A legislative deal could be increasingly unlikely, with state lawmakers set to end their annual two-month session on March 11 and DeSantis still threatening to veto any proposal that doesn’t boost Republicans’ chances.
Shalala’s former seat isn’t the only one without a top Democratic challenger. Former Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell — who lost her South Florida seat amid a 2020 GOP push — in mid-February pulled out of a potential rematch against Rep. of the GOP. Carlos Gimenez. And Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy in December announced his intention to retire at the end of his term, but two months later no one has come forward to defend the Democratic seat.
It’s a situation that has Democrats fuming at Florida lawmakers and DeSantis ahead of midterms that will likely see Democrats lose their House majority. The uncertainty has the potential to further disadvantage the party in Florida, the nation’s largest battleground state.
“I know people who work on congressional campaigns and they lose their minds,” said Matt Isbell, a Florida-based Democratic consultant and analyst who follows the redistricting closely. “Can we please get some final lines?”
Florida’s once-in-a-decade redistricting process was going relatively well until DeSantis surprised many in January by offering his own cards that called for the dismantling of two seats now held by black Democrats, including Rep. Al Lawson in North Florida. Florida won a congressional seat in 2022 due to population growth for a total of 28. Republicans currently hold a 16-to-11 advantage, and DeSantis’ proposal would likely give Republicans a bigger advantage, increasing the number of seats that former President Donald Trump would have. won in 2020 at 18.
DeSantis, who has threatened to veto any map that keeps the Lawson district intact, is now on a collision course with the GOP-led Legislature. The Florida Senate has already approved maps less favorable to Republicans, giving them only 16 seats won by Trump.
The Florida House has proposed two maps, one of which gives Republicans two more seats and would split Lawson’s district. In this shot, Murphy’s seat would slide further north in Orlando and turn solid red. But in an odd move, the House also offered a map that keeps Lawson’s seat intact in case the courts rule against the first plan.
If DeSantis vetoes the Legislative Assembly maps, it could force state lawmakers back into special session, further delaying a process that could yet end up in court. The official qualification period for federal applicants is mid-June.
State Rep. Anna Eskamani (Orlando), who is considered a rising progressive Democrat and was recently hailed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (DN.Y.), has been urged by some to run for Murphy’s congressional seat in Central Florida, but has so far held off entering the race.
“I consider all doors open,” said Eskamani, who last year was weighing his bid for governor. “A lot of it depends on the final map.”
However, Republicans aren’t buying Democrats’ redistricting arguments and say the reluctance has more to do with a coming red wave. Recent polls show President Joe Biden is underwater in Florida, and Republicans late last year overtook Democrats in the number of active registered voters in the state for the first time in decades. .
“The Democrats are seeing a real recruiting crisis all over Florida because no one wants to follow their failed agenda of skyrocketing prices, emptying store shelves and increasing crime,” said spokesperson Camille Gallo. of the Republican National Committee of Congress.
The shutdown does not affect all districts: Three Democrats have entered the race for Florida’s 13th congressional district, which is now held by the representative. charlie christ (D-Fla.), who is mounting a bid for governor. The contours of this neighborhood are also still in flux and it has attracted several Republican candidates. There’s also a heated primary underway for the seat now held by Rep. Val Demingswho challenges Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
Mucarsel-Powell, who has two teenage daughters, said her decision to forgo another race was based on personal reasons, including a desire to stay closer to home.
“It has absolutely nothing to do with the Democratic Party doing [everything] they have to do it or not,” Mucarsel-Powell said.
She and other Democrats — including Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who is running for governor — insist there are still potential candidates in the mix who may end up running. Fried, the only Democrat elected statewide, said she has regular conversations with party officials about potential candidates.
Shalala, who served as health and human services secretary under former President Bill Clinton, dismissed concerns about the tight schedule.
“No one pays attention to elections yet,” Shalala said. “I last arrived in March. I could collect the money very quickly, like any other well-known Democratic candidate.