Ben Albritton Archives - Florida Politics

Ben Albritton sends backup to embattled GOP state Senators

Wauchula Republican state Rep. Ben Albritton is in good position to ascend to the state Senate in the fall and has started putting some of the cash he’s amassed in his affiliated political committee to the most vulnerable incumbent Republicans in the 40-member chamber.

Albritton’s committee, Advancing Florida Agriculture, has raised nearly $400,000 since he filed for Senate District 26, a Republican stronghold covering all of DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Highlands and Okeechobee counties as well as parts of Charlotte, Lee and Polk.

SD 26 is open due to Sebring Sen. Denise Grimsley’s ultimately unsuccessful bid for the GOP nomination to succeed Adam Putnam as Agriculture Commissioner. Albritton’s only challenger in the SD 26 contest is Lake Wales Democrat Catherine Price, whom he has outraised eightfold in hard money alone.

With extra cash in the bank, Advancing Florida Agriculture sent $11,000 to SD 8 Sen. Keith Perry, who faces well-funded Democratic challenger Kayser Enneking in November; $11,000 to former Republican Rep. Ed Hooper, who is even with former Democratic Rep. Amanda Murphy in the polls despite his massive fundraising advantage in SD 16; $11,000 to Republican Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., who faces Democratic nominee David Perez in his bid to succeed term-limited Sen. Rene Garcia in South Florida’s SD 36; and $6,000 to SD 18 Sen. Dana Young, who is polling behind House Minority Leader Janet Cruz in spite of her threefold cash advantage.

In each instance, Albritton sent $1,000 to the lawmaker’s campaign account with the balance heading to their affiliated political committees.

Though Sarasota Rep. Joe Gruters is likely to cruise in his bid for SD 23 and Ocala Sen. Dennis Baxley only faces nominal opposition in his re-election bid in SD 12, both Republicans picked up $3,500 in contributions to their campaign and committee accounts during the Aug. 25 through Aug. 31 reporting period.

Also on the ledger was an $11,000 transfer to Marili Cancio, who is challenging Democratic Sen. Annette Taddeo in SD 40. Again, $1,000 of those funds headed to Cancio’s campaign account and another $10,000 went to her affiliated political committee.

In all, Advancing Florida Agriculture shelled out $57,000 in contributions to Republican state Senate candidates and finished August with nearly $138,000 left in the tank.

When it comes to his campaign account, Albritton had cleared more than $240,000 in total fundraising for his Senate bid as of Aug. 31, with about $149,000 banked. Price had raised $31,312 as of Aug. 23 with $5,155 on hand.

More local officials endorse Denise Grimsley for Agriculture Commissioner

Sebring Sen. Denise Grimsely piled on more than 30 endorsements from local officials Monday as she sprints toward the finish line in the four-way Republican primary to succeed Adam Putnam as Agriculture Commissioner.

Monday’s list included state Rep. Ben Albritton, Highlands County Tax Collector Eric Zwayer, Lawtey Chief of Police Shane Bennett, nine county school superintendents, two school board members, eight county clerks of the court, five county commissioners and another two former state lawmakers.

The new volley of local endorsements follows another bulk endorsement rolled out by Grimsley’s campaign a little over a week ago that saw her add three dozen local elected officials to her roster of backers. Her extensive list endorsements includes 36 current county sheriffs, the Fraternal Order of Police, the Florida Professional Firefighters, the Florida Realtors, the Florida Medical Association as well as Senate President Joe Negron and six of his predecessors.

“While on the campaign trail, we have traveled from the Panhandle to the Keys, hearing from many state and local elected officials along the way about what is affecting their communities. I am inspired by their dedication to public service and I am pleased that so many have chosen to give our campaign their support after hearing how as the next Commissioner of Agriculture I will assist them in overcoming obstacles,” Grimsley said in a press release.

“As the primary election quickly approaches, I look forward to continuing to meet with these leaders and sharing with them my vision for the future of the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services.”

Grimsley faces Lehigh Acres Rep. Matt Caldwell, retired U.S. Army Col. Mike McCalister and former Winter Haven Rep. Baxter Troutman in the Aug. 28 primary race.

