Qualifying period ends, August and November elections set

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Legislative and congressional races were set Friday with the end of qualifying. There will be fewer than usual uncontested races, but still several newly drawn districts in which candidates were essentially elected because they’ll face no opposition, reports Micahel Peltier and David Royse of the News Service of Florida.

In the Senate, nine incumbents – seven Republicans and two Democrats – will return automatically with no opposition on the ballot, even though they’re running in newly drawn districts.

One of the two major parties or the other sat out another four Senate races. One of those will be decided in a Republican primary between Jeff Brandes and Jim Frishe, and one in a Democratic primary between Mack Bernard and Jeff Clemens.

Two other Republicans drew no Democratic opposition – Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, will face no-party challenger Richard Harrison, and Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, will run against NPA candidate John Iler.

In the House, 33 candidates were essentially elected Friday, 29 of them incumbents and 4 newcomers. The newcomers who qualified with no opposition were: Travis Cummings, a Republican in District 18; Charlie Stone, a Republican in District 22; Democrat Victor Torres in District 48; and Shevrin Jones, a Democrat in House District 101.

As expected, Republicans, who already dominate the Legislature, will likely continue to do so.

Republicans failed to field a candidate in 23 House races, leaving either Democrats or no party or third party candidates to win those seats. But Democrats didn’t field a candidate in 47 of the 120 House districts.

Among those seats where Democrats won’t mount a challenge are more than a dozen in which it appeared they would have at least a fighting chance to win, according to voting statistics.

For example, in two House districts where a majority of the current voters went for Obama in 2008 – District 36 in the Pasco County area and District 83 in Port St. Lucie — the Democrats did not field a candidate this election cycle. In the Senate, no Democratic candidate was entered in District 22 in the Tampa Bay area, which would have been won by Obama in 2008.

In addition, no Democratic candidates were put up in 13 House districts and one Senate district in which Obama would have won at least 45 percent of the vote.

Both parties likely tried to field candidates in many races to avoid a new financial issue if they don’t: state election law requires candidates who don’t draw any opposition to empty out their campaign coffers. One of the things they can do with that money: plow it back into the party to be used in other races.

Despite the lack of candidates in so many races, a Democrat spokesman predicted the party would make gains in November.

“We are going to break the GOP supermajority in the Legislature and win congressional races across the state,” said David Bergstein, spokesman for the Florida Democratic Party

But Republicans look likely to retain commanding majorities in both chambers.

“What’s clear in today’s candidate qualifying is that Republicans will retain control of the state Legislature and possibly add to those majorities,” said Republican Party of Florida chairman Lenny Curry in a statement.

The nine Senate candidates essentially elected to office Friday were: Republican Sens. Charlie Dean, Nancy Detert, Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, Anitere Flores, Rene Garcia and Garrett Richter. Democrat Oscar Braynon of Miami Gardens and Arthenia Joyner of Tampa were also unopposed.

Republicans also entered candidates in strongly leaning Democratic districts. Davie Republican Soren Swenson filed Friday to run against Democrat Jeremy Ring of Margate in Senate District 29 while Republican Juan Selaya of Hollywood filed Friday to run against Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, in Senate District 33.

On the congressional front, Florida will pick up two seats thanks to population growth over the past decade.

All congressional districts will be challenged with the exception of District 15, where Dennis Ross, a Lakeland Republican, will waltz into office without opposition.

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.