Andy Gardiner claims victory for 2014 in Senate Leadership race

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Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner declared victory in the tumultuous race for the Senate presidency in 2014 even as one of his main rivals insisted it was far too early to call anything, reports Brandon Larrabee of the News Service of Florida.

“There’s been a lot of speculation, and I am confirming that I have secured enough signatures of the sitting members and the returning members for the Senate presidency in ’14,” said Gardiner, R-Orlando, after a Senate session that stretched late into Thursday evening.

Gardiner, who has long been the front-runner for the position, proclaimed himself “humbled” by the results.

“I can assure you there were no deals,” he said — an apparent reference to reports that he would also push Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, for president in 2016 in return for Latvala’s support. “It’s all free will.”

But Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, who unexpectedly entered the race for the chamber’s top spot in 2014 after initially supporting Gardiner, wasn’t ready to concede defeat.

“I don’t think anybody has pledges until the day they get designated,” Thrasher said. “To me, that’s what it’s about. And in a year like this, when we have a big summer of a lot of elections, a lot of things can change, seems to me.”

Indeed, all 40 Senate seats will be up for re-election in 2012 because of redistricting. And should the current plans be overturned by the courts, the Legislature would consider redrawing lines. That task would fall to the Senate Reapportionment Committee, chaired by Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville.

Gaetz, set to become Senate president after this year’s elections, is believed to be a Thrasher ally.

The palace coup against Gardiner burst into the open earlier this week, when Thrasher and
other influential senators lost confidence that Gardiner would be able to beat back an increasingly tenacious challenge by Latvala, a veteran of the chamber. Stung by the betrayals, Gardiner began negotiations with Latvala to try to patch together a coalition that could secure his place.

Sen. Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican who dropped his support of Gardiner and signed on with Thrasher, also said statements about 2014 might be premature.

“One thing we know about leadership races in the Senate is that we’re still in the first quarter of a long process,” he said.

But Negron, angling for the presidency in 2016, also emphasized his prior support for Gardiner.

“No senator in this building did more to help Andy Gardiner become Senate president than I did. And you can ask him,” Negron said.

The state of the race for 2016 was even less clear Thursday. Latvala largely avoided reporters throughout the day, and Negron said he was confident of his standing in a fluid situation.

“It’s way too early to reach any conclusions about 2016,” Negron said.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.