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Republicans Close but Unlikely to Win Supermajority in State Senate

September 23, 2010 - 6:00pm

With Sen. John Thrasher of Jacksonville, chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, vowing that the incoming Senate will be the most conservative upper chamber in 40 years, the Republicans gleefully look to expand their majority in November -- and believe they have a great chance of doing so.

But it wont be easy. And it's highly likely they will win the four more seats it would take to reach a supermajority. They're close -- and will be closer after Nov. 2 -- but they are likely to fall two seats short.

Republicans are looking to pick up two seats from the Democrats and the Democrats are hoping to take three seats from the Republicans. While the battles for these five seats won't swing control from the GOP, they clearly impact how the Senate will be run.

Republicans currently hold 26 of the 40 seats in the Senate, the Democrats 13. But the vacant seat was held by Ted Deutch before he won election to the U.S. Congress and no other candidate besides the Democratic nominee, Rep. Maria Sachs of Delray Beach, is running for the seat representing parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties.

The Senate Republicans have their eyes on two Senate seats currently held by Democrats.

The Republicans are counting on picking up the seat currently held by Sen. Charlie Justice, D-St. Petersburg --who is leaving the Senate after one term to challenge U.S. Rep. Bill Young --that covers parts of Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

After eight years out of office, former Senate Majority Leader Jack Latvala is hoping to return to the Senate. By Sept. 10, the last day in the latest campaign finance reports sent to the Division of Elections, Latvala had raised almost $585,000 and spent almost $386,000. Pinellas County School Board member Nina Hayden, the Democratic candidate in the race, is hampered by a cash shortage. She raised a fraction of that amount -- bringing in just under $13,000 and spending more than $12,000 of that amount.

Republicans are also targeting the seat held by retiring Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres. It represents parts of Charlotte, Glades, Hendry, Lee and Palm Beach counties. But this one is a tight race.

Wellington councilwoman and Vice Mayor Lizbeth Benacquisto won the Republican nomination, defeating in the primary former Rep. Sharon Merchant and Mike Lameyer, an ex-Marine and a backer of the James Madison Institute. Through Sept. 10, Benacquisto had raised almost $327,000 and gathered more than $20,000 through in-kind donations. She has spent more than $310,000.

Rep. Kevin Rader of Boynton Beach, the Democrat, hopes to keep the Republicans from picking up this seat. He defeated attorney Pete Burkett in the primary and, while he has less money than Benacquiso, he had more on hand through Sept. 10. Rader raised upward of $275,000, loaned his campaign $10,000 and spent more than $229,000 -- leaving him more for the crucial last weeks of the election.

But the Democrats are drawing their own targets -- focusing on two Republican incumbents in the northern part of the state and looking to pick up an open seat currently held by Senate President Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach.

Democrats would love to knock off Sen. John Thrasher whorepresents parts of Nassau, Duval, St. Johns, Flagler and Volusia counties.

While the First Coast is one of the more conservative parts of the state, Democrats have placed their bets on Deborah Gianoulis, who is well-known in the area from her decades as a news anchor in Jacksonville. Gianoulis is also trying to wrap herself in the mantle of the late Jim King, the popular Republican who represented this district before Thrasher.

Having held off Dr. Charles Perniciaro in the primary, Thrasher is low on funds. He spent more than $412,000 of the $425,000 he raised through Sept. 10. A number of 527 organizations helped Thrasher during his campaign for the seat in 2009 and against Perniciaro. Gianoluis did not have a primary and spent more than $77,000 of the more than $157,000 she raised through Sept. 10. Rebecca Ann Holcomb is running as a write-in candidate.

Democrats also have high hopes of knocking off Sen. Steve Oelrich, R-Gainesville, who represents all of Alachua, Bradford, Gilchrist and Union counties and parts of Columbia, Levy, Marion and Putnam counties. Running for a second term, Oelrich had brought in more than $228,000 by the Sept. 10 deadline. He has spent almost $117,000 so far in the campaign.

Former Rep. Perry McGriff is the Democratic candidate in the race. By Sept. 10 he had raised almost $163,000 and loaned his campaign $100,000. McGriff has kept his powder dry, having spent more than $21,000 -- leaving his campaign with more than $240,000 in the final weeks of the campaign.

McGriff has high name recognition in the region. Besides serving in the House, the Gainesville City Commission and the Alachua County Commission, McGriff was a star baseball and football player at the University of Florida.

Democrats are also hoping to win the seat that represents parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties currently held by Atwater, the Republican candidate for state CFO.

The Democratic candidate in the race is Rep. Kelly Skidmore of Boca Raton. Skidmore, who has been in the House since 2006, has been mustering her resources. Through Sept. 10 she raised more than $226,000 in cash and more than $26,000 through in-kind contributions. Shes saved most of it -- spending more than $43,000 through Sept. 10.

Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff of Fort Lauderdale defeated Rep. Carl Domino of Jupiter for the Republican nomination. Bogdanoff has raised more than $555,000 in cash, loaned the campaign $2,000 and has more than $7,700 through in-kind donations. But she spent more than $550,000 of that fending off Domino.

Further complicating the race is the presence of Harvard grad Miranda Rosenberg, who is running without party affiliation.

