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— The Editors
KEY POINTS FROM THIS ARTICLE
— Last month, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) vetoed redistricting plans that his Republican legislature produced. In a special session last week, legislators deferred to DeSantis and passed his preferred plan.
— Under the DeSantis plan, Republicans are likely to emerge with a 20-8 edge in Florida’s delegation, up from their current 16-11 advantage.
— We don’t see any of the districts on the new Florida plan as especially competitive, although candidate quality may matter in some districts.
When we last checked in on the redistricting process in the Sunshine State, the heavily Republican legislature had just sent Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) a pair of maps to sign — if courts struck down one of the plans, the other was intended as a backup. With 28 districts overall, both plans featured a dozen Joe Biden-won districts. DeSantis vetoed the plans, as he signaled that he preferred a more aggressive GOP gerrymander.
Shortly after his veto, DeSantis called the legislature into a special session to (re-)address redistricting, among a few other subjects. Although it resulted in Black legislators staging a sit-in, legislative Republicans were quick to pass the governor’s proposed congressional map last week.
As Democratic state elections analyst Matthew Isbell shows in Map 1, the DeSantis plan features 20 districts that would have supported Donald Trump in 2020, while only 8 would have backed Joe Biden.
Map 1: New Florida congressional districts
While Democrats seem to be holding out some hope that courts will intervene — and Florida does have a voter-approved “Fair Districts” constitutional amendment that prompted changes to a GOP-drawn map last decade — the Florida state Supreme Court is now one of the most conservative state-level high courts in the country. So it remains to be seen if that court, or another based on racial redistricting concerns, will intervene against this map.
For now, we’re assuming this map remains in place for at least 2022, so let’s take a trip around the state to assess its implications.
Compared to the drafts that DeSantis vetoed last month (and the current plan), one of the most obvious differences is in North Florida: There is no longer a Democratic-leaning district in the region. Rep. Al Lawson (D, FL-5) currently represents a district that begins in the Tallahassee area, includes several rural counties, and ends in some minority-heavy precincts of Jacksonville. Lawson’s district was established for the 2016 cycle, and it was intended to replace a serpentine seat that ran from Jacksonville down to Orlando. Map 2 shows the region.
Map 2: Changes in North Florida
DeSantis’s argument is that the current FL-5 is a racial gerrymander: because Black voters make up less than a majority of the district’s residents (as of 2020, it has a 46% Black voting age population) there is no need to draw a district that links together disparate minority populations. From a practical standpoint, this interpretation means that the state’s Black community will likely have at least 1 less of their own in Congress: assuming the DeSantis plan stands, Lawson (who is Black) wouldn’t have any promising options.
Though Lawson has not made his 2022 plans official yet, he’s said that if he seeks reelection, he will run in the Tallahassee-area FL-2 (before his time in Congress, he represented that area in the legislature for close to 3 decades). The new FL-2 is similar to the version that was thrown out for 2016. Though Tallahassee’s Leon County — which usually gives Democrats over 60% of the vote — makes up about 40% of the district, FL-2 takes in all or parts of 15 other counties that are much friendlier to Republicans.
In 2012, Lawson challenged then-Rep. Steve Southerland (R) in a similar district, but lost 53%-47%. Then, in 2014, Gwen Graham, the daughter of former Governor and Senator Bob Graham, ousted Southerland in one of the cycle’s closest contents — it was 1 of only 3 seats that Democrats flipped in that Republican wave year.
Still, compared to the pre-2016 version of FL-2, the new district is a few notches redder. Because of the population growth in FL-1, a Pensacola-based seat that gives Republicans large majorities, the 2nd has had to expand westward to take in more Republicans. If the 2014 election had been held under the lines of the new FL-2, Graham very well may have lost.
So despite Lawson’s history in the area, he would have a hard time against current Rep. Neal Dunn (R, FL-2) in a seat that gave Trump a 55%-44% vote.
One of the plans that the legislature originally passed included a Democratic-leaning seat that was entirely within Duval County (Jacksonville). As it became clear that the governor found FL-5’s Tallahassee-to-Jacksonville configuration unacceptable, the Jacksonville-only seat was meant to replace Lawson’s seat as a North Florida district that could be amenable to a Black Democrat. But the DeSantimander instead splits Jacksonville between 2 Trump-won districts.
Within Duval County, the St. Johns River is roughly the dividing line between the new 4th and 5th districts. While much of the city’s Black community ended up in the new FL-4, the district has a white majority and would have given Trump close to a 7-point margin in 2020. The Duval County portion of the new FL-4 actually makes up two-thirds of the district and would have gone to Biden by a 56%-42% margin. The problem for Democrats is that the rest of FL-4 comes from deep red Clay and Nassau counties, which, together, gave Trump close to 70%.
The new FL-5, which has affluent parts of Jacksonville proper (and a stronger white majority) is even firmer for the GOP than FL-4.
