Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Politics

Florida's primary fiercely competitive in some districts

TALLAHASSEE — Outside of some local, legislative and congressional races, Tuesday's primary election is a bit of a snoozer.

Unlike two years ago, when there were competitive primaries to pick Republican nominees for governor and attorney general and Democratic primaries for attorney general and U.S. Senate, there's only one statewide race on the ballot and even that's not stirring up much excitement.

The race to see which Republican will face Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson seems to be all but forgotten after four major candidates, including former Sen. George LeMieux, dropped out.

That leaves U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV as the heavy favorite against former U.S. Rep. Dave Weldon, who doesn't have statewide name recognition or the money to effectively reach voters.

"There's hardly anything that's really driving folks to the polls at all," said Dan Smith, a University of Florida political science professor. "Having LeMieux drop out undercut some of the excitement among the Republicans. Dave Weldon's campaign was late to get in, slow to ignite and it does seem like a coronation of Connie Mack."

So that leaves local races and congressional and legislative primaries as the main driver to get people to the polls.

Perhaps the most talked about race is in Central Florida between Republican U.S. Reps. John Mica and Sandy Adams, a contest that guarantees at least one member of Congress will lose a job.

If history is any indication, turnout will be light.

In 2008, when there were no statewide races, only 17.7 percent of Florida's voters cast a primary ballot. And even in 2010, only 22 percent of voters cast primary ballots even though there were competitive statewide races involving both major parties.

Florida is a closed primary state. That means that only members of a political party can vote in primary races that include candidates from their own party. The exception is a race that would decide the seat before the November general election — then members of all parties can have a say. And all registered voters regardless of party also can cast ballots in nonpartisan races, such as for school boards and judgeships.

There are several congressional primaries that might boost turnout in some areas.

The Legislature redrew Florida's congressional maps this year and had to carve out two new districts. While doing so, they put Mica and Adams in the newly drawn District 7, a compact geographical area that includes a small part of Orlando and the area northeast of it.

Mica opted not to seek his 11th term in the new District 6, which is made up of a large portion of his current District 7.

Adams felt that the new District 7 was the core of her current District 24, which was essentially carved up. The result has been a brutal primary between two incumbents who vote alike on the vast majority of bills.

There's also a scramble for four congressional seats with no incumbents because of the two new districts, the seat Mack is giving up for his Senate run and the vacancy created by Adams and Mica seeking the same seat.

In Central Florida's District 9, four Republicans are competing to see who will face former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, who became known nationally after saying the Republican health care plan was to hope people die.

They are lawyer Todd Long, businessman Julius Melendez, businessman Mark Oxner and John Quinones, a former state representative who now chairs the Osceola County Commission.

In Southwest Florida's District 19, six Republicans are on the ballot seeking the seat that likely would have been Mack's had he sought re-election to it. Among them are state Rep. Gary Aubuchon, state Rep. Paige Kreegel, former radio talk show host Trey Radel and Chauncey Goss, son of former congressman and CIA director Porter Goss. The winner will be the heavy favorite to win the conservative district in November.

In District 22, former West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel faces Palm Beach County Commissioner Kristin Jacobs in the Democratic primary. The winner will face former state Rep. Adam Hasner, who dropped out of the Senate race to seek the seat.

Legislative races are more interesting this year because of the new political maps. There are 69 legislative races that have primaries, and some of them have turned into fierce contests that have attracted large amounts of spending by outside groups.

That includes the tight race for a Jacksonville-area Senate seat between state Rep. Mike Weinstein and former Rep. Aaron Bean.

Bean is among several legislators trying to make a comeback. Former legislators are trying to return after being forced out by Florida's term limits law.

That also includes former Senate President Tom Lee, who is being challenged by state Rep. Rachel Burgin to represent a Senate district in eastern Hillsborough County.

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