November 8, 2016 9:00 PM, EST

Republican House Members and Transportation Figures Jolly, Mica Ousted in Florida

Crist by Joe Burbank/Tribune Content Agency

Two Florida Republicans relevant to freight transportation on Capitol Hill, one a freshman and the other a longtime leader, lost their re-election bids Nov. 8. 

Meanwhile, two other senior Republican transportation leaders, in Missouri and California, saw voters stamp their tickets for another stint on Capitol Hill.

The latest political comeback mounted by former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, the Republican-turned-Democrat, to win in a coveted district in the central Gulf Coast region paid off with a win over freshman Rep. David Jolly. And relatively unknown Democratic newcomer Stephanie Murphy knocked out longtime Republican gadfly John Mica, former chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Crist’s takedown of Jolly, who had key seats on the transportation funding and policy committees, was expected. Political observers listed the contest as leaning Democratic, and name recognition helped Crist connect with constituents, observers said.

ELECTION SCOREBOARD: Result of races of interest to trucking

Crist won 52% of the vote to Jolly’s 48%, the Associated Press indicated after all votes were reported. Crist convinced voters he would promote a pro-environment agenda in Washington, one that includes addressing climate change and promoting clean water.

While Republicans will keep control of the House in the next Congress, Jolly’s absence will dent the party’s efforts to advance freight industry safety concerns and a long-term funding fix for highway programs.

Jolly would have had a say on trucking policy in funding legislation.

Crist was the Sunshine State’s Republican governor who switched parties to run unsuccessfully as a Democrat in 2014. In winning the 13th District, Crist got a boost from the League of Conservation Voters and environmentalists who oppose drilling off Florida’s coast.

In defeating Mica, Murphy pulled off a significant upset. She garnered a slim margin of victory at 51% to 49% of the votes, the Associated Press reported. Murphy was recently up in a poll the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released. Her winning strategy was painting Mica as a Washington insider out of touch with the 7th District.

Since being elected in 1992, Mica established himself as a GOP attack dog on regulatory oversight panels and had earned the trust of leadership.

In the battle for Missouri, Republican Sen. Roy Blunt held his ground and put away a strong challenge from Jason Kander to win a second term, capturing 49% of the vote to Kander's 46% in a four-way race.

Blunt has been a key supporter of trucking and transportation industry concerns from his seat on the influential Commerce Committee. He assisted in the drafting of reform provisions to trucking regulators in a five-year highway bill signed into law in December.

Blunt also was instrumental in encouraging additional review of hours-of-service rules for truckers. The transportation sector saw value in his re-election. For instance, Blunt’s campaign committee received $101,600 from the trucking industry, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

But on the campaign trail, it had appeared Blunt met his match in the Democratic newcomer. While Kander had pledged to support infrastructure upgrades to assist farmers, he lacked the incumbent’s experience on freight issues, transportation observers told Transport Topics.

In California’s 10th District, Rep. Jeff Denham defeated Michael Eggman, a Democrat, by 52% to 48%, to guarantee his return to the chairmanship of the railroads subcommittee where he oversees freight safety matters. After winning the seat in 2010, Denham has positioned himself as the heir apparent to Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) to be chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Last year, Denham aggressively advanced proposals that would block states from enacting requirements related to meal and rest breaks for truckers, a highly important provision for American Trucking Associations. The industry saw value in backing the incumbent by contributing $108,350 to his campaign committee, the Center for Responsive Politics noted.

Eggman had pledged to carry out infrastructure projects that would assist farmers and small business owners.