents south Broward and Miami-Dade counties, raised $87,798, spent $76,420 and had $574,987 cash on hand as of June 30. She has outstanding debt to herself of $15,250, from previous campaigns.
Anthony Man can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @browardpolitics and on Post.news/@browardpolitics.