Races in House Districts 49, 80 beginning to take shape

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Recent developments in two House seats are helping to define the field of 2016’s slate of competitive legislative races.

In the race to succeed term-limited Republican Speaker pro tempore Matt Hudson, a new candidate — the third to file so far — has emerged: Republican attorney Joseph Asher Davidrow opened a campaign account in the Hendry and Collier-based House District 80.

Davidrow is a relative newcomer, his only past electoral experience a long-shot bid for Congress in 2012 challenging Republican U.S. Rep. Trey Radel in a six-way primary, before Radel’s subsequent resignation following an indictment in a drug probe. He failed to make much of a stir, pulling up the rear with just 1.4 percent of the vote.

Davidrow will face fellow GOP-er Byron Donalds, his former opponent in the 2012 race, in an August 2016 primary. Donalds has so far amassed $40,210 in campaign contributions.

The winner of that contest will face off against Democrat John Lundlin of Clewiston, a tiny inland town and home to U.S. Sugar Corp. Both Donalds and Davidrow hail from Naples. Lundlin has so far reported raising no money for his 2016 bid since filing in February.

The seat skews heavily Republican, with a Republican/Democrat/NPA registration split of about 46/32/22.

Meanwhile, in Orlando-based District 49, Carlos Smith has fleshed out the basis of his campaign, in an interview with the Sun-Sentinel.

The Orange County Democratic Party chair and former legislative aide to state Rep. Joe Saunders — who was abruptly unseated by state Rep. Rene Plasencia in a 2014 low-turnout wave election that favored Republicans — told Dan Sweeney he plans to run on a platform of increasing education funds flowing to Florida’s Bright Futures program.

“My personal issue is Bright Futures,” Smith said. “The only reason I was able to go to school and put myself through college at UCF was qualifying for the Bright Futures scholarship. And since 2009, the Legislature has slashed the fund in half. … We spent something like $440 million in 2009 and last year, we spent $240 million. It’s sad.”

Smith is currently running unopposed, as Plasencia plans to switch districts ahead of 2016 after Republican state Rep. Tom Goodson cleared the way for “Coach P” to run in a safer district.

House 49 is widely seen as a prime pickup opportunity for Democrats. Large swaths of its voters are liberal-leaning students or affiliates of University of Central Florida, and some 30 percent of the Orange County seat’s residents identify as Hispanic.

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.