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Florida elections take shape as candidate qualifying starts

 U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, D-Fla., qualified Monday to run in this year's elections.
Jim Turner
News Service of Florida
U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, D-Fla., qualified Monday to run in this year's elections.

The qualifying period ends at noon Friday when candidates for governor, three state Cabinet posts, a U.S. Senate seat, 28 congressional seats and all 160 legislative seats have to make sure their paperwork is submitted.

Congressman Al Lawson, a Tallahassee Democrat whose district was overhauled as part of the once-a-decade reapportionment process, helped launch this year’s candidate qualifying period Monday by filing paperwork to challenge Republican incumbent Neal Dunn in another North Florida district.

Lawson submitted his paperwork in person at the state Division of Elections to run against Dunn, of Panama City, in Congressional District 2. Lawson appeared shortly after qualifying started at noon and said he wanted to make sure he would have time to respond if elections officials had questions about the documents before qualifying ends Friday.

“I can remember the time I was out in Denver and tried to file paperwork and the (FedEx) plane crashed,” Lawson, who has represented Congressional District 5, said. “We were trying to get on a bus to get back here. So, I want to make sure if anything is wrong with the paperwork, you know, I got until Friday for them to get in contact with me.”

Two decades ago, Lawson, at the time a state senator, was among several candidates left scrambling after their qualifying papers were lost when a Federal Express flight struck trees short of a runway at the Tallahassee airport at the end of the qualifying week.

By late afternoon Monday, Lawson and Dunn were listed on the Division of Elections website as having qualified.

This year’s qualifying period will end at noon Friday, when candidates for governor, three state Cabinet posts, a U.S. Senate seat, 28 congressional seats and all 160 legislative seats have to make sure their paperwork is submitted.

Candidates can qualify by submitting petition signatures or paying fees. For example, legislative candidates with political parties can pay $1,781.82 to run for legislative seats. The cost is $1,187.88 for candidates without party affiliations.

Congressional seats require $10,440 to run with a party tag and $6,960 for unaffiliated candidates. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and his Democratic challenger, U.S. Rep. Val Demings of Orlando, paid the fees for their campaigns.

Candidates for governor must pay $8,050.86 with party affiliations and $5,367 without. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis paid. Dot-Inman Johnson, a former Tallahassee mayor, dropped off paperwork Monday at the Division of Elections for Democratic Congressman Charlie Crist’s gubernatorial run.

Lawson was joined by several candidate surrogates in submitting paperwork at the state’s R.A. Gray Building, which also has a “drop box” at the entrance for candidate papers.

DeSantis pushed a redistricting plan through the Legislature in April that completely revamped Lawson’s District 5, which has stretched from Jacksonville to west of Tallahassee. The new map condensed the district in the Jacksonville area.

Lawson’s decision to challenge Dunn in Northwest Florida’s District 2 will be one of the higher-profile races of the year. Most congressional and legislative races involving incumbents likely will not be competitive.

As the qualifying period got underway, 28 of the 120 state House districts had only a single announced candidate.

In the Senate, 11 of the 40 districts did not have competition as of early Monday afternoon. If left unchanged, that could mean free passes to re-election for incoming Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples; Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando; Sen. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills; Sen. Victor Torres, D-Kissimmee; Sen. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart; Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-North Miami Beach; and Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez, R-Doral.

Four House members looking to move up to the Senate also had no announced competition as of early Monday afternoon: Rep. Clay Yarborough, R-Jacksonville; Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill; Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach; and Rep. Bryan Avila, R-Miami Springs.

Among the Senate races that are expected to be competitive, Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, D-Plantation, and former Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief both qualified to run in the Aug. 23 Democratic primary in Broward County’s District 35.

In the state House, meanwhile, redrawn district lines set up a primary clash between Rep. Elizabeth Fetterhoff, R-DeLand, and Rep. Webster Barnaby, R-Deltona. Both qualified Monday in Volusia County’s House District 29.

Among other races, Rep. Ralph Massullo, R-Lecanto, will have to fend off GOP challengers Tod Cloud and Paul John Reinhardt, who qualified Monday in House District 23. Also, Republicans Susan Plasencia and Kris Stark qualified to try to defeat Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, in House District 37. Plasencia’s brother is former Rep. Rene Plasencia, R-Orlando.

In the congressional contests, U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla., will face a primary challenge from conservative political activist and media figure Laura Loomer, who qualified in a redrawn District 11 in Central Florida.

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