Thursday, March 22, 2007

Emboldened Democrats go on the Offensive in Florida

Cross-posted at BlueSunbelt

As a 25-year-long -- often frustrated -- Florida progressive, all I can say about this is… hallelujah! (it’s about time)

Eager to augment their newfound majority status, Democrats are going into attack mode regarding U.S. House races in 2008, and they’ve set their sights high this time. One of their goals: nothing short of defeating the longest-serving House Republican, Representative C.W. Bill Young of Florida. It’s the latest sign that the party, fresh from November’s takeover of Congress, is aggressively targeting longstanding members who represent moderate districts they haven’t seriously challenged in years.

But, Florida isn’t the only place Democrats are trying to make inroads.

This from The Politico:

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has also singled out GOP Reps. Mike Castle (Del.) and Joseph Knollenberg (Mich.), who have won comfortably in recent years but represent increasingly Democratic territory.

Young, 76, has won mostly landslide victories since his first House election in 1970. He hasn't faced a serious challenge since 1992, and he has won at least 66 percent of the vote since then, including running unopposed three times. Even in 2006, a huge year for Democrats nationally, Young still defeated his under-funded opponent by a 2-1 ratio.

But despite Young's success, his St. Petersburg-based district is about as competitive as Republican-held seats come. The district supported President Bush by only two points in 2004 and backed Al Gore by a two-point margin in 2000.

The DCCC believes that with the right candidate and enough funding, Young could be vulnerable. "He is one of our top targets," said DCCC spokeswoman Kyra Jennings.

The committee sent its regional operative to St. Petersburg two-weeks ago to meet with local party members and scout out potential candidates, including State Senator Charlie Justice, State Reps. Rick Kriseman and Bill Heller, former State Senator Lars Hafner, and hospital administrator Susan Brody.

Justice, Kriseman and Heller all picked up Republican-held seats in the state legislature last year. Their success bolsters state party officials’ confidence that the region is trending more and more Democratic. Party officials say any challenge to Young would be expensive though. The Tampa-St. Petersburg area recently surpassed Miami as the largest media market in the entire state. Last year, the party poured $10-million dollars into a state senate race in the area, which comprises much of Young’s district.

More from the article:

Young also has close ties to much of the district. As House Appropriations Committee chairman from 1998 to 2004, he brought home plenty of federal bacon. He chaired the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee until Republicans lost control of the House in 2006. The district, which includes the coastal communities in Pinellas County, south of the Clearwater area, is among the most veteran-heavy in the country, making up more than 18 percent of his constituency.

In targeting Young, Democrats are seizing on comments he made to the Washington Post indicating that he was aware of the conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center but became so frustrated that he didn't speak out. At a subsequent House Appropriations, defense subcommittee hearing, he testified that he did not publicize his concerns because he "did not want to undermine the confidence of the patients and their families and give the Army a black eye while fighting a war."

In response, the Florida Democratic Party launched a new feature on its Web site, hammering Young for being "more concerned about not embarrassing the Army than he was about the care of America's wounded veterans."

Reportedly, Young was stunned by the criticism because of the substantial amount of time he and his wife spend visiting wounded soldiers at the medical center.

"When I first heard about it, I couldn't believe somebody was attacking me on this," Young told The Politico. "If I have a strong issue, this is it. Beverly has spent over hundreds of days at the military hospitals -- even before Afghanistan and Iraq -- just to help the wounded kids over there. And now she's been brutally attacked by some anonymous accusers."

Young added that he had never visited the part of Walter Reed that has been the source of the latest controversy, and his past criticism of the medical center’s patient care dealt with problems in other parts of the facility.

In a response to Karen Thurman, a former Democratic House member, Young conveyed his “… great surprise that you have joined the personal smear campaign, especially since you know better.” He then dared Thurman to identify any member of the U.S. Congress who has done more for wounded soldiers and Marines than had he and his wife.

Recently, Young has been the subject of retirement rumors, fueled by his newfound minority status on the Appropriations Committee. But the Walter Reed scandal seems to have refueled Young’s desire to run for re-election.

"I think their idea is to convince me this would be a hard campaign and I should just retire," he said.

This one will be a tough nut for the State party to crack. In my humble opinion, Charlie Justice is the only Democrat with a chance of beating Young.

The Politico’s 2008 presidential candidates page.