Florida Politics had 11 questions before candidate qualifying week. Here are the answers.
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Did Dems field a candidate in every race? How many House candidates can Polk County hold? We know the answers.

Qualification week always brings some surprises. It also ends the period of political anticipation. Florida Politics posed 11 questions that political observers in the state wanted answered this week. With the June 14 qualification deadline passed, we now have answers.

Will trial lawyers field a serious Primary opponent against Tom Leek?

YES. This became evident almost as soon as qualification began, when former St. Johns Sheriff David Shoar jumped into the race in Senate District 7. Shortly after, The Truth Matters, which has been running attack ads on Leek, started putting out new ads touting Shoar’s candidacy.

Shoar works at the same law firm, Woolsey Morcom, as the Chair of the political committee. Finances for that political committee also revealed this week that the group has the support of trial lawyers from across the state. Leek, who is endorsed by every sitting Sheriff in the district, continues to rack up endorsements, including from Gov. Ron DeSantis. Meanwhile, Shoar is touting his own support for Donald Trump. Former professional wrestler Gerry James also qualified for the GOP Primary.

Will Carlos Guillermo Smith walk into a Senate seat?

YES. As of noon, nobody else was filed for the open Senate District 17 election, which means Smith will head to Tallahassee as Florida’s first openly gay Latino Senator and the second-ever member of the chamber who publicly identifies as LGBTQ. Smith had already lined up formal support from the Florida Democratic Party and union endorsements, and he had amassed a war chest. Joe Biden won more than 61% of the vote in the district in the 2020 election even as he lost the state by 3 percentage points.

Still, it’s remarkable to see Smith muscle his way into the Senate unopposed. The progressive certainly will operate differently in the Senate than retiring Sen. Linda Stewart, the only Democratic Senator endorsed by the Florida Chamber of Commerce last cycle. Other names floated around in recent months as potential Primary challengers, but none surfaced in the end. Smith also was a top target two years ago when Republican Susan Plasencia ousted him from the House and denied him a fourth term there.

Will Randolph Bracy litigate Geraldine Thompson out of her seat?

NOT YET. But he said he would sue her if she qualified for the race, and she put in her final paperwork on Thursday. There’s no update on whether he will follow through with litigation, but he held a press conference last week raising allegations about a homestead exemption her husband filed the last two years on a house outside the current Senate District 15.

Thompson, for her part, said she has receipts showing she moved into her daughter’s home before winning her Senate seat and has also taken over many of the expenses and can produce monthly bills proving that. She also called Bracy’s attack “ironic” since he has a homestead exemption in Clermont, outside SD 15.

Will Mack Bernard coast into a Senate seat unopposed?

YES. Bernard, a Palm Beach County Commissioner and former Representative, is bound again for the Legislature — this time to its upper chamber.

He won by default after no one else filed to run against him in a Special Election for the soon-to-be-vacant seat representing Senate District 34. Bernard will succeed outgoing Sen. Bobby Powell, a fellow Democrat now seeking Bernard’s County Commission job.

“I am just so thankful for the opportunity to continue my service as a state Senator-elect, and I want to thank Sen. Powell for his leadership and advocacy and the Governor for giving the residents of District 24 the opportunity to prevent any gaps in representation.”

Bernard’s win Tuesday came just over a year after he and Powell confirmed plans for a seat swap during the 2024 election. Powell resigned in mid-April and called on DeSantis to declare a Special Election. The Governor obliged on May 29. But the race had a shortened qualifying period that ended at noon Tuesday, three days earlier than most other statewide and local races.

Will Ron DeSantis find a heavy to take out Randy Fine?

UPDATED: NO. While ties to the Governor remain unclear, Melbourne City Councilman Tim Thomas filed late this week in Senate District 19 and his check arrived in Tallahassee on Friday. But he still failed to qualify. The Division of Elections notably did not publish a partisan oath. Within hours, the state confirmed Thomas had failed to qualify for the office. That came days after Robyn Hattaway, the best financed opponent for Fine, abruptly withdrew from the race, eliminating any chance she would pick up the DeSantis mantle in the race.

Fine also faces Chuck Sheridan, who qualified in the Republican Primary but has raised no money for the race. It’s unclear what sort of financial might could rally behind him. While many believed that DeSantis wanted a credible horse to back against Fine, a lawmaker who abandoned him in a high-profile fashion during the Presidential Primary, Thomas, a veteran and well-known quantity on the Space Coast, seemed to fit the bill. But he’s a no-go since he failed to qualify.

Will all these Polk County candidates actually qualify for the House?

MOST DID. In the very crowded House District 48 race to succeed Rep. Sam Killebrew, six Republicans and one Democrat filed.

