Has Gov. Ron DeSantis’ congressional map effectively ended one of the hottest races in Florida? A reconfiguration of Tampa Bay — one that closely resembles a plan tossed out by courts in 2015 — holds immediate political consequences.
DeSantis’ Office submitted a map (P 0109) on Wednesday as Republican leaders in the Legislature signaled they would support the plan. The proposal is one that would alter the makeup of Tampa Bay and likely leave it with one Democratic Congressman instead of two.
Right now, U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor and Charlie Crist, both Democrats, represent districts contained respectively within Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. But the DeSantis map combines portions of both seats to include downtown St. Petersburg and downtown Tampa into a single district.
As proposed, Florida’s 14th Congressional District within Pinellas County would cover east of U.S. 19 and everything south or east of Interstate 275, while also bringing in Feather Sound north of the interstate. On the Hillsborough County side, it would cover all westerly communities, with U.S. 41 serving as the east border in the south and the Suncoast Parkway doing the same in the north. As for the central portion of the county, everywhere south of Gunn Highway/Busch Boulevard falls in the district.
The result is a seat where 58.8% of voters voted for Democrat Joe Biden in the 2020 Presidential Election and just 39.72% picked Republican Donald Trump, according to an analysis by MCI Maps. But that’s the only one of four congressional districts in the metropolitan area where the bulk of voters went for the Democrat.
Most likely, Castor will end up representing the district. The eight-term incumbent and former Hillsborough County Commissioner actually fares better under this map than one originally approved by the Legislature (H 8019). In that plan, she landed in a seat where 54.46% of voters went to Biden and 43.99% voted for Trump. The new seat insulates her even further from a challenge from any of several Republicans filed against her.
Crist, meanwhile, is running against DeSantis for Governor instead of seeking re-election. But instead of leaving behind one of the hottest battlegrounds in the state, Democrats aiming to defend the seat must now decide whether to even run.
The only other Pinellas County seat would be Florida’s 13th Congressional District under the new map.
One important question, of course, is where U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis will run. Since CD 13 would now reach all the way to the Pinellas-Pasco county line, that would include the current home of the Palm Harbor Republican, as well as the Tarpon Springs community that for years served as home base to the Congressman’s father, retired U.S. Rep. Mike Bilirakis. But officials in his House Office say he will run in Florida’s 12th Congressional District, which includes his current Pasco County constituency. That means next year, there will be no Bilirakis representing north Pinellas for the first time in decades.
What then? CD 13 looks less like a battleground than it did in the old map or under the Legislature’s vetoed plan. MCI Maps shows 52.74% of voters in the jurisdiction voted for Trump and 45.98% went to Biden. By comparison, 51.36% of voters in CD 13 under its current makeup picked Biden and 47.27% voted Trump. That means it has gone from a Biden +4 seat to an almost Trump +7 district.
For Democrats Ben Diamond, Eric Lynn and Michele Rayner, that’s a huge change in fortune.
For Diamond and Rayner, state Representatives whose districts lie completely in the existing CD 13 lines, it means they lose much of their current constituency from the congressional voting pool. An official close to one of the campaigns said many candidates are anxious to see if courts quickly throw out the map, noting in 2015 courts tossed a map with a Bay-crossing district and allowed CD 13 to become a battleground in the first place. But it took three years for courts to toss the map last cycle, and the map could stand for a decade.
But the map is good news for Republicans Kevin Hayslett, Anna Paulina Luna and Amanda Makki, who are vying to flip Crist’s seat from blue to red.
Over in Hillsborough, a westward shift for Castor’s seat means significant changes in two surrounding districts. There’s already significant buzz in Southwest Florida about which incumbent may run in Florida’s 16th Congressional District as proposed. While that territory includes southeast Hillsborough, it remains anchored by Manatee County.
There are also changes in the other Hillsborough seat, generally considered the new open seat awarded to Florida thanks to the 2020 Census.
Numbered as Florida’s 15th Congressional District, the DeSantis map draws the seat to include northeast Hillsborough County north of State Road 60 in Brandon and Valrico, north of Bush Boulevard/Gunn Highway in New Tampa and east of the Suncoast Expressway. It also bleeds into south Pasco County in the Wesley Chapel area and east into Polk County to grab a big part of Lakeland.
That raises the question of whether U.S. Rep. Scott Franklin, a Republican and former Lakeland City Councilman, will run for that seat, or in the proposed Florida’s 18th Congressional District, which covers the rest of Lakeland and spans south all the way to Collier and Hendry counties.
The seat is one of the more closely divided by party on DeSantis’ map. About 50.86% of voters went to Trump and 47.74% to Biden. By comparison, neither presidential candidate drew 50% in the district under the Legislature’s proposed lines.
But notably, there’s already a battle going on as to who will represent that seat, with nine candidates besides Franklin filed there. Republican candidates in the mix include retired U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross and state Rep. Jackie Toledo, and Franklin is a freshman Representative who represents just a portion of the district now.