Chris Dorworth, a Lake Mary Republican once poised to take control of the state House in 2014, all but conceded his latest race for re-election Friday as his colleagues appeared to rally around Rep. Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, to replace him as the future leader of the chamber.
In a memo to lawmakers Friday afternoon, Dorworth said an almost certain recount in House District 29 probably wouldn't wipe out his 123-vote deficit to Democratic challenger Mike Clelland. Almost 74,000 voters cast ballots in the race.
"While there will be recounts, Ive been around long enough to know that they rarely result in a difference of meaningful numbers of votes," Dorworth wrote. "So while we will exercise our right to have these recounts, I do not anticipate that they will change the outcome of this race."
Chris Cate, a spokesman for Secretary of State Ken Detzner, said the state Division of Elections would wait until reviewing the unofficial results Saturday before deciding whether to order an automatic recount, which happens when the margin of victory in a race is less than half a percentage point.
Dorworth said he hoped that House members first elected alongside him in 2008 would be allowed to choose his replacement, and threw his support behind Crisafulli, already emerging as the front-runner to take over Dorworth's spot in House leadership. Crisafulli did not return a message left at his office requesting comment.
"While he does not boast my good looks, I believe he has the perfect temperament and experience as a small businessman to guide the House with honor and integrity," Dorworth wrote. "From all that I have read and heard, things are progressing towards the caucus uniting around him, and I believe that happening would lead to the best possible environment for the Florida House to tackle the challenges that lay ahead."
Incoming Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, told the News Service of Florida earlier this week that House leadership would not attempt to appoint a speaker to replace Dorworth.
At least one House member confirmed that he was already supporting Crisafulli's bid for speaker. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican whose father is incoming Senate President Don Gaetz, said he had called Crisafulli to offer his commitment.
Matt Gaetz said Crisafulli has the "obvious skill set to do the job" and pointed to Crisafulli's involvement in redistricting and as chairman of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee.
"I made my commitment to Steve, and I think it's likely other members are doing the same thing, because they've probably reached the same conclusion I have (about supporting Crisafulli)," Gaetz said.
Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, said Crisafulli is knowledgeable and well-respected on both sides of the aisle.
"I happen to think Steve Crisafulli is an excellent choice," Waldman said.
He also predicted that Republicans would close ranks in an effort to avoid a repeat of the messy departure of former House Speaker Ray Sansom, who resigned in 2009 shortly after his term began amid questions about how he landed a six-figure job at a state college.
"They want to get this done as quickly as possible," Waldman said.