Rating Update: GOP Open Seat in Florida Remains Solid R for Now
April 11, 2018 · 3:11 PM EDT
You could be forgiven for overlooking the retirement of Rep. Dennis Ross today, given that the Florida Republican decided to announce his decision the same morning Speaker Paul Ryan announced his decision to not seek re-election.
Ross said he’d be returning to practicing law instead of seeking a fifth term. “I never viewed this amazing opportunity as a job or a career,” he said in a statement. “My home has been and will continue to be in Lakeland, Florida.”
While Democrats had been pining for Ryan’s seat before he announced his retirement, and had a well-funded candidate with a national following, it looked like Ross was going to win without much of a fight.
President Donald Trump carried the 15th District (which includes some Tampa suburbs and then stretches northwest toward Orlando) by 10 points, after Mitt Romney carried it by 5 points over President Barack Obama in 2012. Ross originally won the district 48-41 percent over Democrat Lori Edwards in 2010, filling the open seat Adam Putnam left when he ran for state agriculture commissioner. A Tea Party candidate received 11 percent of the vote that cycle. Despite failing to gain a majority in his initial race, Ross ran unopposed in 2012, and comfortably won his 2014 and 2016 races.
Even with an ambitious list of takeover targets, Democrats weren’t targeting Florida’s 15th District up to this point in the cycle. Tutoring center owner Andrew Learned had $23,000 in his campaign account on Dec. 31, while businessman Phil Hornback ($6,000) and business consultant Greg Pilkington ($25) were the only other Democratic candidates with money in their campaign accounts at the end of the year.
A fresh group of Democrats could take a look at the race now that it’s an open seat. Ross’s first opponent, Edwards, who is Polk County Supervisor of Elections, could run again. Former Rep. Alan Grayson told the Orlando Sentinel he was "looking at all possibilities." He did not represent much of the 15th District in his two short tenures in the House.*
Potential Republican candidates for the open seat include state Rep. Ross Spano (who is currently a long shot candidate for state attorney general) and state Sen. Dana Young (who is in a competitive re-election race).
In this volatile political environment that is shifting away from Republicans, particularly in the House, this race could become more competitive. But until a strong Democratic challenger emerges or it becomes clear Republicans won’t have a serious contender, we’re holding our Solid Republican rating for now.
*April 12, 1:45 p.m. Corrected to clarify the source of Grayson's interest in the race.