To date, Grimsley leads the GOP field in true fundraising with about $2.68 million raised between her campaign and political committees, Saving Florida’s Heartland and Let’s Grow Florida, since declaring for the race in February 2017. She had $850,000 banked as of Aug. 10.

Caldwell, meanwhile, has cleared well over $2 million himself and had more than $900,000 banked on Aug. 10. He’s also landed his fair share of endorsements throughout his time on the campaign trail.

Troutman has pumped $3.25 million into his campaign fund and raised about $500,000, though his high burn rate has left him with just $86,500 on hand heading into the final days of the campaign. McCalister, for his part, has yet to hit $25,000 raised for his effort, even with nearly $19,000 in candidate loans.

The eventual GOP nominee will go up against the winner of the three-way Democratic primary between Nikki FriedJeff Porter and David Walker in November.

The full list of Grimsley’s new endorsements is below:

—Jefferson County Superintendent of Schools Marianne Arbulu

—Lafayette County Superintendent of Schools Robby Edwards

—Bay County Superintendent of Schools Bill Husfelt

—Holmes County Superintendent of Schools Terry Mears

—Jackson County Superintendent of Schools Larry Moore

—Franklin County Superintendent of Schools Traci Moses

—Madison County Superintendent of Schools Karen Pickles

—Washington County Superintendent of Schools Joe Taylor

—Dixie County Superintendent of Schools Mike Thomas

—Highlands County Tax Collector Eric Zwayer

—Osceola County School Board Member Ricky Booth

—Taylor County School Board Member Jeannie Mathis

—Polk County Clerk of Court Stacy Butterfield

—Union County Clerk of Court Kellie Connell

—Charlotte County Clerk of Court Roger Eaton

—Marion County Clerk of Court David Ellspermann

—Highlands County Clerk of Court Bob Germaine

—Okeechobee County Clerk of Court Sharon Robertson

—Hardee County Clerk of Court Victoria Rogers

—Sarasota County Clerk of Court Karen Rushing

—Glades County Commissioner John Ahern

—Okeechobee County Commissioner Terry Burroughs

—Highlands County Commissioner Ron Handley

—Osceola County Commissioner Fred Hawkins

—Wakulla County Commissioner Ralph Thomas

—Lawtey Chief of Police Shane Bennett

—State Representative Ben Albritton

—Former State Senator J.D. Alexander

—Former State Representative Sharon Merchant

Police union endorses Jeff Mann for HD 56

Bartow Republican Jeff Mann has been endorsed by The Florida Police Benevolent Association in the race to succeed term-limited Rep. Ben Albritton in House District 56.

“It is a true honor to be endorsed by the PBA” Mann said. “The PBA is responsible for protecting us and it is an honor to know they trust me to protect them.”

The Florida PBA, founded 1972, is a labor union that bills itself as “The Voice of Florida’s Law Enforcement.” Their endorsement comes a couple weeks after Mann got the nod from the National Rifle Association.

Mann is competing against Melony Bell for the Republican nomination in HD 56, which covers DeSoto and Hardee counties as well as part of Polk County.

HD 56 is one of five contests, including three in the Tampa Bay area, to have its primary election locked down by a write-in candidate, meaning only Republican voters will be able to participate in the primary race despite no other party affiliated candidate making the ballot.

Bell currently leads the money race with more than $165,000 raised and more than $105,000 banked as of June 22. Mann has raised $51,615 and has $39,075 on hand in his campaign account.

HD 56 is a Republican stronghold that voted plus-26 for President Donald Trump two years ago. It has been held by Albritton since it was redrawn in 2012.

Florida Realtors make endorsements in 87 legislative races

The political arm of the Florida Realtors rolled out endorsements Monday for nearly every state legislative election slated for the 2018 ballot.

“As Realtors, we pride ourselves on our long-standing efforts to defend private property rights, promote community prosperity and preserve a professional climate that ensures the economic growth of Florida,” said Ann DeFries, chair of Florida Realtors PAC Trustees. “Our continued success in these efforts requires legislators who share these beliefs and will work with our 180,000+ members to help Floridians and their communities thrive.”

Of the 142 Senate and House seats up for grabs this year — that includes special elections to replace Senate President Joe Negron and Sarasota Republican Sen. Greg Steube27 were decided at the close of candidate qualifying deadline.

