You could be forgiven for overlooking Wednesday’s retirement announcement by Rep. Dennis A. Ross, given that the Florida Republican made his decision public the same morning Speaker Paul D. Ryan said he would not seek re-election.
Ross said he’d be returning to practicing law instead of seeking a fifth term. “I never viewed this amazing opportunity as a job or a career,” he said in a statement. “My home has been and will continue to be in Lakeland, Florida.”
While Democrats had been pining for Ryan’s seat before he announced his retirement, and already had a well-funded candidate with a national following, it looked like Ross was going to win without much of a fight.
President Donald Trump carried his 15th District (which includes some Tampa suburbs and then stretches northwest toward Orlando) by 10 points, after Mitt Romney carried it by 5 points over President Barack Obama in 2012.
Ross was first elected in 2010 from the old 12th District, winning 48 percent to 41 percent over Democrat Lori Edwards in the race to replace Adam H. Putnam, who left to run for state agriculture commissioner. A tea party candidate received 11 percent of the vote that cycle. After redistricting, Ross moved to the 15th District the following cycle, running unopposed despite failing to gain a majority in his initial race. He comfortably won his 2014 and 2016 re-elections.
Even with an ambitious list of takeover targets, Democrats weren’t targeting the 15th District up to this point in the cycle. Tutoring center owner Andrew Learned had $23,000 in his campaign account on Dec. 31, while businessman Phil Hornback ($6,000) and business consultant Greg Pilkington ($25) were the only other Democratic candidates with money in their campaign accounts at the end of the year.
A fresh group of Democrats could take a look at the race now that it’s an open seat. Ross’ first opponent, Edwards, who is the Polk County supervisor of elections, could run again. Former Rep. Alan Grayson Alan Grayson told the Orlando Sentinel he was “looking at all possibilities.” But he did not represent much of the 15th District in his three terms in the House.
Potential Republican candidates for the open seat include state Rep. Ross Spano (currently a long-shot candidate for state attorney general) and state Sen. Dana Young, who faces a competitive re-election race of her own.
In this volatile political environment that is shifting away from Republicans, particularly in the House, this race could become more competitive. But until a strong Democratic challenger emerges or it becomes clear Republicans won’t have a serious contender, we’re holding our Solid Republican rating for now.
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Correction Thursday, 1:54 p.m. | An earlier version of this story misstated the source of former Rep. Alan Grayson’s interest in the race.