Without kissing a single baby, dozens of Florida candidates, including one for Congress, were elected or re-elected this year with no effort other than filling out a form and paying a filing fee.
In the Tampa Bay area, Sen. Arthenia Joyner and Reps. Rich Glorioso, Betty Reed, John Legg and Seth McKeel all were immediately re-elected when the state's qualifying period ended Friday and no challengers had emerged.
In all, 35 candidates won office this year with nary a vote cast, despite a ballot robust with high-profile federal and Florida Cabinet races that could attract voters favorable to untested politicians. There are also a slew of ballot measures, including an effort to inject more competition in state elections by changing the way districts are drawn.
The conflict-free elections extended to congressional races. U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, who switched districts to seek the seat being vacated by his retiring brother Lincoln, had no challenger.
"It has everything to do with redistricting because, as it stands, districts are drawn by politicians for politicians to ensure their power is continued year from to year," said Ellen Freidin, campaign chair of Fair Districts Florida, the citizen group behind two constitutional amendments that would require lawmakers to adhere to redistricting standards that don't favor incumbents when they redraw legislative and congressional lines starting next year.
"If there is no competition in the election, then they don't have to come to the voters and answer for the way they voted," she said.
And yet, this was still Florida's most competitive election cycle in years.
In 2008, 42 politicians took office without a contest. In 2006, there were 58 unchallenged races, including five congressional seats.
These totals do not include candidates for public defender, district court or circuit judge, who all generally receive a free ride because of the specialized nature of their offices.
Unopposed incumbents counted down the hours Friday morning, crossing their fingers that a last-minute contender would not emerge.
"A lot of the Republicans and I work together on bills, so I don't want to be naïve, but I don't think they would run someone against me," said Reed, of Tampa.
She worried a fellow Democrat would qualify in the final hour, triggering a primary race, but was reassured in the afternoon with the news that she had won.
"I hope it is because I am doing a good job," she said, before adding, "The economy might have had something to do with it. To run for a state seat, it might sound attractive, but it is not a lot of money."
During the Legislative session, it seemed unlikely so many candidates would win a free term.
The state's largest teachers union threatened to run out any candidates who backed a controversial plan to link teacher pay to student test scores. The legislation passed both the Senate and the House before Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed it. Yet, a handful of Republicans who backed the measure, including incoming Senate President Mike Haridopolos, McKeel in Lakeland, Legg in Port Richey and Glorioso in Plant City, didn't draw opponents.
"There are a lot of places where it is just real difficult to unseat somebody just because of the way the districts are made up," said Mark Pudlow, spokesman for the Florida Education Association. "It is hard to find moderate Republicans to run in primaries and it is hard to find Democrats to run in a district that is 65 percent Republican."
Joyner, D-Tampa, also seemed vulnerable to a challenge after reports that she hired a Tampa felon as her campaign consultant in previous elections. Her vote against a state Public Service Commissioner who opposed higher electric rates also drew criticism. She did not respond to multiple requests for comment. A staffer said Joyner was traveling because of a death in the family.
"She is probably the best known elected official in her district," said her law partner, Clark Jordan-Holmes.
State Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, briefly considered running against Joyner before he decided to stay in the House. He drew a late opponent Friday.
"It keeps all of us who are incumbents on our toes," he said.
Party leaders conceded there was not much incentive to put up a fight in every district claimed by a rival.
"They are just not a stronghold for the party," said Deborah Cox-Roush, chairwoman of the Hillsborough County Republicans, of the Democratic districts represented by Reed and Joyner.
Cox-Roush, who is also vice chairwoman of the state Republican party, said primary opponents weren't banned from running in Hillsborough, but the party's satisfaction with McKeel, Legg and Glorioso, both well connected GOP leaders in Tallahassee, is widely known. Neither drew a competitor in the last election cycle, either.
"When you look at those who don't have opponents, they have done a great job in Tallahassee and we support those incumbents," Cox-Roush said.
But not every incumbent earns high marks.
Reps. Ray Sansom, R-Destin, was re-elected without a fight in both 2006 and 2008. Sansom now faces criminal charges for allegedly appropriating $6 million so a Panhandle college could build an airplane hangar for use by a political supporter and Republican Party donor.
Cristina Silva can be reached at (727) 893-8846 or [email protected]