Jack Latvala trolls Matt Gaetz on Twitter

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“Well,” as the kids say, “that escalated quickly.”

One day after Republican state Rep. Matt Gaetz (again) inflamed members of the Florida Senate by publicly casting doubt upon his father state Sen. Don Gaetz‘s conservative credentials on Twitter, Gaetz the younger has reportedly drawn a formidable opponent in his campaign to succeed former President Gaetz.

FloridaPolitics.com reported on Thursday afternoon that Bay County Commissioner George Gainer will mount a bid in Senate District 1, which former President Gaetz has represented since 2009. Rep. Gaetz, the only candidate formally in the race, filed for the seat on May 15 and was thought to be a prohibitive favorite.

That changes with Gainer’s entry. Gainer is currently serving his fifth term on the Bay County Commission —  including his 13th consecutive year in office, after running unopposed for his seat in 2014 — and has accrued significant political connections in the geographically strategic county and elsewhere in the state.

Not least of those is with Republican state Sen. Jack Latvala, who is likely to back Gainer’s bid.

The likely Gaetz vs. Gainer matchup sets the table for another electoral proxy war between Latvala and state Sen. Joe Negron over who will become Senate President following 2018 elections, a la last year’s midterm battle between former GOP state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff — a close Latvala ally who received contributions and in-kind support from the Senate’s Dark Star — and Democratic satate Sen. Maria Sachs, thought to be perhaps the only Dem committed to Negron.

Latvala took umbrage at the younger Gaetz’s cheeky remark at his father’s expense — “I occasionally borrow Senator Gaetz’s neckties. I wish he would occasionally borrow my conservative principles :),” the tweet reads — which in turn came in response to the elder Gaetz’s observation he was surprised his own “roommate” and son could be so collegial in private, but so obstinate in his views on the Senate’s “FHIX 2.0” healthcare expansion proposal.

The Senate passed the plan 33 to 3 Tuesday afternoon. Latvala joined Sen. Gaetz in voting “Yea,” though the House seems all but certain to scuttle the measure when they consider it on Friday.

“Not surprised @mattgaetz calls his dad out on Twitter,” Latvala replied, with more than a hint of disdain.

“I’ve always thought family differences should be handled behind closed doors. Show some respect for your dad!” Latvala added, invoking his own intra-generational disagreement with son state Rep. Chris Latvala, who like Rep. Gaetz opposes the Senate’s revamped health plan.

“Although @chrislatvala and I don’t agree on this issue, I appreciate him having enough respect for me to not question my principles,” he continued, adding “It’s sad to see @mattgaetz question his dad’s conservative principles especially as his dad plans a run for Congress.”

Whether the junior Gaetz’s public criticism will have any effect on his dad’s possible run for U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller‘s U.S. House seat remains to be seen. In the meantime it seems to have made Rep. Gaetz’s path to the state Senate considerably steeper.

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to FloridaPolitics.com and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at ryan@floridapolitics.com.