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Battleground set for South Florida Congress races

A blazing hot campaign will play out on Palm Beach County television screens as Republicans and Democrats fight over a congressional seat that either party could win in November.

Freshman Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy is seeking a second term representing northern Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties.

Six Republicans are seeking their party's nomination to challenge Murphy, who narrowly defeated tea party Republican U.S. Rep. Allen West in 2012.

The contest between Murphy and the winner of the Aug. 26 primary is drawing national attention, which guarantees a flood of advertising from the candidates and outside interests hoping to influence voters.

In Palm Beach County – and all the way up the Treasure Coast and down the Florida Keys — only two of the nine incumbent members of Congress are seen as potentially in jeopardy by the independent analysts from Cook Political Report, Rothenberg Political Report, Sabato's Crystal Ball.

That's largely because the district maps crafted by Republicans who control the Florida Legislature set up boundaries that produced fewer competitive districts and more districts that were solidly in either the Republican or Democratic column.

One result is two South Florida districts where voters have no choice at all. Miami-Dade Republican U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, whose district includes Southwest Broward, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami-Dade County Republican, were automatically re-elected after no candidate came forward by the May 2 deadline to get on the ballot.

Even though all the Democrats have opposition and Republicans have a turnout advantage in midterm elections between presidential contests, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, said her party would do well in the region.

"I would expect that in South Florida Democrats would continue to do well in congressional races," she said.

Besides the Murphy seat, the other major competitive race involves freshman U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, a Miami-Dade County Democrat, who will face the winner of a five-way Republican primary.

The independent, nonpartisan ratings see Wasserman Schultz as a safe bet for re-election and the conservative website Sunshine State News wrote she was headed toward November "with near insurmountable advantages."

Wasserman Schultz said she's not taking anything for granted, but sounds confident.

"My race? You never make predictions when it comes to your own election," she said. "I hope my constituents continue to think I'm doing a good job and I'll ask for their support."

aman@tribune.com

District 18

The district: northern Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties. 2012 registration: 38 percent Republican, 36 percent Democratic, 26 percent independent/no party/third party. Median age, 46. Average income, $76,803. Bachelor's degree or higher: 30 percent.

Candidates:

Carl J. Domino (R) – raised $31,840, spent $68,301, balance $387,672 (includes $425,000 he's loaned to his campaign).

Beverly Hires (R) – raised $770, spent $34,821, balance $1,941 (includes $36,000 she's loaned to her campaign).

Brian Lara (R) – raised $18,997, spent $10,763, balance $103,235 (includes $95,000 he's loaned to his campaign).

Patrick Murphy (D) incumbent – raised $674,369, spent $204,149, balance $2.2 million.

Alan Schlesinger (R) – raised $5,137, spent $29,395, balance $28,150 (includes $75,000 he's loaned to his campaign).

Calvin D. Turnquest (R) – raised $21,251, spent $16,734, balance $4,642 (campaign has debts of $33,500).

Nick Wukoson (R) – didn't raise enough money by March 31 to file a campaign report.

Notable: Murphy was elected to his first term in 2012, defeating tea party Republican U.S. Rep. Allen West. Domino, 70, just graduated from law school at Nova Southeastern University

Outlook: Rothenberg Political Report and Sabato's Crystal Ball report the 18th District "leans Democratic," but isn't safe for the Democrats. Cook Political Report lists it as a "toss up" that "either party has a good chance of winning."

District 20

The district: parts of Broward, Palm Beach, Hendry counties. 2012 registration: 13 percent Republican, 67 percent Democratic, 20 percent independent/no party/third party. Median age, 36.4. Average income, $47,949. Bachelor's degree or higher, 17 percent.

Candidates:

Jean L. Enright (D) – raised $550, spent $4,118, balance $16,487.

Jay Bonner (R) – raised $7,180, spent $299, balance $9,230.

Alcee L. Hastings (D) incumbent – raised $35,508, spent $61,734, balance $321,495.

Jameel McCline (D) – didn't become a candidate until late April, so didn't raise money by March 31 deadline.

Notable: Hastings is the longest-serving member of Congress from Broward and Palm Beach counties. McCline, who goes by the nickname "Big Time," is a former heavyweight boxing champion.

Outlook: Independent ratings call the 20th District solidly or safe Democratic.

District 21

The district: northwest Broward and southwest Palm Beach County. 2012 registration: 26 percent Republican, 47 percent Democratic, 27 percent independent/no party/third party. Median age, 44. Average income, $78,208. Bachelor's degree or higher, 35.5 percent.

Candidates:

Ted Deutch (D) incumbent – raised $103,171, spent $100,537, balance, $587,747.

Emmanuel G. Morel (D) – raised $730, spent $3,587, balance, $2,026 (includes $13,451 he's loaned to his campaign).

Notable: Deutch was first elected to Congress in special election to fill a vacancy left by the resignation of former U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler. The 21st District is the only Democratic-held seat in South Florida for which there is no Republican candidate in 2014.

Outlook: Independent ratings call the 21st District solidly or safe Democratic.

District 22

The district: coastal Broward and Palm Beach counties and Broward communities north of Interstate 595. 2012 registration: 32 percent Republican, 41 percent Democratic, 27 percent independent/no party/third party. Median age, 44.4. Average income, $79,414. Bachelor's degree or higher, 36.2 percent.

Candidates:

Lois Frankel (D) incumbent – raised $ 113,950, spent $67,255, balance $346,716.

Andrea Leigh McGee (R) – raised $7,353, spent $2,427, balance $5,372.

Paul Spain (R) – didn't become a candidate until mid-April, so didn't raise money by March 31 deadline.

David Wagie (R) – didn't raise enough money by March 31 to file a campaign report.

Notable: Party leaders have tapped Frankel to help Democratic candidates in other parts of the country win congressional elections, indicating they think she can safely devote her political energies elsewhere instead of worrying full-time about her own re-election.

Outlook: Independent ratings call the 22nd District solidly or safe Democratic.

The fine print

Sources: Interviews with and materials from candidates and their campaigns: finance reports filed with Federal Election Commission; data from Florida Division of Elections; outlook from Rothenberg Political Report, Cook Political Report, Sabato's Crystal Ball; U.S. Census Bureau; Congressional Biographical Directory, Sun Sentinel archives.

Note: Campaign finance information includes money raised from Jan. 31 – March 31, spending in the same three months, and the candidate's cash on hand as of March 31.

Key: R = Republican, D = Democrat, NPA = no party affiliation.

aman@tribune.com, 954-356-4550

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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