The Florida Realtors weighed in on 87 of the remaining set to go before voters in some form or fashion.

Four of those picks are virtually assured victory as their only challenge is coming from unaffiliated, third-party or write-in candidates. Those include HD 46 Democratic Rep. Bruce Antone, HD 38 Republican Rep. Danny Burgess, HD 17 Republican Rep. Cyndi Stevenson and HD 6 Republican Rep. Jay Trumbull.

Many of the other races feature an incumbent who’ll likely cruise toward re-election, such as District 2 Republican Sen. George Gainer and HD 39 Republican Rep. Josie Tomkow, though the trade association also weighed in on nearly every competitive race.

In the upper chamber, incumbent Republican Sen. Keith Perry of Gainesville got the nod in his bid for another term in Senate District 8, where he faces well-funded Democratic challenger Kayser Enneking.

In the Bay area’s premier battleground, Tampa Republican Sen. Dana Young earned the Realtor’s support for re-election over House Minority Leader Janet Cruz. St. Pete Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes also earned an endorsement, though he’s looking set for re-election after his Democratic challenger, Carrie Pilon, bowed out of the race for family reasons.

Brandes will still face a challenger of the Florida Democratic Party’s choosing, but whoever picks up the baton isn’t likely to have the same local clout as Pilon.

In Senate District 22, a stretch goal for Democrats, the Florida Realtors endorsed Lakeland Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel over Democratic challengers Bob Doyel and former Rep. Ricardo Rangel. It was the same deal for Senate District 36, where Hialeah Republican Rep. Manny Diaz Jr. faces a pair of Democrats in his bid to ascend to the Senate.

In the Democratic contest for Senate District 38, Florida Realtors picked incumbent Sen. Daphne Campbell who is facing a tough challenge from Miami attorney Jason Pizzo, the second-place finisher in the 2016 Democratic primary.

Curiously, the Florida Realtors didn’t weigh in on Senate District 16, the Pinellas and Pasco-based battleground where former Clearwater Republican Rep. Ed Hooper and former New Port Richey Democratic Rep. Amanda Murphy are in a tight race for a return trip to Tallahassee.

There was also no endorsement issued for the Treasure Coast’s Senate District 25, where Stuart Republican Rep. Gayle Harrell is facing a primary challenge from Belinda Keiser, who has already put down $700,000 of her own money in her quest to succeed Negron.

In the House, another 69 candidates received an endorsement.

Notable among those was an endorsement for Republican Rep. Shawn Harrison, who faces a challenge from Democratic attorney Fentrice Driskell in HD 63, a perennial swing seat. Also making the announcement was a long list of non-incumbents who face primary or Election Day challenges.

Those included Gonzalez Republican Rebekah Bydlak, who faces former Rep. Mike Hill in HD 1; Gulf Breeze Republican Alex Andrade, who faces Greg Merk in the HD 2 primary; Lake City Republican Marc Vann in the three-way primary to succeed Rep. Elizabeth Porter in HD 10; Winter Springs Republican David Smith, who faces Democrat Lee Mangold in HD 28; Merritt Island Republican Tyler Sirois in the three-way race for HD 51; Bartow Republican Melony Bell over Jeff Mann in HD 56; Belleair Bluffs Republican Nick DiCeglie over Berny Jacques in HD 66; St. Petersburg Republican Jeremy Bailie over Ray Blacklidge in the primary for HD 69; Bradenton Republican Will Robinson over Bradenton Democrat Tracy Pratt in HD 71; Sarasota Republican Tommy Gregory over Melissa Howard in HD 73; and Doral Republican Ana Maria Rodriguez over Democrats Javier Estevez and Ross Hancock in HD 105.

Every other candidate endorsed by the Florida Realtors was an incumbent, and most of them are safe for re-election. The full list is below.

