In a move that revived memories of his own rise to national office, U.S. Rep. Richard Nugent, R-Spring Hill, announced in November that he would not run again for his District 11 seat — and that he would throw his support behind longtime chief of staff Justin Grabelle.
Critics, including the Democratic candidate for the seat, Dave Koller, said it was a little too much like former Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite's announcement that she would not seek re-election in 2010. That she did it immediately before the qualifying deadline — and had alerted only Nugent — gave Nugent an open primary for the seat.
But, as was quickly clear, Grabelle, who lives in Ocala and says he has spent much of his career working with constituents in the district, will likely not have such a clear path. Too much time remains before the qualifying deadline, and the solidly Republican district is too tempting.
U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, whose own Orlando-area district would become far more Democratic according to a map recently approved by the Florida Supreme Court, has said he is exploring a run.
So is Sumter County rancher and Realtor Kelly Rice, who would have the support of an old friend, state Sen. Wilton Simpson. And nobody should assume that Grabelle's lineage, as the handpicked candidate of Brown-Waite's handpicked candidate, would guarantee her support, she said last month.
Grabelle had also been on her staff, she said, and she did not think he was ready for the job. Saying the House already had enough Washington insiders, she threw her support behind the potential candidacy of Rice.
Dan DeWitt, Times staff