If you are in Duval County and have a Republican state Representative — like House District 11’s Cord Byrd or HD 16’s Jason Fischer — you face a novel situation: a chance to vote for a Democrat in the general election.
Democratic candidates have uphill battles in both districts.
In HD 11, where Byrd faced a primary challenge, the incumbent has $54,000 on hand between hard lucre and committee cash. Democrat Nathcelly Rohrbaugh has just over $13,000.
For every 13 HD 11 residents, seven are Republican: 69,403 members of the GOP in the district, compared to 31,308 Democrats and 28,023 NPA voters.
The money race is even starker in Mandarin’s HD 16. Incumbent Fischer, a protege of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, has nearly $200,000 between his campaign and committee kitties. Democrat Ken Organes has just over $30,000 on hand.
HD 16 isn’t quite as red as HD 11, though it is decidedly GOP, with 55,612 Republicans compared to 35,750 Democrats and 27,788 NPA voters.
We caught up with both insurgent Democrats earlier this week, and each sees a path forward against entrenched incumbents who — in other campaign cycles — would have safe seats.
Rohrbaugh, whose district includes portions of coastal Duval and all of Nassau counties, has been actively courting those restive Republicans who supported Rep. Byrd’s grassroots primary opponent Joe Zimmerman.
Both men are from Fernandina Beach, Rohrbaugh related, and each has a shared antipathy against the controversial (and now gubernatorially suspended) beach blanket bummer legislation HB 631, which Byrd “championed.”
The bill blocked the public from going onto beaches in front of private homes, according to some readings, negating the principle of customary use. And, per Rohrbaugh, the bill that Byrd backed has caused activist outrage in the district.
The bill, coupled with Byrd’s backing of the Rayonier-friendly Wildlife Stewardship District drives the argument of Rohrbaugh’s campaign.
“People need to be made aware of how Cord Byrd has been a bad representative for our community,” Rohrbaugh said.
Zimmerman may or may not endorse Rohrbaugh in the general. Whatever happens, the Democrat is interested in continuing to take that populist message forward.
Rohrbaugh is conscious of running against “a well-oiled, well-funded corporate lobbying machine” when running against Byrd.
“The vast majority of his contributions came from corporations, corporate PACs, lobbying groups, and they all know that he is going to be serving their interests,” Rohrbaugh said. “If we don’t figure out a way to get money out of politics, we’re going to be facing this situation over and over.”
Both Rohrbaugh and Byrd will be at the “Beaches Watch” forum Wednesday evening; as of yet, there are no actual debates slated between the pair.
In HD 16, retired CSX lifer Organes is “feeling very confident” as the race progresses, noting “cross-party support … from prominent Republicans” in his corner.
“The reaction I get so many times is ‘thank God you’re here,'” Organes related. “‘We thought we were out here in a desert, a Republican desert.'”
Organes tells them the district is not a Republican desert at all, noting that “Democrats are getting so engaged” as the 2018 political season moves forward.
“It’s a Republican district, but those things change, and I intend to change it,” Organes said, citing gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum as his “hero.”
“Because he did it. He ran against the machine and won,” Organes said.
Organes and Fischer, like Byrd and Rohrbaugh, have yet to slate a formal debate.
“We were supposed to have a joint interview at the Times-Union, and he did not attend,” Organes said.
Undoubtedly, the poll-driven and cash-rich Fischer operation will continue to demur, given the advantages of incumbency, Mayor Curry’s support, and other tangible and intangible factors.