TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ Florida is a key battleground in the struggle over control of the U.S. House, and five or six of the state's 25 seats could change hands on Election Day.
Republicans hold a 15 to 10 advantage in the state and believe they can take back both central Florida seats they lost two years ago and a third in South Florida the Democrats took from them in 2006. The GOP also is targeting seven-term Democratic Rep. Allen Boyd in north Florida.
Democrats hope to hold what they have next Tuesday and grab one or two seats in South and central Florida.
Pundits and political observers are predicting the GOP will significantly narrow the Democrats' 255-178 majority in the House if they don't take outright control.
University of Central Florida political scientist Aubrey Jewett said it'll be a good night for Republicans in Florida, too, although they may not sweep all of the congressional races they've targeted.
"You could see some of these races actually being quite close, and you could see some Democrats unexpectedly staying in office,'' Jewett said. "But in another scenario I could see a Republican tide much higher than I'm thinking right now.''
The hottest and perhaps closest race is in the 22nd District where incumbent Democratic Rep. Ron Klein of Boca Raton is fending off a challenge from Allen West. The Deerfield Beach Republican is a tough-talking retired Army officer who got booted from his command in Iraq after firing a gun near a prisoner's head.
Klein unseated Republican Rep. Clay Shaw in 2006 and then defeated West two years ago. West, though, may benefit from greater GOP enthusiasm this year in a district where Democrats hold only a slight edge in registration. West also has outraised Klein $5.1 million to $3.1 million.
Klein has painted West as an extremist with a checkered financial background, a common theme across Florida. "In virtually every instance the Republicans are either pushing an agenda that is too far out of the mainstream … or have proven that they simply, in one way or another, can't be trusted,'' said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Shripal Shah.
His National Republican Congressional Committee counterpart, Andy Sere, said GOP candidates are benefiting from public dissatisfaction with President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, which has been supported by Democratic incumbents or candidates in the targeted Florida districts.
"The writing is on the wall for Alan Grayson and Suzanne Kosmas especially,'' Sere said.
Kosmas, a former state legislator from New Smyrna Beach, and Grayson, an Orlando lawyer, rode Obama's coattails to unseat Republican incumbents in 2008.
Sere points out the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee no longer is spending money to aid Kosmas and Grayson. Money, though, may not be their problem. Grayson has raised $4.8 million, about five times as much as Republican Daniel Webster of Winter Garden. Kosmas, with $2.2 million, has raised three times as much as her GOP opponent, Sandy Adams, a state representative from Orlando.
Adams, though, benefits from about 14,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats in the 24th District. It doesn't help Kosmas, either, that the Kennedy Space Center, one of the district's biggest employers, is bleeding jobs due to cuts in the space program.
The only reason Kosmas won two years ago is that incumbent Republican Tom Feeney was dogged by his relationship with a disgraced lobbyist, Jewett said.
Grayson, who made himself a lightning rod with his combative defense of liberal policies, is being challenged in the 8th District by one of Florida's most experienced politicians. Webster served as House speaker and Senate majority leader during a 28-year legislative career.
The outcome, though, might be decided by Florida Tea Party candidate Peg Dunmire, an Orlando financial adviser. The Florida Tea Party is separate from the Republican-leaning tea party movement. Its leaders deny being in cahoots with Democrats, but Jewett said diverting a few percentage points from Republicans could make a difference in a close race.
Besides his big fundraising advantage, Grayson has the benefit of a 12,000 voter Democratic edge over the GOP in registration.
"Even though he's outrageous and over the top, the Democratic base loves him,'' Jewett said. "While there's an enthusiasm gap across the country for Democrats according to all polls, and probably in Florida, in his district that won't necessarily be the case.''
Another Florida Tea Party candidate who could make a difference is Polk County Commissioner Randy Wilkinson. The former Republican is a candidate for the 12th District seat being given up by GOP Rep. Adam Putnum to run for agriculture commissioner.
The Democratic candidate is Polk County Supervisor of Elections Lori Edwards while state Rep. Dennis Ross of Lakeland is carrying the GOP banner. Ross has raised $1 million, twice as much as Edwards.
Democrats probably have a better chance of turning the 25th District seat in South Florida. It's being vacated by Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart. He's moving to a neighboring district where he'll replace his brother, retiring Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, without opposition.
Joe Garcia, a former U.S. Energy Department official and ex-chairman of the Miami-Dade County Democratic Executive Committee from Coral Gables, is running again. He got 47 percent in a loss to Mario Diaz-Balart two years ago. State Rep. David Rivera of Miami is the Republican candidate.
At the opposite end of the state, Boyd is in the fight of his political life in the 2nd District. After barely surviving a primary challenge the Monticello farmer is facing a tough challenge from Republican Steve Southerland, a Panama City funeral director.
Democrats have a registration advantage in the sprawling 16-county, north Florida district, but it has a history of going Republican in presidential and statewide races. Boyd has a fundraising edge, but outside groups have closed the gap with a barrage of advertising against the conservative "Blue Dog'' Democrat over his vote for the health care overhaul.
Pictured: Allen West