Expect a highly active campaign season now that qualifying has come to an end.
Only a single member of the state’s congressional delegation, U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, managed to avoid a primary or general election challenger, while eight state senators technically won re-election because no one filed to challenge them.
The qualifying deadline came to an end Friday.
While the flurry of last-minute, in-office qualifying activity in the state Division of Elections office was said to be down from past years, 540 candidates qualified to run for congressional and legislative seats.
“There are lots of elections, every (Senate seat) is open with redistricting, it’s a presidential year as well, it’s going to be an active year,” said Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Coral Gables, after qualifying Friday without opposition.
He was one of the few who failed to pick up opposition.
Now the state parties and lobbying groups will have to decided where best to direct their money as there will be 11 Republican and seven Democratic primaries from among the 27 congressional districts. The two parties will clash in 20 of the contests.
In the end, there will be at least four new members, because the state -- due to population growth -- has added two seats, Rep. Connie Mack IV, R-Fort Myers, is running for the U.S. Senate, and another seat is open because redistricting has pushed Rep. Sandy Adams, R-Orlando, and John Mica, R-Winter Park, into a GOP primary.
View U.S. House candidates here
View U.S. Senate candidates here
Mark Wilson, Florida Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, in a letter to members on Friday, estimated the state Senate, which currently has 28 Republicans, will end up with 25 or 26 in November, and the House will have between 76 and 82 Republicans among its 120 members this fall. There are currently 81 GOP members in the House.
"I feel compelled to offer my perspective that I cannot remember a time when free enterprise was under attack by so many groups, in so many ways and at so many levels of government as it is today," Wilson wrote. "The business community must stay focused on free enterprise and job creation and be willing to engage the opposition at every level -- securing Florida’s future depends on it."
In the Senate, with at least 14 seats assured of changing hands, the major parties are set to go head to head in 27 of the 40 contests, with the GOP holding eight primaries and the Democrats two.
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Republican Sens. Charles Dean, R-Inverness; Garrett Richter, R-Naples; Nancy Detert, R-Venice; Anitere Flores, R-Miami; Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah; and Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Coral Gables; and Democratic senators Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa; and Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, were returned without opposition.
Democrats put up last-minute candidates to challenge Republican Sens. John Thrasher of Jacksonville, David Simmons of Altamonte Springs, Andy Gardiner of Orlando, Thad Altman of Melbourne, Joe Negron of Stuart, and Lizbeth Benacquisto of Fort Myers, along with Senate seats being sought by Rep. Denise Grimsley of Sebring, and Dade businessman Wilton Simpson.
Last minute filings from Republicans gave November opponents to Democratic Sens. Audrey Gibson of Jacksonville, Gwen Margolis of North Miami Beach, Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale, Jeremy Ring of Parkland, and Eleanor Sobel of Hollywood.
Four other district seats -- 1, 2, 11 and 22 -- should fall into Republican hands as the challengers are write-in or independent candidates, while the Democrats should be assured of grabbing the 27th District, with a write-in candidate the only opposition to a pair of Democrats.
The state House will see 33 Republican primaries, 27 Democratic primaries and 48 battles in November between parties from out of the 120 districts.
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Overall, 31 seats were decided Friday, with Republicans grabbing 21 seats -- including House Speaker-designate Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and 10 going to Democrats.
Of the remaining 41 seats the parties are not fighting for, the Republicans should be assured of winning 28 of the districts.
Secretary of State Ken Detzner called qualifying “a great week.”
“The lines were not that long and people seemed very satisfied with the customer service here at the Division of Elections,” Detzner said.
"What's clear in (Friday's) candidate qualifying is that Republicans will retain control of the state Legislature and possibly add to those majorities," said Republican Party of Chairman Lenny Curry in a prepared statement. "We have great Republican candidates who stand ready to defeat Bill Nelson and also have a slate of congressional candidates who will help secure our Party's majority in the U.S. House.
"Our success has been and will continue to be that we are a party of common sense conservatives who offer a positive vision to get Florida and the nation back on a path to prosperity."
The last candidate to qualify at noon on Friday was Stanley Blumenthal, an 87-year-old from Sunrise who described himself as an “independent socialist.” He filed to take on U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, in District 25.
“I think the Republicans and the Democrats make an unbalanced House of Representatives,” Blumenthal said. “The whole world has socialists in it and I have different ideas. Like I don’t like corporations registering in the Cayman Islands to avoid taxes.”
Blumenthal, who also ran in 2010, ended up last in the qualifying line as he had to make a last-minute change because he was unaware of the once-a-decade redistricting that had changed the district numbering.
Reach Jim Turner at email@example.com or at (772) 215-9889.