FL-16 Analysis (Updated 7/17)

Florida 16 District MapGraphic provided from 2008Racetracker.com

Since people have begun providing state by state analysis, it seemed appropriate that I start providing some analysis from Florida. Instead of starting with a long list of Florida’s 25 congressional districts, I thought I would dive in with some detailed analysis of the district everyone remembers, Florida-16. Later I will try to give broader coverage of the other 24 districts, and will get into details as I can over time.


Ah, Florida 16, the flashpoint of the 2006 election. The district where a disgraced, resigned congressman came within 4,400 votes of winning anyway. This is the district represented by Mark Foley, who was disgraced in a scandal after the date when his name could be removed from the ballot. His opponent Tim Mahoney, a businessman from Palm Beach County, was virtually unopposed after Foley’s resignation. However, a very popular state legislator, Joe Negron, stepped in to run against Mahoney, despite the logistic nightmare of having to convince voters to vote for Foley to elect Negron. Negron had a clever ad campaign, “Punch Foley for Joe”, that came close (1%) to beating Mahoney.

Tim Mahoney is now a freshman congressman running for his first reelection. His Republican challenger will be decided on August 26th in a primary. There are three primary challengers, Tom Rooney – Army JAG vet, lawyer, and nephew of Pittsburgh Steeler’s owner Dan Rooney; State Rep. Gayle Harrell; and Hal Valeche – Palm Beach Gardens councilman. Joe Negron has endorsed Tom Rooney, and the primary race has been mostly clean with only a few bits of nastiness between the challengers. There was an odd accusation of a lawsuit being brought by Valeche’s father to impede Rooney, but that minor tiff appears to have settled into the background. The Cook Report rates this district as R+2 (leans Republican) and there are no polls available for the district (that I have been able to find).

Analysis Disclaimer:

Before I get started into this, let me explain the basis for my analysis. I am a huge fan of Jay Cost, and strongly ascribe to his theories of voter behavior. Absent a driving factor, elections tend to be won based on past voter history, party affiliation and name exposure. This is why incumbents tend to win, they have an inherent advantage in name exposure and the cost in real dollars to get needed exposure for a challenger is often more than they can afford. FL-16 in 2006 was an interesting case study in the validity of these theories. You had a huge driving factor to modify voter behavior with the Foley scandal. But even with it, and the resultant push of independents to Mahoney, you still had enough voting along party lines to make it close. The fact that the race becam close in the end was the result of Negron putting enough cash into the race to overcome the name exposure problem of not even having his name on the ballot. Without this activity, he would have lost badly. With a few more weeks to campaign, he probably would have won.


Florida-16 is a gerrymandered district that spans the width of the state and includes several very diverse communities. A quick note about Florida population, south of Orlando; the majority of the population is on the coasts, due to the large amount of farming and swamps in the middle of the state. When you look at a map of a southern Florida coastal county, 90% of the population will live within 10 miles of the coastline.

Looking at the map above, you will see that it includes most of heavily Republican Martin county on the east coast. North of that, it includes significant portions of St. Lucie county that has been leaning Democrat over the last few years. South of Martin it includes a small portion of Palm Beach County, which is strongly Democrat, but small in population (the part IN FL-16 that is). The district then crosses the state through several lightly populated counties (Okeechobee, Highlands, Glades, Hendry). Finally, we have much of Charlotte county on the west coast, a heavy Republican county.

Population growth in Florida has been driven by 3 factors over the last 10 years. Retirees continue to move into the state as they have for years. Additionally, business growth in Florida has been significant, bringing in a large influx of skilled workers with their families. Often these immigrants are refugees from the high tax northeast and midwest coming to Florida because we have no state income tax. Finally, many military folks are residents due to the lack of a state income tax and the location of SOUTHCOM in Tampa, Eglin AFB in the panhandle, the naval bases in Jacksonville, and Patrick AFB on the east coast. There are no significant military installations in FL-16, so the military vote has little impact.

