Damn straight, Jack Latvala made the right decision

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Leading up to Qualifying Week, the race for State Senate District 22 had been closely watched, in part, because of the possibility that Sen. Jack Latvala would switch districts with Jim Frishe to run against Jeff Brandes.

Unfortunately for political aficionados, when Latvala qualified last Wednesday to run in neighboring District 20, the non-move felt anti-climatic.

Yet, make no mistake, it was absolutely the right decision for Latvala and his aspirations to serve as Senate President.

To comprehend why this was the right decision, you have to understand what’s in play in the 2012 legislative elections.  Latvala already is in the catbird seat.  He’s made his deal with Senate President Designate Andy Gardiner and he probably has enough pledges already from his colleagues to wrap-up the race.

That’s why Senator John Thrasher is playing his hand the way he is: he’s interested — very — in becoming Senate President, but after his failed coup against Gardiner last session, he’s playing this next round differently.  If Latvala wins, he wins. But if not enough of Latvala’s pledged candidates win this November, then Thrasher will present himself as the more conservative alternative.

Two months ago, for Latvala to really, truly win, he needed himself and his allies to win in two of the five races listed below (as they were forecast on Memorial Day; although Brandes had not filed, it was widely assumed he would be running in SD 22).

SD 4: Aaron Bean vs. Wyman Duggan vs. Mike Weinstein

SD 17: Jim Norman vs. Rob Wallace

SD 18: John Legg vs. Wilton Simpson

SD 20: Open (Latvala)

SD 22: Jim Frishe vs. Jeff Brandes

Looking at that board, Latvala had only one locked-in victory — his own. Bean was running a sharper campaign vs. Weinstein in SD 4, Jim Norman was in trouble in SD 17, Simpson was narrowly, but increasingly ahead of Legg in SD 18 and Frishe vs. Brandes was a you-pick-’em.

This is when Latvala floated the idea of running in SD 22 vs. Brandes.  It would have given him one sure win in SD 20 with Frishe running unopposed and he figured he’d take his chances vs. Brandes: if he won, he’d have the second win he needed and he’d be a shoo-in for Senate President. If he lost, well, so be it.

Then, the universe decided to smile favorably on Jack Latvala by moving a few pieces on the chess board.

Wyman Duggan dropped out of SD 4 and endorsed Weinstein, while Legg switched districts to run against Norman.  Accordingly, the board looked like this:

SD 4: Aaron Bean vs. Mike Weinstein

SD 17: John Legg vs. Jim Norman vs. Rob Wallace

SD 18: Wilton Simpson

SD 20: Open (Latvala)

SD 22: Jim Frishe vs. Jeff Brandes

Suddenly, SD 4 is at least even money for Latvala’s ally, Mike Weinstein.  But more important, with TWO (!) allies in SD 17 — Legg and Norman — Latvala had an almost sure-thing in that district. With a win there and his own victory, Jack was set, no matter what happened in SD 22.

So, damn straight, Jack Latvala made the right decision to stay put in SD 20, especially now that it looks like Norman will drop out of SD 17, all but ceding the seat to John Legg (sorry Rob Wallace).

The possibility of Latvala as Senate President is more important than the result of any individual election. That’s why anyone making the knuckle-headed argument, as my colleague Benjamin Kirby of the Spencerian attempts to make, that Latvala ‘wimped’ out is not looking at the WHOLE board.

Kirby is not the only one making this argument.  I’ve heard far too many whispers about how “Brandes stared down Latvala” and other such baloney.  I dare these whisperers to say such nonsense to Latvala’s face!

Say what you will about Jack Latvala, but ‘wimp’ is probably the last damn word that comes to mind.

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.