The GOP field in the red district will include Jon Albert, Jerry Carter, Chad Davis, Debbie Owens, Amilee Marie Stuckey and Benny Valentin, with Democrat John Hill calmly waiting in November. Only Republican Kenneth Hartpence filed but failed to qualify for the ballot.

One other candidate, Randy Wilkinson, qualified but for a different seat.

He joined an already crowded Primary field in House District 49, where he will face Heather McArthur, Jennifer Kincart Jonsson and Shawn McDonough in a GOP Primary, with the winner advancing to face Democrat Ashley Herrmann in November.

Will a crowded field seek to succeed Mike Beltran?

UPDATE: APPARENTLY NOT. With the noon deadline passed, only one Republican was listed as qualified by the Division of Elections to succeed the Representative, who announced only last week he would not run for re-election. Hillsborough County Commissioner Michael Owen did announce he would run and has filed his resignation from his current office pursuant to state law.

Jessica Harris, another Republican who shared a treasurer with Beltran, filed the same day Beltran announced his retirement. With the deadline passed, the Division had reported receiving a check for the qualification fee, but like Thompson in SD 19, no candidate oath ever appeared in the system. Ultimately, she did not qualify. And no other Republican even put in papers. That means Owen advances directly to a Special Election against Democrat Luther Keith Wilkins.

Will Democrats snub their own candidates to support Vicki Lopez?

Make that “candidate,” singular. And whether Team Blue backs their lone combatant in the House District 113 race remains to be seen.

Lopez, a Miami Republican, distinguished herself in her first term as a moderate lawmaker with a talent for getting her bills across the finish line despite voting against her GOP colleagues on headline-grabbing legislation like Florida’s six-week abortion ban. It gained her plaudits from both sides of the political aisle, including an endorsement from Miami-Dade Commission Chair Oliver Gilbert III, one of the county’s highest-ranking Democrats.

Two Democrats filed to challenge Lopez by the start of this week, after a staffer of Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava entered and then quickly withdrew from contention last month.

One was Key Biscayne Democratic Club President Jackie Gross-Kellogg, and she qualified for the race along with Lopez.

The other, Miami-Dade Democratic Executive Committee member Matthew Bornstein, either failed to qualify or backed out of the contest. His name no longer appears on the Division of Elections website.

Will Democrats field a candidate in every legislative seat as promised?

YES. It seemed dicey with candidates in Miami-Dade jumping in and out of races, but when Matthew Bornstein switched to House District 114, it appeared to fill the last open spot.

Democrats have candidates filed in the reddest of red districts and every safe blue seat. That’s 120 House districts and 21 Senate seats (counting the Special Election to succeed Powell) where the party and grassroots activists managed to find candidates. Whether they are credible contenders or sacrificial lambs remains to be seen. Granted, some of these candidates live far outside the district where they are running.

Republicans, significantly, didn’t embark on such an effort to field candidates in every seat. We’ll see how the wisdom of these approaches plays out in November, but one consequence here is that Democrats can declare victory already with two newly elected Senators and nine House incumbents winning unopposed, and there are 11 other districts where a winner will be decided in a Democratic Primary.

What’s up with Torey Alston?

UPDATE: AN INCUMBENT RUN. He is running for the Broward County School Board after all. Alston, a DeSantis-appointed School Board member who had yet to file to run for his District 2 seat at the start of the week, narrowly made the noon Friday deadline to qualify for this year’s election.

One other candidate, Rebecca Thompson, a former social worker, also qualified for the race. A third person named Ashley Rodriguez failed to qualify.

Rumors were aswirl that Alston might be pushing behind the scenes for the Governor to take over the district, especially if it fails a Florida Department of Education audit of $800 million worth of taxpayer-funded projects approved in 2014. Some posited that Alston, whom DeSantis appointed in 2022 after a state grand jury report found mismanagement of funds, was angling for a deal to be appointed Superintendent if the state takes over.

That might still be happening. For now, though, he’s looking to keep his current job.

Will Christian Ziegler try to remain a Republican State Committeeman?

UPDATE: NO. With books closed, three candidates qualified to be Sarasota County’s Republican State Committeeman: County Commissioner Joe Neunder, Col. Duff Smiley and Young Republicans leader C.J. Morgan. But Ziegler decided against making that a three-way race (sorry, couldn’t resist).

The ousted Chair of the Republican Party of Florida has retained his elected role as State Committeeman, and reportedly even showed up, albeit briefly, to sign in at party functions and leave. But he’s not seeking re-election to the local office following a sex scandal.


Jacob Ogles and Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics contributed to this report.

Staff Reports

One comment

  • Phil Morton

    June 14, 2024 at 4:10 pm

    Thanks to the Florida Democratic Party for providing a choice in all Congressional, State Senate and State House races. You can’t win if you don’t have a candidate.

Comments are closed.


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