Between Tallahassee and Jacksonville, first-term Rep. Kat Cammack (R, FL-3) shifts west to gain several rural counties. Although her district should be safe under most circumstances, FL-3 is not the reddest seat on the map, as it contains all of Alachua County (home to the University of Florida), which enables statewide Democrats to sometimes get within single digits in the district. The adjacent FL-6 takes in the southern fringes of North Florida, along with some red-trending coastal counties, and seems a safe seat for Republican Mike Waltz, who replaced DeSantis in the House.
The Orlando area
Last year, during our multi-part nationwide redistricting survey, we pointed out that Democrats seemed likely to lose 1 of their 3 Orlando area seats — on the DeSantis map, this would almost certainly be the case. Map 3 looks at the changes in the broader Central Florida region.
Map 3: Changes in Central Florida
FL-7 keeps all of Seminole County, a suburban Trump-to-Biden county, but pulls completely out of Orange County (Orlando). Now, FL-7 picks up the better part of Volusia County, a large coastal county that has continued to redden since it flipped from Barack Obama to Mitt Romney in 2012. Though the initial plans from the state Senate kept FL-7 mostly as-is, by March, the entire legislature settled on moving Volusia County into FL-7.
In any case, the new FL-7 would have given Trump 52% in 2020, up from the 44% he took in the outgoing seat. With the future of her district uncertain, Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D, FL-7) announced her retirement shortly before Christmas. Although Murphy, who is 43 and has had an impressive trajectory in the House, could well come back as a future statewide candidate, we are starting her district off as Likely Republican for 2022.
FL-10, the most Democratic seat in the I-4 Corridor, is currently situated in western Orange County, but shifts eastward to absorb virtually all of the old FL-7’s precincts in the county. As a result, only about half of the current FL-10’s residents made it into the new version, although it retains most — but not all — of Orlando’s Black-majority precincts. With Rep. Val Demings (D, FL-10) running for Senate, the district should elect whichever candidate comes out of the (potentially busy) Democratic primary.
Rep. Darren Soto (D, FL-9) is among the Democrats who came out of this plan with a stronger hand. The visual center of his district is Hispanic-majority Osceola County, but he trades almost all of his light red holdings in Polk County for a greater slice of Orlando proper. In his current district, which favored Biden by a single-digit 53%-46% margin, Soto could have been vulnerable this cycle, but the new FL-9, which gave Biden 58%, should be less attractive to Republicans.
With FL-10 shifting eastward, the safely Republican FL-11 now moves into Orange County to take about 330,000 residents from the old FL-10. While its piece of Orange County leans Democratic, it should be canceled out by Lake and Sumter counties. Sumter County is home to The Villages, a fast-growing retirement community — the senior citizens there have an increasing pull in Republican primaries.
Republican Rep. Bill Posey’s FL-8 sits just east of the Orlando area and sees almost no change. Containing all of Brevard County, FL-8 will remain the Space Coast district, and is secure for Republicans.
Between Orlando and Tampa, Polk County sits in the center of the I-4 Corridor, and seemed set to get its own district this decade. With 725,000 residents, the county is only slightly short of Florida’s ideal district population (about 769,000). In fact, both plans that DeSantis vetoed featured districts that centered on the county. But under the governor’s plan, Polk County is split 4 ways, up from its current 3-way split — in his testimony to the legislature last week, Alex Kelly, DeSantis’s mapper, maintained that carving up Polk enabled him to avoid splitting counties elsewhere on the map.
Polk County should still be in a position to dominate the new FL-18, although the district seems less-than ideal from a communities of interest standpoint: the rest of FL-18’s population comes from a handful of rural, sugar-producing counties near Lake Okeechobee. If then-Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who is from Polk County, had won the GOP primary against DeSantis in 2018, his home county may have gotten a better deal in the remap.
As with Orlando, Democrats seemed likely to lose a seat in the Tampa Bay area. Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor’s FL-14 gets a bit more secure while FL-13, the seat that Rep. Charlie Crist (D) is leaving open as he runs for governor, becomes several points redder. As it did before the 2016 remap, FL-14, which is mostly a Hillsborough County seat, reaches back across the bay to grab many of the Black-majority precincts in Pinellas County. The 13th remains a Pinellas County seat, but the minority-heavy precincts that it loses are replaced with heavily white Dunedin and Palm Harbor precincts. The new FL-13 has a mild but consistent red lean, and we are starting it off as Likely Republican.
Though it is a Republican-held seat, the redrawn FL-15 is actually a bit friendlier to Democrats than the new FL-13. The lion’s share of the new 15th District comes from the suburban pockets of northern Hillsborough County. Of the state’s 28 districts, FL-15 has been the bellwether district over the last few cycles: Sen. Rick Scott (R) and Gov. DeSantis would have very narrowly carried it in 2018, while in 2020, Trump’s 3-point margin there matched his statewide showing almost exactly. As Rep. Scott Franklin (R, FL-15) lives in Polk County, and seems likelier to run in the new FL-18, the new FL-15 should see an open-seat race. Though recruitment here will certainly matter, we’re calling it Likely Republican for now.
North of Tampa, Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R, FL-12) gets a more Republican district: while his home in Pinellas County has been drawn out of the district, the bulk of the new 12th comes from Pasco County, which he has represented since he was first elected to the House, in 2006. The new additions to FL-12, Citrus and Hernando counties, have zoomed rightward in the Trump era.
