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Candidates make most of extension

Twenty more political candidates qualified to run in Florida elections this year after the state's qualifying deadline was extended from noon Friday to 5 p.m. Saturday.

A Federal Express cargo plane that crashed Friday morning in Tallahassee was carrying the paperwork of several candidates trying to make Friday's deadline for filing paperwork and paying qualifying fees to get on the ballot. Gov. Jeb Bush granted those candidates an extra day.

Two candidates in the Tampa Bay area needed the extension.

Allison McInnis-Gimbert, a Hillsborough County Democrat, thought she had arranged to qualify in the District 16 state Senate race against Republican incumbent Jim Sebesta. But her package went down in the FedEx crash. She drove to Tallahassee on Friday but got to the Capitol two minutes late. Then Bush extended the deadline for candidates in her predicament.

Democrat Michael Steinberg, a candidate for the state House District 47 seat that represents Carrollwood, mailed two sets of qualifying papers to Tallahassee. Both packages were on the FedEx plane that crashed. Steinberg made Saturday's deadline, but he still has to beat six other candidates seeking the same House seat.

To qualify Saturday, candidates had to show proof that their paperwork was destroyed in the fiery crash of the FedEx plane at Tallahassee Regional Airport, or that their plans to travel to Tallahassee to qualify in person were thwarted by the airport's closure.

Investigators don't know yet what caused Friday's plane crash, which caused minor injuries to the plane's three-person crew.

After qualifying closed Saturday, it became clear that nearly half the state Senate will return to office automatically, having drawn no opposition in this year's elections. In the Tampa Bay area, those senators include Tom Lee, R-Brandon; Victor Crist, R-Tampa; and Les Miller, D-Tampa.

Such safe seats were one thing lawmakers had in mind when they redrew districts during their last session. The Legislature redraws its own district boundaries every 10 years to adjust for shifting population.

But critics say the Republican-controlled Legislature solidified GOP control by packing Democrats into a few safe Democratic seats and trying to increase the number of safe Republican seats.

Many House seats also would have been uncontested this year, but the Libertarian Party qualified House candidates in 73 out of 120 districts. The only other third-party candidates who qualified to run for the Legislature were two Green Party members running for the House. One was Kurt Gratzol of Indian Rocks Beach, who qualified to be the only opponent of Rep. John Carassas, R-Belleair.

In other developments, Republican Tom Gallagher drew no opposition and will become the state's first holder of a new chief financial officer position on the Cabinet.

One House candidate who drew no opposition was incoming House Speaker Johnnie Byrd, R-Plant City.

There were few surprises statewide, although outgoing Attorney General Bob Butterworth stunned some by deciding to run for a South Florida Senate seat.

_ The Associated Press contributed to this report.