“I cracked it open enough so that people can slip a note under the door and I can read the note and I can write back on the note ‘probably not’ and send it back out under the door,” West told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
Even as he says it remains unlikely, the fact that West is showing a little leg in considering a Senate bid is notable.
And it could also be West’s best option for returning to Congress in 2012.
The prospect of the conservative firebrand and tea-party favorite (despite his vote for the debt-limit deal in August) running for Senate makes sense, and it has done so for a long time now.
West already represents one of the more Democratic-leaning districts held by a Republican in the country, and depending on who you ask, it could be hard for Republicans who control the drawing of new Florida congressional districts to make him safer in 2012 — or even maintain the same percentage of Republicans in West’s current district.
All of that makes reelection anything but a sure bet, especially for someone who has been among the most conservative members of the 2010 freshman class.
“The case for him to run [for Senate] is pretty straightforward: He is a freshman member of Congress who doesn’t know what his district is going to look like if he runs for the House,” said Republican-aligned Florida political analyst Justin Sayfie. “But if runs for the Senate, he knows exactly what the ‘district’ looks like.”
There’s also an opportunity in the Senate contest against Nelson. State Senate president Mike Haridopolos (R) recently dropped out of the race, leaving a field of candidates that is still pretty undefined.
Former state legislator Adam Hasner (R) has rallied early conservative support, but he needs to up his fundraising. And former U.S. Senator George LeMieux would seem a solid candidate, but he is likely to have problems on his right thanks to his ties to former Florida governor Charlie Crist.
West, meanwhile, with ease. He has been the top fundraiser among vulnerable House incumbents this year – raising much more than any of the Florida GOP Senate cadidates last quarter ($1.6 million), including Haridopolos – and his conservatism will rarely be called into question.
Now, it’s important to note here that West still sounds like he’s hesitant to run, and Florida Republicans remains very skeptical that he will. But at some point, political realities kick in.
Reps. Charlie Melancon (D-La.) and Brad Ellsworth (D-Ind.), for example, both waged Senate campaign in 2010 after it became pretty clear that their districts were ripe for changes in redistricting. And we’re seeing the same thing from Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) and potentially Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) this cycle.
West’s district is currently one of the most gerrymandered in the nation, jutting up and down the southeast coast of Florida to loop in as many Republicans as possible, while almost all areas around him are heavily Democratic. (He actually lives in Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s heavily-liberal district.)
Florida voters last November passed new constitutional amendments designed to rein in the role of politics in redistricting, so drawing West a similarly winnable district could be more difficult for the state legislature’s Republicans. Basically any help that he’s going to get is going to have to come at the expense of GOP Reps. Tom Rooney, Mario Diaz-Balart and David Rivera.
Rivera has ethical problems right now, and could be forced to give up some of his Republicans, but drawing them into West’s district is problematic, because the two districts don’t border each other. And neither Rooney’s nor Diaz-Balart’s districts – which do border West’s – are completely safe.
Given that the state’s House delegation currently includes 19 Republicans and just six Democrats — in a swing state (!) — keeping all those Republicans safe will be exceedingly difficult if the new constitutional amendments have teeth.
With the Sunshine State unlikely to take up redistricting until next year, that’s a lot of uncertainty for a House member to deal with. And in the end, a risky campaign for Senate may actually be the easier call for West.
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