Tallahassee: Five primary races to watch

Published Oct. 15, 2012

If you're like a lot of voters in Florida, you'll blissfully ignore the Aug. 14 primary election, having convinced yourself that because a primary is sort of a preliminary round, your one vote just isn't very important.

In fact, the opposite is true: The fewer votes that are cast in a low-turnout election, the greater the power of each vote.

That's why, if you have a track record of voting in primaries, you're being flooded with mailers and phone calls. You're a "super voter," and the political pros who run local elections know who you are.

With that in mind, here's a look at five key primary races for the Legislature on next month's ballot. Most are in the Senate because primaries there tend to pit more established candidates, and because Senate districts are bigger than House districts.

South Pinellas and South Tampa, Senate District 22: Republican Reps. Jeff Brandes and Jim Frishe duel in a race between the youthful brashness of Brandes and the buttoned-down Reagan-era experience of Frishe. It's new blood vs. Old Reliable, and no Democrat made the ballot so this is tantamount to the general election.

East Hillsborough, Senate District 24: A down-and-dirty Republican primary between Rep. Rachel Burgin's grass roots style and former Senate President Tom Lee's network of insider support, including his status as the choice of Senate GOP leaders. No leadership-backed Senate candidate has ever lost a primary, and Tallahassee insiders aren't about to let Lee lose.

Jacksonville, Senate District 4: Former Rep. Aaron Bean, a Jeb Bush favorite, seeks a return to Tallahassee against Rep. Mike Weinstein of Jacksonville in a race that will answer the question of whether GOP voters are Duval-centric, or willing to elect a senator (Bean) from idyllic but far-flung Fernandina Beach.

South Miami-Dade, Senate District 39: Twice in the past decade, Ron Saunders has run for the state's southernmost seat in the Senate, and twice has lost in the primary to fellow Democrat Larcenia Bullard, who now is termed out.

Saunders, a House member from Key West, is trying again, this time against Bullard's son, Dwight, also a state House member. The third time could be the charm for Saunders, who has a 3-to-1 fundraising advantage over Bullard in a race with three other Democrats. The district is huge but the turnout usually is not: In 2002, Larcenia Bullard won a five-way primary with 8,999 votes.

Miami, House District 112: A pair of former Miami-Dade lawmakers, neither of whom has been known to ever back down from a fight, are seeking comebacks. They are former Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla and ex-Rep. Gus Barreiro, both with less-than-pristine backgrounds.

Voters often go with a name that sounds familiar, and few names in Miami are more familiar than Diaz de la Portilla. Miguel was just re-elected to the Senate, and a third brother, Renier, is making a comeback bid in another Miami-Dade House seat.

Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark this week will mail sample primary ballots to more than 600,000 voters. But if the recent past is any guide, only about a quarter of eligible voters will cast ballots in the Aug. 14 primary.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at or (850) 224-7263.