— SD 2: Sen. George Gainer
— SD 4: Sen. Aaron Bean
— SD 8: Sen. Keith Perry
— SD 10: Sen. Wilton Simpson
— SD 12: Sen. Dennis Baxley
— SD 14: Sen. Dorothy Hukill
— SD 18: Sen. Dana Young
— SD 20: Sen. Tom Lee
— SD 22: Sen. Kelli Stargel
— SD 23: Rep. Joe Gruters
— SD 24: Sen. Jeff Brandes
— SD 26: Rep. Ben Albritton
— SD 28: Sen. Kathleen Passidomo
— SD 30: Sen. Bobby Powell
— SD 34: Sen. Gary Farmer Jr.
— SD 36: Rep. Manny Diaz Jr.
— SD 38: Sen. Daphne Campbell
— SD 40: Sen. Annette Taddeo
— HD 1: Rebekah Bydlak
— HD 2: Alex Andrade
— HD 3: Rep. Jayer Williamson
— HD 4: Rep. Mel Ponder
— HD 6: Rep. Jay Trumbull
— HD 10: Marc Vann
— HD 11: Rep. Cord Byrd
— HD 12: Rep. Clay Yarborough
— HD 16: Rep. Jason Fischer
— HD 17: Rep. Cyndi Stevenson
— HD 19: Rep. Bobby Payne
— HD 21: Rep. Chuck Clemons
— HD 22: Rep. Charlie Stone
— HD 23: Rep. Stan McClain
— HD 24: Rep. Paul Renner
— HD 25: Rep. Tom Leek
— HD 27: Rep. David Santiago
— HD 28: David Smith
— HD 29: Rep. Scott Plakon
— HD 30: Rep. Bob Cortes
— HD 31: Rep. Jennifer Sullivan
— HD 34: Rep. Ralph Massullo Jr.
— HD 35: Rep. Blaise Ingoglia
— HD 36: Rep. Amber Mariano
— HD 38: Rep. Danny Burgess
— HD 39: Rep. Josie Tomkow
— HD 40: Rep. Colleen Burton
— HD 42: Rep. Mike LaRosa
— HD 44: Rep. Robert “Bobby O” Olszewski
— HD 46: Rep. Bruce H. Antone
— HD 48: Rep. Amy Mercado
— HD 49: Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith
— HD 50: Rep. Rene “Coach P” Plasencia
— HD 51: Tyler Sirois
— HD 52: Rep. Thad Altman
— HD 53: Rep. Randy Fine
— HD 54: Rep. Erin Grall
— HD 55: Rep. Cary Pigman
— HD 56: Melony Bell
— HD 58: Rep. Lawrence McClure
— HD 60: Rep. Jackie Toledo
— HD 63: Rep. Shawn Harrison
— HD 64: Rep. James Grant
— HD 65: Rep. Chris Sprowls
— HD 66: Nick DiCeglie
— HD 67: Rep. Chris Latvala
— HD 69: Jeremy Bailie
— HD 70: Rep. Wengay “Newt” Newton
— HD 71: Will Robinson
— HD 73: Tommy Gregory
— HD 76: Rep. Ray Rodrigues
— HD 77: Rep. Dane Eagle
— HD 78: Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen
— HD 80: Rep. Byron Donalds
— HD 82: Rep. Mary Lynn Magar
— HD 85: Rep. Rick Roth
— HD 86: Rep. Matt Willhite
— HD 87: Rep. David Silvers
— HD 92: Rep. Patricia Hawkins-Williams
— HD 96: Rep. Kristin Jacobs
— HD 97: Rep. Jared Moskowitz
— HD 105: Ana Maria Rodriguez
— HD 106: Rep. Bob Rommel
— HD 108: Rep. Roy Hardemon
— HD 111: Rep. Bryan Avila
— HD 112: Rep. Nicholas Duran
— HD 114: Rep. Javier Fernandez
— HD 116: Rep. Danny Perez
— HD 120: Rep. Holly Raschein

Write-ins lock down five state legislative primary races

No write-in candidate has ever won elected office in the Sunshine State, but they have been effective in denying tens of thousands of voters from getting a say in who will represent them in the Florida Legislature.

Florida law allows all voters, no matter their political affiliation, to cast a ballot in a primary race if all candidates for the office are members of the same political party. That rule gets cast aside if a write-in candidate qualifies for the ballot.

Political parties and others have been known to abuse the so-called “write-in loophole” to close partisan primary races, a tactic that nearly always benefits the incumbent.

That’s the case in five state legislative races this year, two in South Florida and three in the greater Tampa Bay region.

