Here’s where sh*t stands – the ‘if Jeff Brandes doesn’t run, who?’ edition

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District 68, nestled along the eastern portion of the Pinellas peninsula, is the ultimate battleground seat in the Florida House of Representatives.

Over the course of the last sixteen years, District 68 (previously District 52) has been represented by five different officeholders, three Democrats and two Republicans.  It has seen two candidates face off against each three election cycles in a row and the incumbent unseated by a challenger twice.

More than $3,740,100 has been expended by the candidates and political parties to win control of the seat over the last 16 years.  That’s right, three and three-quarters of a million dollars spent in just one seat out of 120.  And that’s not counting the millions of dollars spent by third-party organizations — the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the teachers’ unions, etc., — interested in helping their political allies.

I challenge other observers of Florida politics to name a seat as much of a political battleground as District 68. They will be hard-pressed to find one.

Currently, District 68 is represented by Republican Jeff Brandes, a wealthy businessman and Army veteran who ran a near pitch-perfect campaign in 2010 on his way to beating incumbent Bill Heller. As of this moment, Brandes has filed to run for re-election, but he has not ruled out running for an open seat in the State Senate.

If Brandes makes the jump into State Senate race, it would create an open-seat situation in District 68, which history tells us will be very competitive.  But who will run for the most battlegroundy of battleground seats?

First of all, Dwight Dudley is on track to be the Democrats’ standard-bearer.  Dudley is tall, dark and handsome, so to speak, and is about as good a candidate as the donkeys are likely to find.  He is a “trial attorney” with all of the advantages and disadvantages that go along with that. And his last name, which, I believe, can be traced back to The Mayflower landing at Plymouth Rock has its own advantages and disadvantages in northeast St. Petersburg.

As for Bill Nobles, the other Democrat currently filed in the race, the FBI may know better what Nobles doing because he’s campaigning as if he’s in the witness protection program.

Also on the Democratic side, there is talk of the field expanding if Brandes ends up not running.  Names like Scott Johni and Darden Rice have been bantered about, but don’t look for many last-minute candidates jumping in from the D’s side.

On the Republican side, the bench is deep, but not wide.

If Brandes does decide to run for the State Senate, he won’t be leaving his GOP successor a lot of time to get organized, so only experienced candidates are likely to try to fill Brandes’ shoes.

Don’t expect Republican City Councilmembers Leslie Curran or Bill Dudley to try their hands at state politics.  Curran is still considering a run next year for St. Petersburg Mayor and I can’t imagine Dudley wanting to spend that much time in Tallahassee.

But I can imagine Frank Farkas wanting to recapture his State House seat.  I hear his chiropractic practice is going well and Frank does seem spry enough for a second round in the capital.  But, frankly (there it is!), the way Farkas lost in 2006 and the decline in influence by the chiropractors are two obstacles Farkas would have to overcome.

Speaking of 2006, would Kim Berfield jump into this race? The seat now includes the Feathersound neighborhood Berfield once called home.  Anyone have an idea what Kimmy is up to?

It may not matter what she is up to because the Republicans do have one prospective candidate they could turn to who could galvanize party support while striking just enough of an independent position to win over the show-me moderates of District 68.

I am referring, of course, to Ed Montanari, a former candidate for City Council who sits on several important civic and community boards in Pinellas and St. Petersburg.

Ed is a principled, big-thinker who would likely be immediately endorsed by Rick Baker, Bill Foster, Jack Latvala and every other important Republican in Pinellas County.

As for how he would fare against Dwight Dudley, a lot of that depends on the top of the ticket, but Montanari is the best the GOP could hope for in this key seat. The only question is whether Ed wants to run (isn’t that always the issue?).

Of course, this all could be academic.  Brandes is still running for District 68.

But in this battleground seat, it never hurts to be prepared.

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.