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Races Take Shape As Qualifying Closes

Senator Marco Rubio speaks during a rally in March 2016. (File photo)
Senator Marco Rubio speaks during a rally in March 2016. (File photo)

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE— Sporting an orange hat that proclaimed "Let Irv Serve," state Rep. Irv Slosberg pointed his smart phone's video camera at a sign in the Division of Elections office that proclaimed "Qualifying is closed."

"Slosberg is qualified," the Boca Raton Democrat repeated, until it was pointed out that the phrase should be plural, as his daughter Emily Slosberg has also qualified to run in a primary for his House seat this year.

Slosberg, who is giving up a potential fourth term in the House to challenge incumbent Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, in District 31, was among a number of candidates and party staffers in the election division's headquarter as the noon deadline arrived Friday to qualify for the Aug. 30 primary and Nov. 8 general election.

"This isn't Jeff Clemens seat," said Slosberg, who had initially filed paperwork to run against Rep. Kevin Rader, D-Delray Beach, in Senate District 29. "It's the people's seat."

Clemens told the Sun-Sentinel he wasn't surprised by Slosberg's move.

"I've been hearing for weeks that Republicans were trying to find a Democrat to run against me, and it appears they finally found their man," Clemens told the newspaper.

There were other last minute maneuvers, particularly as Democrats got a number of challengers qualified Friday to run against South Florida Republicans. But there were few major surprises to rival Sen. Marco Rubio's decision on Wednesday that he would run for re-election after pledging for months that he would step aside.

The Division of Elections was still posting updated qualifying information late Friday, and as of 7 p.m. the agency had not yet said that the list of qualified candidates had been finalized.

Overall, Republicans and Democrats will square off in November for about 60 of the 160 state House and Senate seats that were up for grabs, and all of the state's 27 Congressional districts. Due to the court-ordered adoption of a new redistricting plan, all 40 Senate seats are up for election this year; generally, half of the chamber's seats go before voters in each cycle.

Many other candidates will face primary challenges or write-in candidates. But the filings reported by late Friday indicate that about 40 legislative seats will go uncontested.

In the Senate, Republicans apparently re-elected Friday were: Aaron Bean of Fernandina Beach; Rob Bradley of Fleming Island; David Simmons of Altamonte Springs; Wilton Simpson of Trilby; Tom Lee of Brandon; Bill Galvano of Bradenton; and Denise Grimsley of Sebring.

Senate Democrats apparently re-elected were Audrey Gibson of Jacksonville and Oscar Braynon of Miami Gardens.

The Senate also appeared to be in line to pick up three new members for the 2017 session who wouldn't have to go before the voters: former House Minority Leader Perry Thurston, a Democrat from Lauderhill; Plantation Democrat Lauren Book, who is the daughter of influential lobbyist Ron Book; and Bay County Commissioner George Gainer, a Republican who will replace Sen. Greg Evers, who is running for Congress.

"We are excited and humbled to be elected without opposition," Book said in a release.

Book will replace Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, and Thurston will take the seat currently held by Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale. Sobel and Smith couldn't run again due to term-limits.

Meanwhile, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, could ease their way into another term as they face only write-in candidates in November.

In the Florida House, Republicans and Democrats will square off for about 55 of the 160 seats, while around 29 seats are going uncontested.

Incoming Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes, and Sen. Joseph Abruzzo, a Boynton Beach Democrat changing chambers, were among those who technically won Friday, as they were the only ones to qualify for their respective seats.

Other GOP incumbents that may return in 2017 without facing opposition are Reps. Cyndi Stevenson, Larry Metz, Daniel Burgess, Eric Eisnaugle, Cary Pigman, Jake Raburn, James Grant, Jim Boyd, Dane Eagle, Heather Fitzenhagen, and Bill Hager.

Republicans Don Hahnfeldt, Ralph Massullo and Michael Grant will be part of the freshman class.

Democratic lawmakers coming back appear to include Reps. Clovis Watson, Janet Cruz, Larry Lee, Bobby DuBose, Kristin Jacobs, Jared Moskowitz, Katie Edwards, Evan Jenne, Joe Geller, Shevrin "Shev" Jones, Sharon Pritchett, Cynthia Stafford and Kionne McGhee.

Rep. Jay Fant, R-Jacksonville, might be the only House member who will appear on the November ballot alongside a space for a write-in candidate.

Meanwhile, with perennial candidate Gary Stein qualifying on Friday as a Republican to take on U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, all 27 of the state's U.S. Congressional seats will be contested in the fall. Stein has run as an independent for Congress in New Jersey and as a Democrat for the Florida House.

The News Service of Florida is a wire service to which WUFT News subscribes.