In Palm Beach County’s Senate District 30, more than 189,000 registered voters will be locked out of the primary race between incumbent Democratic Sen. Bobby Powell and challenger Rubin Anderson due to the candidacy of Josh Santos.

Nearly 108,000 more won’t get to exercise their franchise in the Senate District 34 rematch between incumbent Democratic Sen. Gary Farmer and former Rep. Jim Waldman thanks to Richard Hal Sturm qualifying for the ballot.

In House District 56, Republican primary voters will decide whether Melony Bell or Jeff Mann will succeed term-limited Rep. Ben Albritton. The same situation will play out in House District 61’s four-way Democratic primary to succeed exiting Attorney General candidate Sean Shaw as well as the three-way Democratic primary to replace term-limited Minority Leader Janet Cruz in HD 62.

More than 125,000 voters across those three districts will be unable to cast a ballot in the primary race that will, in all but name, decide who represents them.

In 2016, Senate District 16 write-in candidate Katherine Perkins received 452 votes out of 190,361 ballots cast. Hers was the best Election Day total of the 26 write-ins who qualified for the ballot in that election cycle. In all, those candidates received just 2,255 votes — an average of 87 votes apiece.

Last year, a Constitution Revision Commission’s Ethics and Elections Committee considered an amendment that would fix the loophole — created by an amendment put forward by the 1998 CRC — but the provision was not among the eight amendments the commission recommended for the 2018 ballot.

Ed Hooper edges out Amanda Murphy in May fundraising

Clearwater Republican Ed Hooper narrowly outraised New Port Richey Democrat Amanda Murphy in her first month running for Senate District 16.

Hooper raised $43,575 in hard money and tacked on another $24,590 through his committee, Friends of Ed Hooper, for a total of $68,165 raised in May.

After about $12,000 in spending, Hooper’s accounts ended the month with a combined $412,760 in the bank.

As previously reported, Murphy brought in $50,000 last month through a political committee established during her time in the Florida House. She has since reported $11,240 in campaign fundraising and another $5,000 raised through a newly formed political committee, Working Towards Florida’s Future.

Those three reports combined show $66,240 raised in May. None of the accounts reported any spending, so that entire balance was in the bank on June 1.

Both candidates showed several recognizable donors on their reports, including some substantial contributions from current lawmakers.

The Friends of Ed Hooper ledger showed a $10,000 check from a committee tied to Wauchula Republican Rep. Ben Albritton, who is running for SD 26 in the fall. Anheuser-Busch distributor Great Bay Distributors chipped in $5,000, followed by a $2,000 check from red-light camera company American Traffic Solutions.

Hooper’s campaign account received 30 checks for $1,000, the maximum donation for a state legislative race. Disney and its subsidiaries were the sources of four, while Florida East Coast Industries and Great Bay Distributors each gave twice via the main company and an affiliated group. The Sembler family showed up with three checks, one apiece from Brent Sembler, Debbie Sembler and Mel Sembler.

The report for Murphy’s new committee only showed one contribution, a $5,000 check from auto dealer and philanthropist Frank Morsani. He also showed up on the campaign report with a $1,000 contribution, as did political committees tied to newly elected Sen. Lori Berman, Plantation Sen. Lauren Book, Miami Gardens Sen. Oscar Braynon and Ft. Lauderdale Sen. Gary Farmer.

Further down the list was a $250 check from Tampa Democrat Bob Buesing, the 2016 Democratic nominee in neighboring Senate District 18. He recently ended his 2018 bid in that battleground district to clear the way for House Minority Leader Janet Cruz in the primary.

Hooper, who was a member of the Florida House from 2006 through 2014, faces Palm Harbor restaurateur Leo Karruli in the primary. Karruli filed for the seat in February and had pulled in about $18,000 in campaign funds through May 31, including $14,025 in candidate loans. He has $2,660 in the bank.

Murphy, who served in the House from 2013 through 2016, doesn’t have a primary challenger.

SD 16 covers northern Pinellas and southwestern Pasco counties. The seat has a Republican edge — it voted plus-12 for Trump in 2016 — but Florida Democrats are hoping Murphy, who has a history of outperforming expectations in red-leaning seats, can turn it into a “swing seat.”

