James Buchanan lost. Is Vern Buchanan next?
The morning after Democrat Margaret Good won an upset victory over Republican James Buchanan in a closely watched special election for a Sarasota state House seat, Democratic congressional candidate David Shapiro blasted out a memo declaring “Vern Buchanan woke up Wednesday in choppy political waters.”
The son lost. Is the father next?
Good’s victory in a seat President Donald Trump carried reverberated around the country last week, giving Democrats another boost heading into the November midterm election.
But it was especially significant locally because of what the victory could mean for another big Southwest Florida race. James Buchanan is the son of U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan.
Instead of winning last week and establishing a political dynasty, James Buchanan fell short and raised hopes among Democrats that Shapiro can knock off another Buchanan in November.
There are some similarities between Shapiro’s underdog effort to unseat the congressman and Good’s underdog effort to beat his son, but also some big differences between the districts and the candidates.
Like Good, Shapiro is a Siesta Key attorney with strong community connections. Like Good, he has been a capable fundraiser. Like Good, he is challenging for a seat that leans Republican, but not by an overwhelming margin. Like Good, he is taking on a Buchanan.
But the father has a number of advantages the son didn’t.
James Buchanan was an unproven first-time candidate who struggled to find his footing. Vern Buchanan has six campaigns under his belt, a deep political network and an established reputation in the community.
James Buchanan ran in a district that Trump won by 4.4 percentage points. Vern Buchanan is running in a district that Trump carried by 11 percentage points.
Nearly all of state House District 72 — which covers much of northern Sarasota County — is encompassed within Vern Buchanan’s congressional District 16, but District 72 is less than a quarter of District 16.
The rest of District 16 covers Manatee County and part of southern Hillsborough, territory that is friendlier to Republicans than District 72.
Trump won Manatee County by 17 percentage points. Buchanan has done well there over the years. Shapiro will have to work hard to make inroads in Manatee.
Vern Buchanan also has a campaign spending chest of more than $2 million. Good raised more money than James Buchanan. It will be tough for Shapiro to do the same against his father.
Regardless, Good’s win definitely gives Shapiro a boost. It should help him raise money and attract more volunteers to his campaign. It proves that upsets — potentially big ones — are possible in this political environment.
Vern Buchanan’s campaign team is keenly aware of the political environment and takes Shapiro seriously.
“We’re going to run a very aggressive campaign,” said Buchanan spokesman Max Goodman. “We’re not taking anything for granted.”
Good won the District 72 race by 7.4 percentage points even though Trump carried it by 4.4 points. That’s nearly a 12 point swing, which is larger than Trump’s margin of victory in District 16.
“A similar swing in FL-16 puts Dave Shapiro in a strong position to win in November,” Shapiro’s campaign wrote in the memo.
Even before Good’s victory, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report changed its rating for District 16 from “solid Republican” to “likely Republican.” The new rating reflects Shapiro’s credibility as a candidate and the favorable political environment for Democrats.
“Buchanan … represents a Sarasota seat President Trump won by 11 points,” Cook wrote. “But he’s had tight races in past waves, and the 2018 race got more interesting when locally well-known Democratic personal injury lawyer David Shapiro got in.”
While Buchanan still is considered a strong favorite, Cook now puts his seat among 92 that are at least competitive or have the potential to become competitive.
The vast majority of congressional seats — 343 — are considered noncompetitive because they so heavily favor one party, there is no serious challenger, or both.
Shapiro’s challenge now is to put his campaign in position to be among the few dozen races in which Democrats invest significant resources. A big part of that is raising his own money, and Good’s victory should help.
Good’s busy first week
Meanwhile, Good wasted no time getting started on her legislative job.
After winning the seat Tuesday night, Good was up early Wednesday and on the road to Tallahassee, where she was sworn in on the House floor that day.
Good participated in a press conference on her first day in the Capitol, joining other Democrats to criticize GOP efforts to expand the state’s de facto school voucher programs and answering questions from reporters about her upset victory last week.
Good was assigned to serve on the House Education Committee. On Thursday, she voted against a school board term limits bill that came before the committee. The bill would put a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2018 that would limit school board members to eight years in office.
Good also voted against a bill that would expand an education pilot program that allows students to progress more rapidly if they demonstrate “mastery of concepts and skills.” The bill was amended to include a provision expanding one of the state’s voucher programs to pay for private tutoring for children in grades three through five who fail the third- or fourth-grade reading test.
Good questioned the amendment.
“Has there been some discussion about why we’re doing it this way instead of putting the money into the public education system?” Good asked, adding: “Couldn’t we do this within the public education system?”
Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, responded: “This is for our public school students. All this does is allow the parent to take the reading scholarship to provide those services to the student outside the school day.”
“This is really a parent option for them to provide supplemental services,” Diaz added. “We’re not supplanting what’s going on during the school day, we’re supplementing it.”
Good was the only lawmaker on the Education Committee to vote against the bill.
The Anna Maria Island Democratic Club meets Monday at 11:30 a.m. at the IMG Academy Golf Club clubhouse, 4350 El Conquistador Parkway in Bradenton. Digna Alvarez, the regional director for U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, will address the group. The cost is $17 for members and $20 for guests. No reservations necessary.
The Nokomis Osprey Venice Area Republican Club meets Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at the Nokomis Community Center, 234 Nippino Trail E. in Nokomis. U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney will address the group. Pizza and refreshments are provided.
The environmental group Suncoast Waterkeeper is hosting a “Citizens Public Hearing” Tuesday at 4 p.m. at Fisherman’s Hall — 4511 124th St. N. in Cortez — to discuss offshore oil drilling. The event is open to the public.