While there are other races for Senate seats, they don't appear to be as competitive:

SD 2: Rep. Greg Evers, R-Milton, won the Republican nomination to replace retiring Sen. Durell Peaden, R-Crestview, who represents Holmes and Washington counties, as well as parts of Bay, Escambia, Okaloosa and Walton counties. Evers has no Democratic opponent though he faces TEA Party candidate Christopher Crawford and write-in candidate Margaret Smith in November.

SD 4:
Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, represents parts of Bay, Escambia, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton counties in Northwest Florida. Gaetz, who has been in the Senate since 2006, will represent that area for four more years because he faces no opposition for a second term.

SD 6:
With Senate Minority Leader Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, retiring, Democrats are favored to keep this seat, representing all of Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Jackson, Liberty and Wakulla counties and parts of Bay, Jefferson, Leon and Madison counties. Former Leon County Schools Superintendent Bill Montford held off a challenge from former Rep. Curtis Richardson to win the Democratic nod. Republican candidate John Shaw, a computer repair business owner, has raised less than $2,500 so far and hopes to benefit from ads Republicans are running targeting U.S. Rep. Allen Boyd, one of the most vulnerable congressional Democrats in the nation. Shaw remains an underdog to pick up this seat for the Republicans.

SD 10:
Representing parts of Hillsborough, Paco and Polk counties, conservative Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Brandon, faces Victoria Brake who is running as a write-in candidate come November but no other opposition.

SD 12:
With Sen. Victor Crist, R-Tampa, retiring due to term limits, Hillsborough County Commissioner Jim Norman, who defeated Rep. Kevin Ambler of Tampa in the Republican primary, will face two write-in candidates, Derek Crabb and Kimberly Rensipe, in November to represent parts of Hillsborough and Pasco counties in the Senate.

SD 18:
Representing parts of Hillsborough, Manatee and Pinellas counties, Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, has drawn no opposition in November.

SD 20: Covering parts of Lake, Marion, Seminole, Sumter and Volusia counties, Rep. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, should be a heavy favorite to replace retiring Sen. Carey Baker, R-Eustis. Hays has raised more than $286,000 and spent more than $83,000, while Democratic foe Eunice Garbutt has spent more than $5,200 of the more than $5,000 she has raised and $1,000 she has loaned her campaign.

SD 22: With Sen. Lee Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs, facing term limits, former Rep. David Simmons -- who served in the House from 2000 until 2008 -- is headed back to Tallahassee. Simmons is the only candidate who made the November ballot, keeping this seat -- which covers parts of Orange and Seminole counties -- in Republican hands.

SD 24:
Sen. Thad Altman, R-Viera, represents parts of Brevard, Orange and Seminole counties and held off a Republican primary challenge from conservative businessman Bart Carmichael. With no Democrat in the race, Altman will take on independent candidate Steve Edmonds in November.

SD 26:
Incoming Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, is the only candidate who made the ballot for this seat which includes parts of Brevard, Indian River, Osceola and St. Lucie counties.

SD 28: Sen. Joe Negron, R-Palm City, has not drawn any opposition and will continue to represent Martin County and parts of Indian River, Okeechobee, Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties for another four years.

SD 30:
Democrat Sachs is the only candidate to make the ballot to replace Deutch for this seat representing parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties.

SD 32:
Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, appears poised to continue to represent parts of Broward County. With around $75,000 on hand, Ring had a healthy advantage over Republican nominee Patrick Laffey who has had problems raising campaign cash.

SD 34: Incoming Democratic Senate Leader Nan Rich of Sunrise will continue to represent parts of Broward and Miami-Dade counties as she was the only candidate to make the November ballot.

SD 35: With Sen. Dan Gelber of Miami Beach running as the Democratic nominee for attorney general, former Senate President Gwen Margolis looks poised to keep this seat representing Broward and Miami-Dade counties for the Democrats. Conservative Corey Poitier is running without party affiliation but is a very heavy underdog against Margolis.

SD 36: With no Democrat in the race, and Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, leaving the Senate, voters in this Miami-Dade district will send his brother Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, who has served on the Miami-Dade County Commission, to the Senate. Miguel will take on two write-in candidates, Luisa Artilles and Alberto Flores, in November.

SD 38:
With Sen. Alex Villalobos, R-Miami, retiring due to term limits, Rep. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, has won the Republican nomination to replace him for this seat in Miami-Dade. She will take on Democratic candidate Dr. Les Gerson, a veterinarian who has raised more than $7,500 and loaned his campaign $30,000 -- a fraction of the more than $629,000 Flores has raised. If Flores wins, she will be more conservative than Villalobos -- who endorsed Democratic nominee Gelber for attorney general and Gov. Charlie Crist for the U.S. Senate instead of Republican nominee Marco Rubio.

SD 40:
With Sen. Rudy Garcia, R-Hialeah, retiring due to term limits, former Rep. Rene Garcia, a Republican who served in the House for eight years, appears to be cruising back to Tallahassee to represent this Miami-Dade district. With no Democrat in the race, he will face write-in candidate Alexis Dominguez come November.

Reach Kevin Derby at, or at (850) 727-0859.

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