A recent poll of the November contest backs that up. It found Murphy with a slim lead over Hooper, partly due to nearly a fifth of Republicans saying they would cast a vote for her.

Polk County delegation piles on the campaign cash in May

The five lawmakers representing a piece of Polk County in the Florida House continued cruising toward Election Day with more than $90,000 in combined campaign fundraising.

Winter Haven Republican Rep. Sam Killebrew had the strongest May fundraising report of the five members of the Polk delegation, all of whom are Republicans.

The House District 41 lawmaker added $35,525 in contributions and spent just $2,395, leaving him with $80,790 in the bank as he runs for a second term against Democratic challengers Carmelo Garcia and Alex Perkins.

Garcia, who filed May 26, posted a waiver for the brief period he was a candidate last month, while Perkins hasn’t reported raising a dime since filing for the Republican stronghold in February.

Over in House District 56, term-limited Wauchula Rep. Ben Albritton showed $24,450 in new money for his campaign to succeed exiting Republican Sen. Denise Grimsley, who is running for Agriculture Commissioner in the fall.

The report, his best since October, brings his fundraising total to $172,050 with $105,646 banked. His opponent in the Senate District 26 race, Democrat Catherine Price, had raised just under $17,000 for her campaign through the end of April and had $14,263 on hand.

The gulf in fundraising between Albritton in Price is even wider when committee money is included in the tally —Albritton has another $175,000 on hand in Advancing Florida Agriculture, including $11,000 raised in May.

Taking the No. 3 spot on the Polk delegation list was Lakeland Republican Rep. Colleen Burton, who received $19,150 in campaign contributions for her House District 40 re-election bid.

Burton, currently in her second term, has now raised nearly $135,000 for the 2018 election cycle. After $7,666 in May spending, she has $88,080 banked.

Her lone opponent is Democrat Shandale Terrell, who showed $250 raised in May. Since filing for the seat in November 2016, Terrell has raised about $3,200 and had $2,330 in the bank heading into June.

St. Cloud Rep. Mike La Rosa, who represents a piece of western Polk, was $50 shy of the $10,000 mark in his May report. The third-term HD 42 lawmaker’s $9,950 in fundraising was almost completely wiped out by $9,843 in spending, leaving him with $66,765 in his campaign account on May 31.

His main opponent, Democrat Barbary Cady, hasn’t posted her May numbers yet, though she had raised a not insignificant $32,000 through the end of April with $20,175 on hand.

Also running are Republican Bienvenido Valentin and unaffiliated candidate Lonzell Ivory, neither of whom have gained traction in the money race.

The final member of the Polk delegation is also the newest member of the Florida House: Polk City Rep. Josie Tomkow.

In her first campaign finance report since winning the special election to replace former Rep. Neil Combee in House District 39, Tomkow showed $2,220 in contributions.

The small haul isn’t anything to worry about — no other candidates have filed for the seat and it’s unlikely another Republican files to challenge her before the end of the candidate qualifying period on June 22. If a Democratic candidate were to enter the fray HD 39 already proven to be a safe fortress to ride out “blue wave.”

Neil Combee

Neil Combee announces first wave of Polk County endorsements

A bundle of Polk County officials announced this week that they’re backing former Auburndale Republican Rep. Neil Combee in his bid for Florida’s 15th Congressional District.

The nods came in from current Republican Reps. Ben Albritton, Mike LaRosa and Josie Tomkow, who was recently elected to replace Combee in a special election for House District 39. Also on the list were former Rep. John Wood, Auburndale Mayor Tim Pospichal and Polk City Mayor Joe LaCascia.

Most of the endorsements praised Combee’s conservative bona fides – Albritton called him a “natural born leader,” LaCascia said Combee would never “forget who he is or where he comes from,” and Pospichal said “Main Street America needs Neil Combee.”

Tomkow’s endorsement was the most glowing. Combee was her first backer in the HD 39 contest and his upcoming kickoff fundraiser is set to be hosted at Sunny Acres Lodge, which is owned by the Tomkow family.

“I’ve known Neil and the Combee family my whole life, and there is no one who will fight harder for our area than him. He is fair, honest and humble. He means what he says, and his word is as good as gold. He is the only one in this race who will work to continue making America great again,” she said.

