Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Senate GOP leaders get their way in state primaries

TALLAHASSEE — Powered by $3 million in corporate campaign money, state Senate Republicans raced to a clean sweep on Tuesday in Tampa Bay and beyond.

The results were a decisive victory for Sen. Don Gaetz, the Niceville Republican who will become Senate president in November, and for the many Tallahassee interests that helped bankroll him and his slate of Senate candidates.

The results likely will keep the makeup of the Legislature largely the same.

"Every primary in which I had an interest turned out exactly as I had hoped." Gaetz said. "I wouldn't have traded our candidate for anybody else."

Alluding to his arsenal of campaign money, which paid for hard-hitting attack ads against his GOP opponents, Gaetz said: "When you go into battle, it's better to have more ammunition and a better battle plan than the other side."

In the two most hard-fought Senate races, losing candidates were aligned with Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who needed both wins to strengthen a claim to a future Senate presidency.

Like his predecessors, Gaetz played favorites in open Senate seats, backing them with large soft-money donations from utilities, doctors, health care firms and agribusiness interests.

The primary sweep is likely to embolden Senate leaders to continue a controversial practice of taking sides in contested primaries where no incumbent is running, turning primaries into high-stakes poker games with real-life results.

If any candidate on Gaetz's slate had lost, he would have looked weaker, and it would have sowed seeds of discontent in a 40-member body that often has the final word in the passage or defeat of key legislation.

As Gaetz-backed candidates got massive injections of money and ground support, their opponents were forced to run insurgent campaigns in which they railed against the special interests in Tallahassee.

In race after race, the anointed candidates prevailed:

• Former Senate President Tom Lee of Brandon beat Rep. Rachel Burgin of Riverview.

• Ex-Rep. Aaron Bean, like Lee pursuing a comeback, decisively beat Rep. Mike Weinstein in a Jacksonville-based seat.

• Rep. John Legg of Port Richey crushed two GOP rivals in a seat straddling the Pasco-Hillsborough line.

In a fourth Republican family feud, Rep. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, did not openly have the support of Gaetz and his fellow leaders, but he handily defeated Rep. Jim Frishe to clinch an open seat in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

Brandes, like other Senate winners, had a substantial fundraising advantage.

In the cheering crowd at Brandes' victory party was Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, a Gaetz ally and Latvala's primary rival for the 2016 Senate presidency.

Negron said Brandes invited him to attend.

Brandes may be an incoming freshman senator, but his win elevates him to a potential kingmaker in a future Senate leadership fight.

"Republicans throughout the state were looking for strong, conservative leaders, and they found several of them," Negron said. "I'm very proud to support Jeff Brandes."

Gaetz praised Lee for an effective and hard-working race, but added that Burgin hurt her own chances with a negative campaign that targeted Lee's personal life.

"Gutter politics. Republicans don't like that," Gaetz said. "Tom Lee earned his victory and Rachel Burgin beat herself."

Primary races for the state House were more low-key.

Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, the incoming speaker, noted that not one House Republican was beaten by a challenger, even though many ran in new, unfamiliar areas due to redistricting.

"We feel like our slate of candidates is pretty good," he said.

It was a smoothly-run election marked by a weak turnout: One in every five eligible voters cast a ballot.

Turnout was especially sluggish in the state's three largest counties of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263.

Senate GOP leaders get their way in state primaries 08/14/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 15, 2012 11:55am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Iraq's Kurds vote on independence, raising regional fears

    World

    IRBIL, Iraq — Iraqi Kurds voted Monday in a landmark referendum on supporting independence, a move billed by the Kurdish leadership as an exercise in self-determination but viewed as a hostile act by Iraq's central government. Neighboring Turkey even threatened a military response.

    People celebrate Monday after voting closed in a referendum on independence in Irbil, Iraq.
  2. North Korean diplomat says Trump has 'declared war'

    War

    UNITED NATIONS — North Korea's top diplomat said Monday that President Donald Trump's weekend tweet was a "declaration of war" and North Korea has the right to retaliate by shooting down U.S. bombers, even in international airspace.

    North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, center, speaks outside the U.N. Plaza Hotel in New York on Monday.
  3. No toll lanes north of downtown Tampa in three of four interstate proposals

    Transportation

    TAMPA — Express lanes may not be coming to downtown Tampa after all. Or at least not to the stretch of Interstate 275 that goes north through Bearss Avenue.

    Seminole Heights resident Kimberly Overman discusses the new interstate options with V.M. Ybor resident Chris Vela (left), Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp and HNTB consultant Chloe Coney during a Tampa Bay Express meeting Monday night at the Barrymore Hotel. [CAITLIN JOHNSTON  |  Times]
  4. Pinellas grants St. Pete's request to add millions to pier budget

    Local Government

    Times Staff Writer

    The Pinellas County Commission has granted St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman's request to dedicate millions more toward the city's new pier.

    The St. Petersburg City Council on Thursday  voted 7-1 to appropriate $17.6 million for the over-water portion of the Pier District. This is a rendering of what the new Pier District could look like. [Courtesy of St. Petersburg]
  5. Man injured when small helicopter crashes into Odessa home

    Accidents

    ODESSA — A small manned helicopter crashed into the roof of a house in northwest Hillsborough County on Monday, injuring a pilot, officials said.

    Rescuers respond to a crash of a small helicopter on the roof of a home in the Odessa area on Monday. [Hillsborough County Fire Rescue]