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GOP told to begin process of replacing state Senate candidate Jim Norman

TAMPA — State election officials on Wednesday notified the Republican Party of Florida that it needs to name a nominee for the District 12 state Senate seat.

Members of the Hillsborough and Pasco Republican executive committees have until 5 p.m. Oct. 27 to pick a replacement for Jim Norman, a Hillsborough County commissioner who was kicked off the ballot last week by a Tallahassee judge.

Six people from the two GOP groups — the chairs, state committeemen and state committeewomen — will make the decision.

Deborah Cox-Roush, chairwoman of the Hillsborough County Republican Party, said she didn't expect the group to meet and review nominees until Friday or Saturday.

"It's important to the voters that we do this quickly, but at the same time it's important that we do it right," she said.

The state Division of Elections on Wednesday also instructed the Hillsborough and Pasco supervisors of elections to post notices at polling places so voters know that Norman has been disqualified from the election.

Because of the timing of Norman's removal, his name appears on ballots.

The notices read: "A candidate in the race for the office of state Senate District 12 has been disqualified such that: A vote cast for Jim Norman will count for a candidate designated by the Republican Party. A vote cast for a qualified write-in candidate will count for the write-in candidate."

Write-in votes for Kevin Ambler, Norman's opponent in the Aug. 24 Republican primary election, will not count.

Cox-Roush declined to say who is on the short list to replace Norman. It's possible Norman will be selected to replace himself.

It's also possible the parties will consider Ambler, the state representative who lost to Norman and sued to have him removed from the November ballot because he failed to include his wife's Arkansas home on his state-required financial disclosure forms.

At least one Republican thinks picking Norman is a bad idea.

"The judge made it clear that he violated the law," said Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey. "The last person you want to put back on the ballot is the guy who was taken off because he violated the law."

Norman has appealed the ruling removing him from the ballot. If he wins, he'll be the nominee again.

Ambler also seems like a long shot, given that he stepped on so many Republican toes with the lawsuit against Norman.

Although Ambler was a state House member for eight years, Norman had support in the primary from some of the state Senate's most powerful Republicans, including incoming Senate President Mike Haridopolos and J.D. Alexander of Lake Wales.

In a July 2009 endorsement of Norman, Haridopolos said Norman would be a "great senator," noting "as a community leader, Jim Norman has earned the trust and respect of his neighbors."

On Tuesday, the Republican Party of Florida intervened in the Norman lawsuit to challenge a move by Ambler to be named the nominee in November.

And the party contributed $55,000 to Norman's campaign to cover his legal defense against Ambler.

Inquiries about the payment of Norman's legal bills elicited an attack from the party.

"The real question is who is paying Kevin Ambler's legal bills," said RPOF spokesman Dan Conston.

Because the lawsuit includes a request from Ambler to be named the Republican nominee, it should be considered a campaign expense, Conston said.

Ambler also likely ruffled feathers by choosing Mark Herron, a Democratic elections law attorney, to handle the case against Norman. Herron worked on Al Gore's challenge to George W. Bush's Florida victory in the 2000 presidential election. This year, he successfully fought an attempt by Hillsborough Republicans to have Democratic County Commission candidate John Dingfelder kicked off the ballot.

Other possibilities include former State Rep. Rob Wallace and former state Sen. John Grant. Wallace and Grant could not be reached for comment.

Also in the mix to replace Norman is state Rep. Ed Homan, who holds the District 60 seat but is being forced out by a term limit.

Homan said he moved to replace Norman at the urging of state Sen. Victor Crist.

Homan said he and Crist were roommates for the last eight years during the legislative session so he became familiar with the district.

"Crist has been my mentor for the last eight years," Homan said. "When this sequence of events came up, he called me."

He said he's interested in returning to the Legislature to help resolve issues with Medicaid funding.

"I did leave with some unfinished business," he said.

State law winnows out some potential nominees.

Election regulations don't allow parties to pick someone who qualified for another race in 2010. That means Brian Blair and Kathryn Starkey, who have been rumored to be potential replacements for Norman, are out. Blair lost the Republican primary for the District 47 state House seat, and Starkey lost the Republican primary for the District 45 state House seat.

Staff writers Lee Logan, Marlene Sokol and Jodie Tillman contributed to this report. Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

GOP told to begin process of replacing state Senate candidate Jim Norman 10/20/10 [Last modified: Thursday, October 21, 2010 7:11am]
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