In accepting the endorsements, Combee stated “These folks wake up every day trying to make life better for their neighbors. That’s what service is about. It’s truly humbling to have earned their trust and support. The campaign is picking up momentum. Together we won’t let the liberals destroy our great Country.”

Combee was the first major candidate to declare for CD 15 after U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross’ announcement that he wouldn’t seek re-election in 2018. He is one of six Republicans to qualify for the ballot, alongside Dover Rep. Ross Spano, Sean HarperDanny KushmerCurt Rogers and Ed Shoemaker.

Also running for the safe Republican seat are Democrats Kristen CarlsonAndrew Learned and Ray Pena as well as three write-in candidates.

Spano is likely the best known of Combee’s primary rivals in the primary race.

CD 15 covers parts of Hillsborough, Polk and Lake counties. Spano’s base of support is in the Hillsborough portion, which is home to half of the district’s Republican voters. The Polk portion has about 40 percent of CD 15’s Republicans.

Spano is attempting to make inroads into Polk. He’s holding a campaign event this weekend in Lakeland, and has snagged endorsements from Winter Haven Republican Rep. Sam Killebrew and former Polk County Commissioner George Lindsey.

Combee’s Polk endorsements – the “first of many,” the campaign says – somewhat rebuff those efforts by showing off his strong support on his home turf. Nearly all of Combee’s former state House seat is within the boundaries of CD 15 and the last time he was on the ballot he took 62 percent of the vote.

Democrat Catherine Price files for Senate District 26

Lake Wales Democrat Catherine Price announced Friday that she would run for the Senate District 26 seat being vacated by Sebring Sen. Denise Grimsley, who is running for Agriculture Commissioner in the fall.

“Tallahassee seems to be broken and our state is in desperate need of better political leadership. We need legislators who are educated, experienced, and committed to working for the people, rather than puppeting for powerful special interests,” Price said in a press release.

“I cannot sit this one out in good conscious. We are at a critical juncture in Florida and in the world where we can choose to work together to solve the issues we face, or we can continue down the path of increased chaos and infighting.”

Price is a Lake Wales native and first-time candidate for public office. Price said the bulk of her career has been helping people get access to affordable healthcare, including organizing a successful half-cent sales tax ballot initiative that currently generates $36 mllion annually for indigent health care in Polk County

Price also served as Chairwoman of the Polk County Healthcare Alliance from 2007 to 2010.

“Too many hardworking people in Florida don’t have healthcare because they either don’t have access or it’s just too expensive. I’ve spent a lot of time advocating for affordable healthcare in Tallahassee and DC, and I can tell you that too many of these politicians just don’t get it,” she said.

Price joins Republican Rep. Ben Albritton in the race. Through the end of February he had raised $142,600 and had nearly $99,000 of that money in the bank.

SD 26 covers the whole of DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Highlands and Okeechobee counties as well as parts of Charlotte, Lee and Polk.

The district, which has a similar footprint to the old District 21, carries a massive advantage for Republicans.

Grimsley did not face an Election Day challenger in the 2016 cycle, though the Senate redistricting plan shows the seat would have gone plus-20 for Mitt Romney in 2012. It also voted plus-30 for Donald Trump in 2016.

Despite those margins, Price said she’s optimistic.

“But in 2018, a year where Democrats are hopeful that national momentum will help them win in unlikely districts, Senate District 26 is absolutely in play,” her campaign announcement read.

Democrats file in Denise Grimsley, Katie Edwards-Walpole districts

Democratic candidates have opened campaign accounts to try to succeed Sen. Denise Grimsley, a Sebring Republican, and Rep. Katie EdwardsWalpole, a Plantation Democrat, in November.

Lake Wales Democrat Catherine Price opened an account last week to run in Senate District 26, which includes DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Highlands, Okeechobee and parts of Charlotte, Lee and Polk counties, according to the state Division of Elections website.

Grimsley is running this year for state agriculture commissioner.

The only other candidate in the race is Rep. Ben Albritton, a Wauchula Republican who had raised $142,600 as of Feb. 28, a finance report shows.

Meanwhile, with Edwards-Walpole’s recent announcement that she will not run for another term in Broward County’s House District 98, Plantation Democrat Louis Reinstein became the first candidate to open an account to try to win the seat.

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