Next in line

Race to replace Deutch begins to come into view

Deutch has no ‘heir apparent,’ following the announcement that the South Florida legislator will not run for reelection

Samuel Corum/Getty Images

Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL)

Rep. Ted Deutch’s (D-FL) surprise announcement on Monday that he will step down after more than a decade in Congress to lead the American Jewish Committee has opened up what one local Democratic activist described as a “once-in a-generation” opportunity for politicians in the Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton areas — and the potential candidate field is already beginning to take shape.

Deutch’s solidly blue, largely moderate district, which spans Broward and Palm Beach Counties, has one of the highest Jewish populations in the country, many of them retirees. Around 16 percent of the 22nd Congressional District is Jewish, according to Rabbi Mark Winer, president of the Florida Democratic Party Jewish Caucus, which has several chapters across the state.

Due to a spat between the state’s legislature, which approved one congressional map, and Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is pushing an alternate one, it remains uncertain exactly what the final contours of the district will look like, although neither map makes drastic changes to the district. 

Unlike former Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL), who similarly announced a surprise retirement in 2009, Deutch has no “heir apparent,” according to former state Rep. Ron Klein, who chairs the Jewish Democratic Council of America.

“There’s a number of qualified people for sure,” Klein said. “But I don’t think anybody steps in as the presumptive favorite… It will make for a very lively primary.”

More than half a dozen local political observers who spoke to JI on Tuesday said they expect Jared Moskowitz, a Broward County commissioner who led the Florida Department of Emergency Management from 2019 until last April and also served as a member of the Florida state legislature, to run for the seat. Moskowitz said in a statement on Monday, “In the days to come, I will be announcing my own plans.”

Other names floated for the seat include state Sen. Gary Farmer — who told JI he is “strongly considering it” but will not make a decision until redistricting is finalized, Palm Beach County Dave Aronberg — who told Miami’s CBS4 on Monday that he would consider running for the seat,  Ft. Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis, former Ft. Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler and Broward County Commissioner Mark Bogen. 

Trantalis, Seiler and Bogen did not respond to requests for comment. 

Given the potentially wide candidate field, Klein noted that a candidate could win with a minority of the voters in the district if they lock in a key base of support. “You could have a very interesting scenario develop here if you have a few popular candidates dividing up the votes among themselves,” he explained.

Richard Stark, a former Florida House member who led the legislature’s Jewish Caucus and now chairs the Broward County Democratic Party Jewish Caucus, told JI that “any time we had an issue that involved Jewish politics, [Moskowitz] was always there, always very good at it and very active.”

Moskowitz’s father was an active donor and organizer in local Democratic politics, Stark added.

Steven Tauber, a professor of political science at the University of South Florida, predicted that Moskowitz’s service in the DeSantis administration — he was the only Democrat appointed by DeSantis — could hurt him in the Democratic primary, given the governor’s posture toward Democrats.

“For me, anything that DeSantis touches is treyf,” Winer told JI. “So I would be a little suspicious of Jared Moskowitz.”

Two other potential candidates, state Sens. Tina Polsky and Lori Berman, told JI they intended to remain in their current seats, although Berman said she “might consider a congressional run at a later date.”

The seat has traditionally been a Democratic stronghold, which local observers said is unlikely to change, even with redistricting. Deutch saw his tightest margin of victory in 2022, still beating his opponent by more than 17 percentage points. The Democratic strategist said that, in a poor year for Democrats, a Republican could potentially come closer than others have in recent years, but would still fall short.

On the Republican side, state Rep. Chip LaMarca and former state Rep. George Moriatis are being floated as possible candidates. Moriatis told JI he is “seriously considering running for the seat.” 

One Democratic strategist explained to JI that campaigning in the district could be challenging, given that the Palm Beach and Broward County areas of the district exist in separate media markets, and local politicians who may be well-known in one county may not be known in the other.

Klein said he expects an official from Broward County would likely be favored, given that the district contains a significantly larger portion of Broward than Palm Beach.

He added, “I think that absolutely the Jewish vote will have an influence on the outcome of this election.”

The district and its constituency are “totally different” compared to when Deutch was first elected — having moved to encompass more of Broward and less of Palm Beach — and the Jewish vote share has decreased somewhat, according to the strategist. In a multi-candidate race, the strategist predicted, the Jewish vote could end up being split.

Mitch Ceasar, the longtime former chairman of the Broward Democratic Party, said of Jewish retirees’ role in the district, “there’s always been an impact but by the aging of the condo folks, it’s diminishing to some extent.”

Jewish constituents — active not only as voters but also as volunteers and donors in the area — are likely to be significant, Winer said, also noting that many Broward County elected officials “tend to be either Jewish or African Americans.”

Local observers agreed that whoever ends up representing the district will likely be a vocal proponent of Israel whose views are largely in line with Deutch, and that a far-left candidate outspoken against Israel is unlikely to find traction in the area.

“It’s not just the Jews, it’s everybody else here is very strongly pro-Israel,” Winer said. “This is a very staunchly pro-Israel section of Florida. The non-Jews are pro-Israel.”

Stark said that there is no one “that’s got name recognition that really knows how to work the process that I would call an actual progressive in that district,” adding, “you won’t get any J Streeters in there,” referring to the liberal pro-Israel group.

Mitchell Berger, a Ft. Lauderdale lawyer and Democratic donor, echoed that sentiment. “I don’t think you’re going to see someone whose views are particularly different than [Wexler’s] or [Deutch’s] emerge as the winner.”