Rep. Vern Buchanan (R, FL-16), who was also first elected in 2006, retains a district that includes the southern portions of the Tampa area. Though Democrats have tried to target Buchanan in recent cycles, he was reelected with about 55% of the vote in both 2018 and 2020, and we expect him to have an easier time in 2022.
Compared to the outgoing congressional map, South Florida’s changes lacked much drama. As Map 4 shows, aside from some renumbering that political enthusiasts (and Florida voters) will have to adjust for, many of the actual district shapes on the DeSantimander line up closely to the outgoing map.
Map 4: Changes in South Florida
The pair of FL-17 and FL-19 are the districts least like the others in this part of the state, as they are (geographically) Gulf Coast seats.
Republican Rep. Greg Steube’s 17th District becomes visually smaller, as it transfers most of its rural counties to the new FL-18. While FL-17 adds the city of Sarasota — previously, it took in part of Sarasota County — statewide Republicans routinely take 56-58% in the new district.
FL-19, held by first-term GOP Rep. Byron Donalds, includes Cape Coral and Naples, and is safely Republican.
Getting to the Atlantic Coast, Republican Rep. Brian Mast’s district is renumbered (going from FL-18 to FL-21), but was otherwise nearly untouched by mappers. Though it includes working class turf in St. Lucie County, its Palm Beach County portion includes the Professional Golfers’ Association of America headquarters. Though Democrats held this district from 2012 to 2016, Mast has posted relatively comfortable wins over the last few cycles.
FL-20, which now-Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick (D) won in a recent special election, retains a slight Black majority. While most of its population comes from Broward County, it also scoops up Black-majority precincts around West Palm Beach. Cherfilus-McCormick may have another spirited primary, but in a district that supported Biden by a 3-to-1 ratio, the Democratic nominee will have little to worry about in the general election.
Districts 22, 23, and 25 are based in Palm Beach and Broward counties and replace the outgoing districts 21, 22, and 23 respectively. Biden took between 56% and 60% in all 3 districts, although his numbers seemed a bit weaker than what statewide Democrats usually receive there. Reps. Lois Frankel (D, FL-21) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D, FL-23) are running in the new FL-22 and FL-25, respectively, but current Rep. Ted Deutch (D, FL-22) is leaving the new FL-23 as an open seat — the 23rd is the most marginal of the trio.
Finally, Miami-Dade County — the state’s most populous county — includes all or parts of 4 districts. FL-24, held by Rep. Frederica Wilson (D), is one of the most heavily Democratic districts in the state. While Hispanics make up just less than 40% of FL-24’s residents, they are over 70% in the county’s other 3 districts, all of which are held by Cuban-American incumbents.
To shore up first-term Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar (R, FL-27), mappers removed Miami Beach, which has a sizable white liberal bloc, and gave her precincts from more heavily Hispanic neighborhoods, like Westchester. In the 2020 election, the new FL-27 would have been one of the most evenly-divided districts in the country — Trump would have carried it by 968 votes, out of the nearly 360,000 it cast. But as the outgoing FL-27 supported Biden 51%-48%, Salazar will get a boost going into the 2022 election.
Rep. Carlos Gimenez’s district, another comparatively marginal Miami district, sees almost no changes, although it is renamed: while he represents the current FL-26, Gimenez will run in the new FL-28 — both versions would have given Trump about 53% in 2020.
While the jury still seems to be out about whether or not Trump’s impressive numbers in the Miami area will represent a new normal, we’re starting both FL-27 and FL-28 off as Likely Republican. Salazar’s district is less red, but she may be a stronger incumbent than Gimenez (while both ousted Democratic incumbents in 2020, she did so in a Biden-won district).
Lastly, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart is the longest-serving (and safest) of the 3 Miami-area Republicans. Over the last decade, Diaz-Balart has sometimes been completely unopposed — and when he has had Democratic opposition, he’s cleared 60% of the vote. He will be running in the new FL-26, and is a solid bet for reelection.
For some more state-level observations, Jacob Ogles of FloridaPolitics.com has a useful rundown of each individual district, looking at potential candidates.
Out of an abundance of caution, and as we wait to see the candidate fields emerge, we are starting several of the Republican seats as just Likely Republican: Districts 4, 7, 13, 15, 27, and 28. Realistically, Democrats will be hard-pressed to flip any of them in the context of 2022. So Republicans should be able to achieve their goal of a 20-8 edge in the delegation. We are starting the 8 seats designed to be won by Democrats as Safe Democratic; we’ll see if any of them come into play if this truly is a brutal Democratic year. Overall, that means none of the state’s 28 districts begin in a very competitive category in our ratings (Leans or Toss-up).
Although Democrats got some good news out of Kansas this week, this final stretch of the redistricting process has seemed to produce more good news for Republicans: they ended up with favorable maps in Florida and Ohio, while Democrats had to produce a toned-down gerrymander in Maryland. And though the map may stand, New York’s Democratic gerrymander is undergoing judicial scrutiny this week. As we noted last week, all of this contributes to our feeling that Republicans are well-positioned to flip the House this year.