Politics & Policy

Jeff Atwater Won’t Be Running in Florida’s Tough 2016 Senate Race

Jeff Atwater, the current Chief Financial Officer of Florida, will not be running for U.S. Senate in the coming cycle. He had been polling highest among the potential GOP contenders.

A few weeks ago, I laid out the difficult, but not insurmountable challenge, facing a Republican who seeks to keep Rubio’s seat:

Look at the state from the perspective of an aspiring GOP senator. Florida has ten media markets, most of them expensive, including the 13th-largest in the nation (Tampa-St. Petersburg), the 16th (Miami-Fort Lauderdale), the 19th (Orlando-Daytona Beach), the 38th (West Palm Beach) and the 49th (Jacksonville). Each of those markets is home to at least nine television stations and network affiliates.

An aspiring senator has to raise enough money to get television ads up on the air in most or all of those markets, because there simply aren’t enough hours in a day to outpace the opposition through events and personal appearances alone. The primary will probably have more than a million voters. (More than 1.1 million Republicans voted in the GOP primary in 2012.) Florida is also more geographically vast than it seems — it takes about seven hours to drive from Miami to Tallahassee.

Raising the money to meet these organizational challenges won’t be easy. The GOP donor class, of course, will be focused primarily on the presidential race, and Florida’s donors will be particularly focused on the races of home-state candidates Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. The presidential race will also dominate news coverage, suck up veteran political campaign staff, and absorb the energies of grassroots volunteers.

The reward for the candidate who, in the face of these natural disadvantages, raises enough money to compete? He or she faces a state with extraordinarily complex demographics in both the primary and general electorates: Cuban Americans in Miami, a rapidly growing population of Puerto Ricans in the Orlando area, seniors all over central Florida, and socially conservative, rock-ribbed Republicans in the north.

And after building a viable statewide organization, raising and spending a considerable sum of money, and navigating Florida’s demographic minefield to win the primary, the candidate has to do it all over again in the general election, in a state that where Democrats enjoy a 400,000+ voter-registration advantage. The electorate will undoubtedly be bigger than in the midterm election that elected Rubio, and will likely include a lot more Democrats.

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