The statewide party affiliation is:

Republican: 2006- 3.9M 2008- 3.9M Delta- (0.8)%

Democrat: 2006- 4.2M 2008- 4.3M Delta- 2.6%

Independent: 2006- 2.3M 2008- 2.3M Delta- (0.4)%

Total: 2006- 10.4M 2008- 10.5M Delta- 0.7%

Note there is a slight increase in Democrat affiliation since 2006. What typically happens is people move from other states and keep their current affiliation. However, they tend to vote more conservatively than their former neighbors in the northeast. They fled from high taxes, and they religiously vote against taxes when they get here. Since I have lived here, I have never seen a tax increase on a ballot succeed, and all tax reductions have passed.

Voter Analysis:

The Florida Department of Elections publishes voter statistics on a county basis only, not by congressional district. They also don’t provide historical county by county registration information. As a result, I’ll need to do a little handwaving when talking about 2006 results as compared to 2008 voter roles.

Looking at the 2006 results, we can see that the central counties in the district are not likely to be a factor in the 2008 race. They are generally small in population, and they split their votes by a few hundred between Mahoney and Negron. The battle for FL-16 will be between the two Republican counties, Charlotte on the west coast and Martin on the east coast; and the two Democrat counties on the east coast, St. Lucie and Palm Beach.

Each of these counties breakdown as follows:

St. Lucie:

In 2006 this county voted 55/45% for Mahoney with 61,747 votes cast. In 2008 this county has 145,097 registered voters with a D/R/I split of 43/35/22%. This county is hard to analyze since we don’t have a good idea what portion of these voters are in FL-16. It is probably safe to assume similar results in 2008 to what happened in 2006. Looking at 2004, this county cast 86,410 votes with 65% for Foley. There was a 29% drop off between 2004 and 2006.

Palm Beach:

In 2006 this county voted 56/44% for Mahoney with 35,478 votes cast. In 2008 this county has 799,630 registered voters with a D/R/I split of 45/31/24%. This county is even harder to analyze since only a small portion of the county (about 10%) is part of FL-16. We’ll assume similar results to 2006, especially since Mahoney lives in this county. Looking at 2004, this county cast 52,304 votes with 68% for Foley. There was a 32% drop off between 2004 and 2006.


In 2006 this county voted 56/44% for Negron with 51,012 votes cast. In 2008 this county has 97,570 registered voters with a D/R/I split of 27/50/23%. This is a county that we can analyze pretty well, and note that 50% of the voters are Republican. The majority of the population from Martin lives in FL-16 (on the coast). Looking at 2004, this county cast 67,011 votes with 75% for Foley. There was a 23% drop off between 2004 and 2006. The drop off is lower than the Democrat counties in vote totals, which probably accounts the higher Republican performance over the other counties in 2006. There is no real reason to suspect Martin county will perform much different from 2006, though it is to be expected that a more even split of the Independents will occur.


In 2006 this county voted 50.5/49.5% for Negron with 34,632 votes cast. In 2008 this county has 115,610 registered voters with a D/R/I split of 32/44/24%. The majority of the population from Charlotte lives in FL-16 in Port Charlotte. Looking at 2004, this county cast 47,876 votes with 63% for Foley. There was a 27% drop off between 2004 and 2006. Given the high number of registered Republicans (50,257) in this county (not all of them are in FL-16, though), this county looks like it may have underperformed in 2006 for the Republicans.

Looking at the results from 2004, 2006 and the voter registration totals for 2008, these 4 counties look like they underperformed for the Republicans in 2006 for the expected 3 reasons. Off year election pulled the numbers down, the Foley scandal moved Independents and Democrats from voting the incumbent to the Democrats, and Republican enthusiasm was down in Charlotte county (at least).

Race Analysis:

In normal circumstances, this would be a typical incumbent election. However, this is FL-16, wounds are still fresh after the circus from 2006. Plus Mahoney really stepped in it with the flier he sent to all of his constituents with the picture of the Soviet veteran. The 4th of July spent in Canada was also noticed. Both of these incidents received coverage by the Port Charlotte and Treasure Coast local papers, so voter exposure to the incidents is pretty high. None of the challengers were really able to capitalize on the mistakes (Tom Rooney did a little) because the primary isn’t until August.

