Battleground set for South Florida Congress races

A blazing hot campaign will play out on Palm Beach County television screens as Republicans and Democrats fight over a congressional seat that either party could win in November.

Freshman Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy is seeking a second term representing northern Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties.

Six Republicans are seeking their party's nomination to challenge Murphy, who narrowly defeated tea party Republican U.S. Rep. Allen West in 2012.

The contest between Murphy and the winner of the Aug. 26 primary is drawing national attention, which guarantees a flood of advertising from the candidates and outside interests hoping to influence voters.

In Palm Beach County – and all the way up the Treasure Coast and down the Florida Keys — only two of the nine incumbent members of Congress are seen as potentially in jeopardy by the independent analysts from Cook Political Report, Rothenberg Political Report, Sabato's Crystal Ball.

That's largely because the district maps crafted by Republicans who control the Florida Legislature set up boundaries that produced fewer competitive districts and more districts that were solidly in either the Republican or Democratic column.

One result is two South Florida districts where voters have no choice at all. Miami-Dade Republican U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, whose district includes Southwest Broward, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami-Dade County Republican, were automatically re-elected after no candidate came forward by the May 2 deadline to get on the ballot.

Even though all the Democrats have opposition and Republicans have a turnout advantage in midterm elections between presidential contests, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, said her party would do well in the region.

"I would expect that in South Florida Democrats would continue to do well in congressional races," she said.

Besides the Murphy seat, the other major competitive race involves freshman U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, a Miami-Dade County Democrat, who will face the winner of a five-way Republican primary.

The independent, nonpartisan ratings see Wasserman Schultz as a safe bet for re-election and the conservative website Sunshine State News wrote she was headed toward November "with near insurmountable advantages."

Wasserman Schultz said she's not taking anything for granted, but sounds confident.

"My race? You never make predictions when it comes to your own election," she said. "I hope my constituents continue to think I'm doing a good job and I'll ask for their support."

aman@tribune.com

District 18

The district: northern Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties. 2012 registration: 38 percent Republican, 36 percent Democratic, 26 percent independent/no party/third party. Median age, 46. Average income, $76,803. Bachelor's degree or higher: 30 percent.

Candidates:

Carl J. Domino (R) – raised $31,840, spent $68,301, balance $387,672 (includes $425,000 he's loaned to his campaign).

Beverly Hires (R) – raised $770, spent $34,821, balance $1,941 (includes $36,000 she's loaned to her campaign).

Brian Lara (R) – raised $18,997, spent $10,763, balance $103,235 (includes $95,000 he's loaned to his campaign).