State Rep. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, filed to run for the Florida Senate on Friday, setting up a potentially bruising primary that could pit him against either Rep. Jim Frishe, R-St. Petersburg, or Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater.
"We need a strong leader to represent south Pinellas. I've shown leadership in the House and I bring a fresh perspective both as a small-business owner and former military officer," said Brandes, 36.
Senate District 22 stretches across south Pinellas, and about a quarter of it is in Hillsborough. While it's a competitive district, no high-profile Democrat has emerged for the seat so far. Democrat Mark Robert Moon filed to run last month.
The deadline for qualifying closes at the end of next week, and it's unclear which veteran legislator will face off against Brandes — Frishe or Latvala. Frishe has planned to run in District 22 and Latvala in the Senate district encompassing north Pinellas, but both said Friday they may switch races.
"Jack and I still have to talk about that some," said Frishe, calling Brandes a "young and ambitious" candidate. "It's a redistricting year, so everybody's got to be a little flexible."
Likewise, Latvala called Brandes a "Johnny-come-lately" with nowhere near the community involvement or legislative experience he or Frishe have.
"But we don't have millions of dollars in our pockets to blow and move up the ladder," he said, referring to Brandes' wealth.
"It's unfortunate that many local Republicans worked their heart out for him to win the House seat just two years ago, when he beat a very loyal guy in the community (Bill Heller) who had a lot of respect in the community just to become another one of those ladder climbers that can't get up the ladder fast enough. I think it's sad."
Brandes' move sets up a potentially competitive race in his northeast St. Petersburg state House district, where Republican former legislator Frank Farkas is considering running and Democrats Dwight Dudley and William Nobles have announced. Republican Daryle Lee Hamel filed to run for the seat in January but has kept a low profile. Matthew Weidner is running without party affiliation.
Adam C. Smith can be reached at [email protected]