Final Analysis:

I think FL-16 is likely to flip back in November. Looking at the Jay Cost model, this district has a long history of voting Republican. Most of the Independents and even many of the Democrats (note the St. Lucie trends) have shown willingness to punch in an R, even when voting a D in other races. As for name recognition, Mahoney doesn’t have a huge incumbent advantage yet. If the challenger is Rooney, which is likely given the Negron endorsement, then the recognizability of the candidates will be about even, with an advantage to Mahoney. Finally, on the issues; the Soviet vet picture hurt Mahoney, and will keep him from distancing himself from the rest of the 9% congress. Fuel prices are also going to hurt Mahoney, unless he finds a way to show himself as bucking the house leadership. This district includes two of the largest boating communities in the country (Indian River and Port Charlotte) and the price of diesel will be a significant issue. Giving each of the three factors (voting history, incumbency, issues) equal weight, we are looking at 2/3rds of the factors pushing toward a party switch. For each of the 4 important counties, I offer the following educated guesses at results:

St. Lucie: About the same percentage breakdown as 2006, 55/45, at the 2004 vote totals. 47K D and 39K R.

Palm Beach: About the same percentage breakdown as 2006, 56/44, at the 2004 vote totals. 29K D and 23K R

Martin: Independents move back to R at the 2004 vote totals, increasing percentage to 61/39. This reflects the 50% R registration in the county and half the Ind vote going R. 26K D and 41K R.

Charlotte: Independents move back to R at the 2004 vote totals, increasing percentage to 56/44. This reflects the 44% R registration in the county and half the Ind vote going R. This estimate might be low given the 50K+ registered Republicans in the county. 21K D and 27K R.

Totals from the 4 counties:

123,000 votes for Mahoney

130,000 votes for Republican challenger

This would be a 51/49 result. Because the result will be close, expect that when we finally get polling in the race, you will see this race as too close to call. Don’t believe it; the structural baseline for this race strongly favors a switch back to Republican by a relatively small percentage.

Update (7/17/08)

I found a useful website that provides finance information on the candidates. Each of the candidates has raised the following:

Mahoney: $2,128,506

Rooney: $693,634

Harrell: $645,798

Valeche: $1,054,908

These are some very interesting numbers. Mahoney has raised more money than most other incumbents in Florida. Only FL-13 Buchanan-R ($2,953,441) and FL-22 Klein-D ($2,754,916) surpass him. Clearly the Democrats are willing to spend some serious money to hold this seat. But note that the totals from all three challengers exceed his total by $265,834. This is an impressive fundraising total and reflects that both parties view this seat as vulnerable. By comparison, Klein in FL-22 has about $2.5M more than his opponent, West. At this point, I have to like Valeche’s chances in the primary. He has more money than his rivals, and is local to the majority of the voters on the east coast. Rooney has received several key endorsements (Negron, House Conservative PAC, Connie Mack, Tom Feeney, RedState ). But it looks like he could use some more cash to stay competitive past the primary. Might not be a bad time to toss some money his way. Here is his web site.

Another Update (7/17/08):

(h/t Cuerpoyalma) There is a report at tcpalm.com that discusses the 3rd quarter fund raising. Valeche’s money lead among the challengers is due to putting $500K of his own money into his campaign. This puts Rooney ahead from outside donations (though Valeche’s million will buy TV time too). These kinds of reports are always a mixed bag, self funding tends to imply a lack of core support. But money is the mother’s milk of a campaign. All in all, going into the general, I’d rather have the cash on hand.

Speaking cash on hand, Mahoney brought in another $340K in the third quarter giving him $1.2M cash on hand. This is compared to $98K for Harrell and $90K for Rooney. Assuming Redstate Rooney wins the primary, he is going to need significant cash to compete. I would guess he is going to end up about $1M behind when the race gets going.

Another item that is referenced in the article is a gag me with a spoon quote from Mahoney’s campaign manager, “The Republicans should know it’s going to be tough to beat the most effective freshman member of Congress.” who also mentioned activity by Freedom Watch. Freedom Watch is running anti Mahoney radio and newspaper ads in addition to robo-calls. I’m still looking to get an idea how much they are investing in FL-16, but this district is one of 16 districts they are targeting. Their activity will help to defray Mahoney’s cash advantage, but expect him to whine all the way to November about how unfair it is he has to “fight special interests too”.

Sources used: 2008Racetracker.com, CNN.com, Florida Department of Elections, Cook Report, thegreenpapers.com, tcpalm.com