Jillian Bandes

This is part of a series that Townhall.com's National Political Reporter Jillian Bandes is doing on electorally vulnerable Democrats called "Open Season." She has covered Democrats , Betsey Markey, and Steve Driehaus.

Rep. Suzanne Kosmas is another health-care bill flipper, first opposing the bill and then supporting it after a little Obama sweet-talking. But that’s only the beginning of this Florida Democrat’s problems when it comes to her re-election this November.

Last August, Kosmas taped an interview with the editorial board of a prominent local newspaper, during which a member of the editorial board publicly insinuated her arguments for curbing health care costs “didn’t intellectually get there.”

In the same interview, Kosmas openly defended her decision not to have a town hall meeting during the summer of 2009 – otherwise known as The Summer Of Town Hall Insanity – by insisting that she was reaching “more people by meeting them through the telephone town hall.” Kosmas also insinuated that the reason her constituents wanted an in-person town hall meeting so badly was because “all Americans have a streak of libertarian in them.”

Got that? The only reason that the tea party movement exists is because of freakish "libertarian" episodes that strike the psyches of otherwise rational Americans.

At that point, Kosmas didn’t support the health care bill. In fact, she didn’t support the health care bill until two days – yes, two days – before Congress took its final vote, giving her explanation in a long-winded press release that came straight out of the Obama playbook.

Local media ran wild with reports of Kosmas’ private meetings with Pelosi, and personal phone calls from Obama, during her health care decision-making process. It was widely reported that during those phone calls with Obama, Kosmas openly tried to trade her health care vote for increased NASA funding – a hot issue in the eastern Florida space belt.

Every politician – both Republican and Democratic – on the east coast of Florida has a soft spot for NASA funding. But those views are hard to reconcile during a recession. They are even harder to reconcile when they’re being used as a pawn for a “yes” vote on a highly unpopular piece of health care legislation.

It also didn’t help that a number of Kosmas’ major campaign contributors were insurance companies, who stand to benefit the most from Obama’s legislation.

“She’s going to have to reconcile with this bill that was highly unpopular when she opposed it. But then she bowed to the pressure of Obama and Pelosi,” said John Randall, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “Kosmas is really what people are talking about most in this race.”

Kosmas’ affinity for the holy trio of Obama, Pelosi and Reid shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise. Kosmas has a 92 percent Democratic voting record in a conservative district. The only reason Kosmas got her seat in 2008 was because she was running against former Republican Rep. Tom Feeney, who was one of the most scandal-ridden legislators to ever hold office.

“By Election Day, Feeney’s disastrous campaign had done so many things wrong – including a four-years-too-late mea culpa ad that smacked of desperation – that Kosmas thrashed him 57 percent to 41 percent even as McCain carried the district 51 percent to 49 percent,” writes veteran political analyst Charlie Cook.

Now, it’s up to local commissioner Karen Diebel or former Ruth's Chris Steakhouse CEO Craig Miller to thrash Kosmas this fall. They’re the frontrunners in a GOP primary that stretches all the way until August 24. The GOP primary also includes state Representative Sandy Adams, and Jim Foster, a pool service company owner.

The lines have already been drawn in the Florida sand: Diebel seems to be billing herself as the more conservative candidate with Miller taking a more moderate approach. It remains to be seen which strategy will work this November given the hot political climate in the Sunshine State. Both candidates have been highlighted by the NRCC’s Young Guns program, meaning that they’re both seen as viable in the November election.

Anthony Bonna, campaign manager for Diebel, says she’s the best fit for Florida voters.

“There are some candidates in the race that are conservative, and some candidates in the race that are viable, but Karen is the only candidate that is both conservative and viable,” he said.

Miller says he’s conservative, but “not a far-far right person.” He “likes to make progress on things,” and views government “as having a role in helping people.” But he said there are limits.

“My goal is to go to Washington and try and bring up a different perspective on Congress from someone who has been in business for a long time,” said Miller. “I understand the folks in the 24th district, I understand the way these people view government, and I don’t believe the current representation of people in Congress meet the expectation that they had of her.”

No matter who wins the GOP primary in this district, it’s going to be an open season on the embattled incumbent Dem.


Jillian Bandes

Jillian Bandes is the National Political Reporter for Townhall.com