If you see Florida CD 15 starting to turn in favor of Democrat Kristen Carlson as election results pour in on Nov. 6, better get out your rain gear because the blue wave could be coming.
Carlson is the underdog against Republican Ross Spano, but three major national outlets — FiveThirtyEight.com, the Sabato Crystal Ball, and the Cook Political Report — continue to agree that the race is close. They all have it leaning Spano’s way, but not convincingly. For instance, FiveThirtyEight has Spano ahead 51.2 to Carlson’s 48.8 percent.
That’s consistent with a poll in early October that showed Spano with a 3-point lead.
It should be noted that conservative Club For Growth Action poll earlier this month gave Spano a 7-point lead.
This, mind you, is the seat held by the retiring Dennis Ross and it has been as safely Republican as most any you could find. He won re-election 2016 with 57 percent of the vote in this district that covers parts of conservative East Hillsborough, Polk and Lake counties.
Although the boundaries of Florida CD 15 have changed a few times over the years, the result has not. This seat has been in Republican hands since 1995, and the fact it is even competitive is a bit of an eyebrow-raiser.
So, what changed?
A lot of things, starting with Lakeland — Polk’s largest city.
Lakeland’s demographics and attitudes aren’t as rock-ribbed conservative as they used to be. It has a growing LGBT community and Polk Pride celebration to go with an eclectic downtown and thriving arts scene.
And while conservative firebrand Sheriff Grady Judd remains as popular as ever, it’s worth noting that he feuded with Spano during the primary campaign over what Judd said was a misleading mailer that suggested he was endorsing Spano.
Spano is well known in eastern Hillsborough but less so in Polk, and that’s an advantage to Carlson whose roots run deep there.
She was the chief counsel of the Florida Department of Transportation in Bartow, was general counsel for Florida Department of Citrus, was a prosecutor in Pasco County, and has served on the boards of Boys and Girls Clubs of Lakeland and the Polk Museum of Art.
She also has the backing of Emily’s List, which has been promoting women candidates throughout the country for high-profile offices. That brought in needed money and helped put Republicans in the unusual position of having to battle hard for a seat they have been able to take for granted in the past.
Democrats have targeted this as a seat they believe they can flip as part of an overall strategy to regain control of the U.S. House, and Carlson is running hard. Her TV ads are beginning to show up with increasing frequency.
Will it be enough?
That’s hard to say.
But Florida CD 15 is close, and that might speak volumes for could lie ahead on Nov. 6.