For Sarasota-area Democrats, hope springs eternal.
Tuesday night, Margaret Good won a decisive seven-point victory over Republican James Buchanan in the House District 72 special election.
Now Democrats are eyeing much bigger prey — Florida’s 16th Congressional District held by Vern Buchanan, who made millions owning car dealership before turning to politics in 2006, winning a hugely controversial victory over Democrat Christine Jennings.
Since then, Buchanan has never faced a serious threat.
Sarasota Republicans openly mocked the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee last spring when they added CD 16 to the list of seats that they were targeting for recruiting and potential investment.
“The Democrats have zero chance at winning this seat,” quipped Sarasota Republican Party Chairman Joe Gruters after that announcement was made. And while not sounding so bravado immediately after Good was declared the victor on Tuesday night, still vowed that he was “confident” that the GOP will win the seat back in November.
Democrats have found the man they believe can topple Buchanan in the fall in attorney David Shapiro, who in the last quarter of 2017 received more than 500 contributors totaling more than $250,000.
Shortly after Good’s victory Tuesday night, Shapiro’s campaign team fired off a memo to reporters (available on his campaign website) laying out the predicate on how they believe Buchanan is now very vulnerable.
However, it appeared that some of the data employed in the original memo to reporters was inaccurate.
The memo begins by asserting, HD 72 makes up 21.6 percent of the 16th Congressional District and is “a full 10-points more Republican by party registration” than CD 16 as a whole.
Where HD 72 saw a 12-point swing between 2016 and 2018, the memo asserts CD 16 will put Shapiro in “a strong position to win in November.”
According to a graph in Shapiro’s memo, HD 72 party registration is 50 percent Republican, 29 percent Democrat and 20 percent independent. Comparing it to the CD 16 political party breakdown, the memo claims HD 72 is a “full 10 points” more Republican.
Not exactly. A check of the closing book on party registration on HD 72 as of last month shows — courtesy of the Division of Elections website — that is in fact, 42 percent Republican, 33 percent Democratic, and 25 percent NPA. That breakdown is extremely close to the CD 16 demographics of 41 percent Republican, 32 percent Democrat and 27 percent independent (HD 72 makes up 21.6 percent of CD 16).
When contacted, Shapiro campaign manager Jason Ascher acknowledged the error and has subsequently corrected it on the website.
The highest-profile Democratic candidate on the ballot in 2016 and 2014 also fared much better in HD 72 than in CD 16.
In 2016, Donald Trump won HD 72 by 4.8 percent over Hillary Clinton but took CD 16 by 10.8 percent (Buchanan also defeated Democrat Jan Schneider by 19.6 percent).
In 2014, Charlie Crist won HD 72 by 1 percent over Rick Scott. Nevertheless, Scott took CD 16 by 6 percent.
So recent elections bear out the assumption that, statistically, CD 16 will be a harder road to hoe for Democrats than HD 72 was.
Not that it can’t (or won’t) be done in 2018.
The Sarasota GOP establishment still believes Buchanan’s hegemony in the district can’t be broken.
“I don’t think there’s any chance that the Democrats can beat him, just because he’s done such a great job,” says Sarasota Republican Committeeman Christian Ziegler, a former longtime aide to Buchanan. “When you look at his record, he’s right in line with the district, and if you look at his hustle, I don’t think know if there’s a congressman that works more aggressively and does more outreach to the community than Vern.”