While the lone incumbent-vs.-incumbent Senate race this fall is seen as unlikely to swing the balance of power — no one expects Republicans to lose their grip on the chamber — Democrats still see something at stake in District 34, reports Brandon Larrabee of the News Service of Florida.
If Democrats can hold their 12 current seats in the 40-member chamber and Rep. Darren Soto can win his bid for a district in central Florida drawn to favor Latinos, then a win in the coastal district running from Boynton Beach to Fort Lauderdale would deprive the GOP of a two-thirds supermajority.
And that would potentially give the minority party more of a say in efforts by the GOP to alter the rules of the chamber or attempts to override any vetoes by Gov. Rick Scott.
“It’s No. 14,” said Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Boca Raton, in an interview last week at her campaign headquarters in Palm Beach County.
Sachs said it would be “dangerous with a capital ‘d'” to allow the majority party to hold onto authority she suggested would be almost unfettered if Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, wins the seat.
“It’s not about Maria Sachs or Ellyn Bogdanoff,” she said. “It’s about the power and the arrogance of power and the corruption of power.”
With that in mind, Democrats are pouring what resources they have into the district. Asked Monday how important the race is, incoming Senate Minority Leader Chris Smith mentioned President Barack Obama’s remarks earlier in the day at a Delray Beach rally.
“He opened up by thanking and encouraging Maria Sachs,” Smith said — a rare step in a legislative race.
While the district no doubt favors Democrats — it went for former CFO Alex Sink in the 2010 gubernatorial election by 10 points and for Obama by nearly 14 points in 2008 — Democrats concede that Bogdanoff can’t be counted out. She is a veteran of successful campaigns in Democratic-leaning districts.
“Senator Bogdanoff has never had an easy race in her entire political career,” said incoming Senate President Don Gaetz, whose Republican caucus has gotten heavily involved in the expensive fight.
But with an eye on the district’s demographics, Sachs and her supporters have zeroed in on Bogdanoff’s record and her party ties.
“I think she is a well-intentioned person who’s been doing the work, carrying the water for Republican leadership in north Florida, and those policies which she has advocated for them reflect their values system and not those of South Florida,” Sachs said.
Bogdanoff brushes off that suggestion, and adds that getting rid of what could be the area’s lone Republican voice in the Senate could harm even Democratic lawmakers in Broward and Palm Beach counties – who would lose a bridge to GOP leadership.
“Everybody who knows me knows I’m extremely independent,” she said. “Let me tell you the water I do carry: I help every single one of my Democratic colleagues with their priorities, because they all come to me. … If the Republicans lose this seat, all of my Democratic colleagues that I’ve helped over the last eight years basically will have to stand on their own.”
Bogdanoff says it’s “awkward” to run against Sachs and insists that there was essentially another seat Sachs could have pursued — District 25, to the northwest. Sachs lives there, just across the border from District 34.
“Maria has been somewhat of an ally, sometimes — not always,” Bogdanoff said.
The new district has large chunks of each woman’s current stomping grounds. It contains about 54 percent of Bogdanoff’s seat and 40.5 percent of Sachs’ current area, which was split among five districts in this year’s redistricting process.
Sachs has highlighted three areas where she believes Bogdanoff is out of step with the district’s priorities: Support for a measure allowing school districts to approve “inspirational messages,” opposing a bill barring texting while driving, and voting for budgets that reduced education funding.
She also has harsh words for Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, which she believes should be replaced by requiring private insurers to offer policies on property if they want to tap the state’s auto insurance market. Sachs said the district’s residents have been ill-served by Citizens.
“They have been raped by this insurance company that, even though it is considered to be not-for-profit and government-run, has not been operating under the same rules that any other insurance company has to operate under,” Sachs said.
Bogdanoff touts her work on economic development legislation and says she would continue to focus on business issues and criminal justice reform.
As for Sachs’ criticisms, Bogdanoff said she remembers being one of the few Jewish students in a school where Christian prayers sometimes opened school events, and believes she was strengthened by the experience.
She says she’s gotten as much money into the budget as she can for Holocaust survivors and education — then voted for it as part of a majority party that has to govern. And she dismisses the texting bill as being too limited because it doesn’t affect all the possible reasons drivers should take their eyes off the road. Bogdanoff said she’s repeatedly asked sponsors to broaden the legislation.
“I’m opposed to making political statements when the bill does not accomplish the goal,” Bogdanoff said.
Sachs has also come under assault, in part by a shadowy campaign organization calling itself “Progressives.” The group, opened by an attorney tied to GOP campaign organizations, has attacked Sachs and other Democratic candidates for being too close to Republicans.
And the GOP and Bogdanoff have savaged Sachs for leaving information off her financial disclosure forms and using limousines for state-funded transportation.
“All of these things are designed to fool and lie to the people of this district,” Sachs said in response. “It’s not going to work. The people of this district are too smart.”