Whether Margaret Good runs for state House or Congress, Sarasota developer Hugh Culverhouse plans to support her.
But does he have any insight what the Sarasota Democrat will do?
“Watch Monday,” he said.
Those two words remain among the tantalizing promise of a top-tier race in the 2020 election cycle. And sources close to Good say, in fact, she’s likely to share big news.
Speculation runs increasingly rampant that Good will challenge U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, a Sarasota Republican, in Florida’s 16th Congressional District.
In fact, she’s spoken with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee about a potential run.
And someone already registered the website name “MargaretGoodforCongress.com,” whether for this election cycle or for the future.
Good has been unavailable for comment.
But the mere prospect of Sarasota-Bradenton’s brightest Democratic star waging battle with the area’s most prominent Republican left politicos buzzing.
And at least for the moment, leaders on both sides of the political aisle seem to be saying the same thing:
Run, Margaret. Run.
The Buchanan Slayer?
Democrats in the area openly salivate at the idea of a Good candidacy.
The attorney roared into the Sarasota political scene with moxie in late 2017, filing for a special election after Republican state Rep. Alex Miller’s resignation.
She ultimately won the seat, flipping it Democratic and portending a national blue wave.
And who did she beat? James Buchanan, the son of the longtime Congressman.
The win stunned much of the region’s political establishment, who believed the Buchanan name to be sterling.
The feat seemed all the more impressive for the fact registered Republicans outnumbered Democrats in Florida House District 72 by about 13,000. President Donald Trump won the district over Democratic rival Hillary Clinton by more than 4 points in 2016. Yet Good beat James Buchanan by about 7 percent.
“No one thought she could win in the special election and she flipped the longtime Republican district,” said JoAnne DeVries, Sarasota Democratic Party chair.
At book closing for the 2018 general election, Republicans still had a registration lead of 11,000. Nevertheless, Good won reelection over former state Rep. Ray Pilon, albeit by less than 1,200 votes.
But winning a Trump district twice in 2018 has local Democrats dreaming big about her future.
DeVries said she now hopes Good runs for the Congressional seat.
“She would be an incredible candidate if she does,” DeVries said. “She’s been such a fighter for us in the state House … on the environment, education and health care. Being in Congress would give her a larger platform to fight for the change we really need.”
Kevin Griffith, Democratic state committeeman for Sarasota County, also sees an opportunity for Good to take Buchanan out.
“A candidate of her caliber could get the Democrats over the top,” he said. “The party registration numbers are actually more favorable for Dems in CD 16 than HD 72, and Rep. Good overperformed mightily in HD 72.”
She also proved to be a prolific fundraiser, pulling more than $1 million into a state House contest within a single calendar year.
And at the national level, the DCCC has long viewed Buchanan as vulnerable. The organization listed Buchanan on its “2020 Republican Retirement Watch.” The Sarasota Republican has not been announced among targeted districts as of this date.
Buchanan came into office in 2006 after a razor-thin 369-vote victory over banker Christine Jennings. Since then, the Democrats have hungered for a fresh shot at his seat.
Then again, they’ve never taken it away. That leaves Republicans with their own message for Good.
‘Vern is Unbeatable’
Some Sarasota Republican leaders can barely contain their giddiness at the prospect of Good challenging Buchanan.
“Margaret Good will roll out exactly like every other challenger that has faced Vern Buchanan,” predicts Christian Ziegler, GOP state committeeman for Sarasota County.
“Good will enter with all-time high hopes and dreams due to the DCCC promising unlimited resources and the media hyping up her chances,” he added.
“Then around midsummer, those hopes will begin to crash, and dreams will fade once the DCCC admits Vern is unbeatable and begins to cancel their ad buys and leaves her on her own to lose by 10-plus points.”
Good certainly would not be the first Democrat to sense vulnerability in Buchanan — only to see hopes dashed. Just look at Jennings. Former state Rep. Keith Fitzgerald. NFL Hall of Fame Henry Lawrence. And, most recently, attorney David Shapiro.
But a multimillion-dollar race and a controversy about a yacht purchase later, Buchanan still sailed to a 10-point victory in November.
State Sen. Joe Gruters, a Republican who serves with Good in Sarasota’s legislative delegation, understands what Democrats see in her. But he doesn’t give her great odds against Buchanan.
“My guess is she’s getting calls from the DCCC and from people in D.C. who want a candidate like her,” Gruters said. “She’s proven she can raise money statewide, and that makes her an attractive choice. However, she will fall short running against Vern.”
Buchanan boasts a proven record of winning support in the region for more than a decade, he explains.
“His policies reflect the district, and he has proven himself to be a good campaigner,” Gruters said. “He deserves to be reelected as a result of his leadership and ability to get things done in a difficult environment.”
Notably, Buchanan for several years served as co-chair of Florida’s Congressional Delegation.
And by the way, the Florida Republican Party has a lot of stake in Sarasota. The community served as state headquarters for Trump through most of 2016, with Gruters as state co-chair of the campaign.
And now, Gruters serves as state chair of the party, Ziegler as co-chair.
About 49,000 more Republicans than Democrats are registered in the Congressional district.
Republicans locally show little fear about Buchanan’s odds at winning reelection in 2020.
What makes some hunger for Good’s entry into the race, however, comes down-ballot.
Consequences in HD 72
Good jumping into the Congressional contest requires her exit from her state House race. State law won’t allow her to seek reelection in the Legislature while running for the federal office.
Ziegler, for his part, figures Good’s close call against Pilon in November may fuel her departure from the House. Both Republicans running right now, Donna Barcomb and Fiona McFarland, already proved themselves to be solid fundraisers.
“That has spooked Margaret Good, and when faced with danger, it’s clear her reaction is to run,” Ziegler said.
“But I suspect that when she takes a moment to evaluate her routes, she’ll realize that she has a choice between shark-infested or crocodile-infested waters. She’s in a tough spot.”
Not so, say Democrats.
Notably, Good had to take a break from fundraising during the Legislative Session and since focused on meeting with constituents. But she raised so much before the 2019 Legislative Session that she remains well-positioned for reelection that’s still more than a year away.
“The Republicans underestimate Rep. Good at their peril,” Griffith said.
And what of a world without Good running in HD 72? Democrats thought they had a shot at winning HD 72 in 2016 with Ed James III — but he lost badly (albeit after a nasty scandal).
Is Good the only candidate with the secret to victory?
Ziegler doesn’t think the Democrats have anyone waiting in the wings that can jump in now to beat McFarland or Barcomb.
“They lack a credible farm team and will be left fielding a last-minute token candidate to join the Democrat Lemming March of 2020,” he predicts.
But while Democrats aren’t exactly dangling a list of prospects, they think Good’s successes in 2018 will make recruitment easy.
“I have no doubt that if [Good] decides to run we will find a qualified stellar candidate in District 72,” DeVries said.
And as Good flirts with higher office, Griffith said his phone has started ringing with hopeful candidates.
“As speculation grows, I have fielded several calls from people interested should Rep. Good choose to run for Congress,” he said.
“The number of calls is a testament to Rep. Good and the work that the Democrats have done in District 72. Statewide and locally, Democrats believe District 72 is Democratic turf.”