Ever since Longboat Key Republican Vern Buchanan won his seat in Congress by a scant 369 votes, after a nationally watched recount that failed to change results more than a decade ago, Democrats have thirsted for payback. Yet, the seven-term incumbent has fended off challenges each cycle.
Democrats believe they have found in Margaret Good the candidate who can flip Florida’s 16th Congressional District blue. She has a story custom-made for this race, gaining some national stardom after beating Buchanan’s son, James, in a special election in 2018.
Good announced last summer she would take a stab at the elder Buchanan, forgoing another run for her state House seat.
“I’m not afraid of a tough fight,” she said, “especially when it’s about doing what’s right for this community.”
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recruited her into the list and has put the Sarasota Democrat in its “Red To Blue” program.
But the Buchanan team has exuded confidence in the build-up to the election. The long-time incumbent has been targeted before, most recently in 2018 when he ran up a 10-percentage-point margin of victory over David Shapiro in a year generally favorable to Democrats.
“I will continue to fight for the issues this district cares about,” Buchanan said then.
In the two years since, he has focused on passing bipartisan legislation as a member of the minority caucus while leveraging his seat on the powerful House Ways And Means Committee.
Still, the race has earned notice, though prognosticators still aren’t overly excited about it compared to other battlegrounds in the country.
Cook Political Report has rated five House races in Florida and includes CD 16, but lists the seat as Likely Republican. Sabato’s Crystal Ball, through the University of Virginia Center for Politics, pegs the race in the same column. The Tampa Bay Times still lists Buchanan as vulnerable, but recently downgraded the race, now saying Buchanan appears safer than Miami Democrat Donna Shalala. None of that’s likely to change until polling suggests otherwise.
But Democrats feel this year could be different in the Sarasota-Bradenton area. The party had a decent primary night last Tuesday, with Democrat Tom Edwards beating incumbent School Board member Eric Robinson.
And with the presidential election driving up Democratic voter enthusiasm this year, there’s hope this could be the moment for local Democrats.
That said, it’s important to note that Donald Trump won CD 16 four years ago by 11 percentage points, and Buchanan outperformed Trump, beating Democrat Jan Schneider by nearly 20 percentage points that year.
Additionally, Good’s campaign has suffered a series of missteps in its run-up to the election, notably when a state political committee wrongly spent money boosting her candidacy to fund a COVID-19 tele-town hall.
And Good’s legislative record provides a mixed bag heading into a General Election in a battleground district. On the heels of her Special Election win and her subsequent reelection in 2018, Good as a redshirt freshman was named a House Deputy Democratic Leader. But local Republicans salivated at that as it meant she would adopt liberal positions in the House.
She also cast some difficult to defend votes in general. She has recently faced criticism for changing a vote after passage and becoming the only legislator in the House to vote against a ban on child-like sex dolls. That’s the type of vote that will provide fodder for advertising and mailers in the media-rich Congressional district.
But she’s also rallied support from a number of groups where Buchanan doesn’t enjoy great standing. She’s been endorsed by every major pro-choice and progressive women’s rights group on the national level. Just last week, she announced an endorsement by feminist icon Gloria Steinem.
Expect that list of support to be contrasted against Buchanan’s voting record. He received a 3% grade on Planned Parenthood’s legislative report card this year. Over his career, he voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Good has already spotlighted Buchanan’s opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment.
Buchanan, for his part, continues to focus on many of the broad-based groups who have endorsed his reelection, stressing a record of bipartisanship. He’s co-chair of the Florida Congressional Delegation and close friends with U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, his Democratic counterpart there.
This year, he became the first House member to be honored for a second time as the Humane Society Legislator of the Year. He was opposed to offshore oil-drilling off Florida’s coast even before the Deepwater Horizon disaster and has fought the Trump administration’s efforts to open more waters to oil exploration, a vital issue to his coastal constituency. But he can also boast plenty of relationships with the administration, and served as a liaison with the House and Trump-negotiated United States-Mexico-Cana Agreement, a replacement for NAFTA.
In terms of fundraising, Good has been able to keep pace with Buchanan for the most part, but hasn’t caught up with the incumbent, who in addition to holding onto funding from past cycles has also put much of his own money on the line.
Through the end of July, Buchanan had $1,670,142 in cash on hand, a total that includes $500,000 in loans by the candidate. Comparatively, Good had $1,041,373, all through outside donations.
As a statehouse candidate, Good built a reputation as a powerhouse fundraiser. The $1,787,968 she’s raised since filing for federal office shows a continued competence in that regard. But it’s still considerably short of the $2,388,779 in contributions collected by the long-time incumbent.