In Fla., GOP hopes for two pick-ups where it just suffered two losses

Sid Dinerstein, chairman of the Republican Party of Palm Beach County, left for a Caribbean cruise Monday following a midterm election season that saw Republican losses in both of the area’s congressional districts, one amid a national scandal.

Sid Dinerstein, chairman of the Republican Party of Palm Beach County, left for a Caribbean cruise Monday following a midterm election season that saw Republican losses in both of the area’s congressional districts, one amid a national scandal.

“That’s why we’re going on the cruise,” Dinerstein said. “We’ve had a hell of a year.”

With Rep. Clay Shaw Jr. and state Sen. Joe Negron, who ran a late race for disgraced Rep. Mark Foley’s seat, defeated, Dinerstein said he immediately turned his attention to reclaiming the seats in 2008.

Those districts, now represented by Democratic Reps. Ron Klein and Tim Mahoney, have already begun to draw serious interest from local Republicans looking at 2008.

Both races were close last year, with Klein defeating Shaw 51 percent to 47 percent, and Negron, despite having to run on the ballot as Mark Foley, narrowly losing with 48 percent to Mahoney’s 50 percent.

In Mahoney’s 16th district, Dinerstein said Negron is considering another run, and state Rep. Gayle Harrell, who stepped aside for Negron after Foley resigned with little time on the clock, said she is eyeing the seat as well.

“I am certainly looking at that possibility,” Harrell said. “I’m looking at the whole situation, whether it’s a primary or certainly the general.”

For his part, Mahoney said he will fight hard for reelection. His early positioning and leadership on ethics reform — a fitting topic given the Foley scandal — could serve as a cornerstone issue for his reelection campaign, Mahoney said.

“My concern is much greater than the page scandal,” Mahoney said, pointing to a comment piece he wrote about the need for congressional ethics reform months before the Foley scandal broke.

“The things I’m doing today are things I promised to voters more than 15 months ago, and that’s only in the first two days,” Mahoney said. “I think we’re off to a very, very good start here.”

As for Klein’s seat, Dinerstein confirmed that Shaw would not try to retake the seat he held for 26 years, citing health issues and a desire to spend more time with his family. Dinerstein did say he has spoken with four potential candidates who “claim to be seriously interested.”

Though he wouldn’t disclose the names of those who might run, Dinerstein said he would meet with the four when he returned from his cruise and try to cut that number to two viable candidates.

Klein said he has already spoken with the new Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), about the need to start raising money and the importance of opening constituent offices quickly.

“We’re hitting the ground running,” Klein said. “I don’t think anyone is taking it for granted. I’m certainly not.”

Klein and Mahoney are two of five freshmen appointed to the House Financial Services Committee, seats that allow them to focus time and energy on the issue of rising homeowner insurance costs. In the hurricane-prone area of South Florida, such representation is crucial, Klein said.

As for the anger aimed at Republican incumbents, especially in these two Florida districts, Dinerstein said in many ways it was deserved.

“The voters down here were angry at us Republicans before the Foley thing,” he said, adding that the party had virtually conceded their strongest issues of fiscal responsibility and ethics.

“All of the sudden, Republicans in Washington have found fiscal religion,” he said.

Those issues aside, Dinerstein said the tsunami that was the Foley scandal remained in the district long after the national attention had moved to former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.). That said, Dinerstein believes that much of the local fury directed at the party has subsided, and that now is the time for the GOP to get back to its core issues of fiscal responsibility, ethics and strong foreign policy.

And while attempting to retake the two Florida seats they lost in 2006, Dinerstein said Palm Beach County Republicans’ first priority is to deliver the notorious electoral area to a Republican presidential candidate in 2008.

The early polling leader and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani is Dinerstein’s odds-on favorite to do well in South Florida.

“The people that I bump into love Rudy Giuliani,” he said. “He’s king down here.”

Giuliani, who stumped in the area twice for Shaw in 2006 and twice for President Bush in 2004, “owns South Florida on our side of the aisle and gets huge crossovers” from Democrats and independents for his desire to cut taxes and for “standing up to bad guys.”

Dinerstein said some Republicans’ concerns about Giuliani’s social leanings are similar to those he saw with new Gov. Charlie Crist (R), which, in the end, fell by the wayside to a pragmatic GOP looking to retain the governor’s mansion.

And while South Florida may be Giuliani territory, Dinerstein said he has heard that much of the rest of the state is excited about former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, whom the chairman is trying to lure to South Florida early this year for either a rally or a small meeting with area donors.

But Dinerstein said that like Giuliani, Romney’s social leanings are of concern to many Republicans.

“Here’s a guy who in the past minute and a half has gone from being a social centrist … to Jerry Falwell,” Dinerstein said, adding that such perceived repositioning caused significant damage to Crist’s primary challenger, Tom Gallagher.

Dinerstein said plans for an October 2007 straw poll — one way to determine the early leader for the state’s crucial votes — are again in the works.