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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Jack Latvala vs. Jeff Brandes in Fla senate race?

latvala.jpgbrandes.jpgState Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, looked like he was heading toward an easy election without serious opposition in a newly drawn north Pinellas senate district.

But some last minute-political intrigue could make things a lot more interesting.

Latvala acknowledged Monday he could switch seats and instead run in a district covering south Pinellas and part of Tampa - potentially creating a tough match-up between the veteran senator and state Rep. Jeff Brandes, state representative from St. Petersburg, who also looking at that senate seat and conspicuously declined to endorse Latvala for future senate president.

"I'm not going to comment on that," Latvala said, noting that his current senate seat includes 80 percent of the new south Pinellas district. "A lot of people have talked to me and said they'd like me continue representing south Pinellas and Tampa."

There's a hitch: Republican state Rep. Jim Frishe, of St. Petersburg, a strong Latvala ally, already is running for that south Pinellas seat. Despite speculation about Frishe switching to the north Pinellas district, he has little interest in that.

"I don't have any plans to move. My wife has lived in her home I guess 40 years now," said Frishe. "I'm certainly not making any plans to do anything at this point other than run for the office I'm already running for."

The political machinations are all about Latvala's plans to become senate president in 2016, and the competition he faces from state Sen. John Thrasher, R-Jacksonville. If enough Thrasher allies win in 2012 - and Brandes is widely seen as one -  Latvala could be out of luck for the leadership post. Latvala, a popular and high profile leader, would appear to be a stronger contender than the low-profile Frishe against Brandes, a member of the Cox Lumber family who could easily spend at least $1-million of his money on his campaign.

Brandes is already airing TV ads for his state House re-election campaign, and is coy about whether he intends to switch to the senate. Latvala moving into his senate district would be disappointing, he said.

"It would be a shame to lose a stong senator in the northern portion of the county,''Brandes said. "And it would be a shame for me if I decide to run (for senate), because I would be a strong senator for south Pinellas and Tampa."

The deadline for candidate to qualify is June 8.

[Last modified: Monday, May 14, 2012 10:55pm]


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