Posted May 27, 2017 at 9:38 PM

Southwest Florida Democrats eager to capitalize on President Donald Trump’s troubles were thrilled by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s announcement last week that it is targeting the District 16 seat held by U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan.

The DCCC wrote in a memo that Buchanan’s district, which includes Manatee County and parts of Sarasota and Hillsborough counties, was added to a list of “targeted districts for recruitment and potential investment.”

“House Republicans’ midterm prospects grow dimmer with each passing day thanks to the endless supply of chaos, scandal and broken promises to voters from Republican-controlled Washington,” DCCC Communications Director Meredith Kelly wrote. “Today, the DCCC is expanding our offensive battlefield.”

Following the announcement, Sarasota Democratic activist Gabriel Hament declared on Facebook,  “This seat can be won by a Progressive Democrat. Buchanan can be beaten in 2018. Period.”

Meanwhile one local Republican, former state party executive director Jamie Miller, responded to the DCCC announcement on Facebook by calling it “laughable.”

Christian Ziegler, Sarasota County’s GOP state committeeman, said he welcomed Democrats spending money to go after Buchanan.

“I’m confident Vern Buchanan can’t be beat,” Ziegler wrote. “The Democrats don’t have a good option to run against him and every dollar spent here isn’t spent somewhere else where they might actually be competitive. The Democrats spending money in this race would almost be as incompetent as Hillary not campaigning in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.”

So is the DCCC bluffing? Is there some wishful thinking going on? Or is Buchanan really vulnerable in 2018?

Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, has plenty of advantages. He has high name recognition locally after winning election six times and is one of the wealthiest members of Congress. His district leans Republican and went for Trump by 11 percentage points.

But anything’s possible in politics. Few political experts thought Trump would win.

Buchanan already has one Democratic opponent, former circus performer Calen Cristiani.

But the DCCC likely is hoping to entice a stronger candidate, somebody who can raise a lot of money and has standing in the community, to get in the race by putting the district on its target list and hinting at the possibility of financial support.

Democrats point to Buchanan’s votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act and shield Trump’s tax returns as potential liabilities.

But whether the political climate will favor Democrats enough next year to truly make the district competitive remains to be seen.

Buchanan’s seat has long been enticing for Democrats and nearly broke for them the last time there was a big wave election. In 2006, Democrat Christine Jennings, a strong centrist candidate with deep ties in the community after decades as a local banker, lost to Buchanan by just 369 votes in a district with slightly different boundaries but a similar partisan makeup.

The last time Buchanan faced a serious challenge was in 2012, when he beat former Democratic state Rep. Keith Fitzgerald by 7.2 percentage points.

Share This