As an expensive and divisive primary shapes up on the Democratic side of the race to succeed Dwight Dudley in House District 68, one Republican thought to be a contender for the seat says he’s not interested in running.
Former state Rep. Frank Farkas said late last week he won’t be on the ballot in 2016. Farkas, a St. Petersburg chiropractor, held the seat from 1998 to 2006.
Farkas attempted to regain the seat in 2012, but lost a tough campaign to Dudley. (Don’t feel too bad for Farkas about that loss; six months later he won $50,000 a year for life in a Florida Lottery scratch-off game.)
District 68 is one of the most competitive legislative seats in Florida. Six different lawmakers have represented the Pinellas district – four Democrats and two Republicans – since 1996.
Dudley’s surprise announcement that he would not seek re-election has set off a chain reaction in local Democratic politics. Hours after Dudley’s announcement, rising star Ben Diamond said he would run for the seat and have already lined up several Democratic elected officials to endorse him. But on Monday, Eric Lynn, himself thought to be one of the faces of the future of the Democratic Party, abandoned his congressional bid to run in HD 68.
A primary fight between Diamond and Lynn is expected to cost north of $500,000 — a hefty price when Democratic resources in the area are limited.
HD 68 is a swing seat with a blue lean, according to demographics expert Matt Isbell. Voters in the district went 55 percent for Charlie Crist in the 2014 gubernatorial race and 54 percent for Barack Obama in 2012.
The lone Republican in the contest is Joseph “JB” Bensmihen, a home health-care company founder who recently moved to Pinellas from Palm Beach County. Bensmihen told William March of the Tampa Bay Times he’s willing to put a substantial amount of his own money, $50,000 to $100,000, into his campaign.
On Monday, Bensmihen announced that local Republican activist Matt Lettellier will manage his campaign.