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Politics / Issues

Florida Democrats Optimistic Over Redrawn State House Seats

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Bobbie O'Brien
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WUSF

Florida Democrats met in Tampa this weekend to elect delegates for the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. The political column, The Buzz, characterized the gathering as “sad – given the state of the party in Florida these days.”

Yet, several of the more seasoned party leaders are optimistic about the upcoming elections.

“I think Democrats are going to have a lot of good young people who are going to be running for statewide and local offices. I’m encouraged. I’m an optimist,” former governor and former U.S. Senator Bob Graham said.

One of those young candidates is Karen Castor, a schoolteacher in Seminole County who decided to run for state representative the day lawmakers cut-off debate on the "parent-trigger" bill.

“I had this feeling of outrage from that day,” Castor said. “And, it didn’t go away and I couldn’t stop thinking - I’ve got to go up there, I’ve got to go up there.”

She is running in a newly redrawn district without an incumbent, Florida State House district 30. But Castor is likely to square off against Rep. Scott Plakon, a Republican from Longwood who lives outside District 30.

This is qualifying week for candidates running for federal, state and county offices.

Although Republicans control the state legislature, the  governor's office and all the cabinet seats, Democrats see a glimmer of hope with the new redistricting maps.

Former Education Commissioner Betty Castor said several districts, like the one her daughter Karen Castor is running in, were drawn to be more competitive.

“What we have to do is talk to people about the value of having a two party system,” Betty Castor said. “When one party controls everything and they make all the rules and the situation is whatever the speaker and the senate president says goes and even their own members aren’t allowed to oppose them, that’s not the best of democracy.”

Despite the GOP’s stronghold on state offices, Florida actually has more registered Democrats than Republicans on its voter rolls. And Democrats are quick to point out that President Barack Obama won the state in 2008. They believe Obama will do it again in 2012.

“So, we are a purple state,” said former Tampa Congressman Jim Davis. He lost a tough race for governor against Charlie Crist in 2006 and said races this year will be equally tough.

“The people who are running for the legislature know they’re running against the machine. They’re running against the man in Tallahassee,” Davis said. “The people have had it in this state. And so if you get a good candidate out there and they can raise the money and get grassroots supporters we’re going to win some of these races.”