EDITOR'S NOTE: A reference to U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has been corrected in this story.
On the eve of Tuesday’s election, incumbent Republican Vern Buchanan of Sarasota appears headed toward his sixth term in Congress.
With a pile of campaign money and only a minor threat from his progressive Democratic opponent, attorney Jan Schneider, Buchanan looks to be re-elected in Florida’s 16th congressional district without breaking much of a sweat.
Ballotpedia rates the race as “safely Republican.” So does the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report. Cook’s Political Report has it as “solid Republican.”
One of the wealthiest members of Congress, Buchanan has been at the forefront of the district’s fight against heroin and prescription opioid abuse.
In traditional GOP fashion, he champions a balanced budget amendment, lower tax rates and a hard line on illegal immigration.
If re-elected, he said he’ll focus on strengthening Social Security and Medicare, bringing more jobs to the district, assisting business startup efforts and working for a new VA facility in a new part of the district in Hillsborough County.
Schneider, who holds a master’s degree in international relations and a PhD. in political science, said she decided to run for Congress while working in New Hampshire last year for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, her Yale Law School classmate.
“I agreed with Bill and Hillary to do this race because we all knew it was going to come down to Florida,” she said of Hillary’s bid for the White House.
As the district welcomes more sun-seeking residents from the Northeast as well as the Midwest, Schneider said the area is changing and their congressional representation should better reflect that change.
And while her chances of winning are slim, Schneider said her candidacy is about laying the groundwork for future Democratic candidates, slowly growing voters in the recently re-drawn 16thcongressional district and offering a check against Republican policies.
“We disagree on just about everything,” Schneider said of Buchanan.
One of the older districts in the country in terms of resident median age, Schneider has been hitting Buchanan for not taking a position on privatizing the Social Security program, a proposal that seniors overwhelmingly oppose.
“I will fight to the death against privatization,” Schneider said.
Buchanan denies Schneider’s claim.
As Florida’s only member on the House Ways and Means subcommittee that oversees the program, Buchanan said he opposes privatizing Social Security and has never cast a vote otherwise.
Schneider, a published author and admitted policy wonk, has also assailed Buchanan’s position on Medicare, another program near and dear to the area’s large senior citizen population.
In 2011 and 2012, Buchanan voted for current House Speaker Paul Ryan’s budget bill, which called for younger Medicare recipients to receive vouchers to purchase program coverage from private insurers – a move designed to cut Medicare spending and the federal budget deficit.
Most actuaries said the vouchers wouldn’t pay enough for future seniors to replace the level of coverage provided under the current system.
The much-maligned proposal didn’t pass and Buchanan said “it’s not going to go anywhere.”
Buchanan said any future reforms for Medicare and Social Security would have to be bipartisan.
“We have to work together to make both of these programs stronger,” he said.
The House Ethics Committee recently closed a long-running investigation of Buchanan over illegal campaign contributions from employees at his car dealerships.
Although the committee found the dealerships illegally reimbursed the employees for contributions to Buchanan’s campaign, the panel found that “evidence is insufficient to conclude that Rep. Buchanan himself was aware of the unlawful reimbursements when they were made, or had any role in directing or approving of them.”
Schneider said she respects the finding and hasn’t made the investigation a campaign issue, calling it “past history.”
Schneider supports immigration reform with a path to citizenship for those in the country illegally. She supports stiffer fines for employers who hire undocumented workers as the “humane way to not have people come” to the country illegally.
“But those that are here and their children are here, we have to recognize that,” She said.
Buchanan opposes amnesty for undocumented residents.
“People want us to secure the borders first and then we’ll talk about a path forward,” Buchanan said. “We’re a nation of immigrants, but we’re also a nation of laws.”
Unlike many Republicans, Buchanan has stood by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, even though House Speaker Paul Ryan has refused to campaign on Trump’s behalf.
“I’ll vote for Donald Trump,” Buchanan said. “If you’ve got to take Hillary or Trump, I’ll take Trump a hundred times over.”