It was so quiet outside state elections headquarters in Tallahassee Monday, you could hear the faraway sound of a freight train whistle. The elections office is indefinitely closed to the public because of the coronavirus pandemic.
But a drop box is set up in the lobby of the R.A. Gray Building for candidates to leave their important papers.
The first to arrive: Josh Adams, an Orlando lawyer and FSU grad who is running as a Republican candidate for a state Senate seat in Orlando.
"It's sort of for the experience. I want to remember it," Adams said. "It's not exactly the same, mailing it in. I went to school here for six years, undergraduate and law school, so coming back here, I just enjoy it a little bit."
Candidates face unique hurdles this year. The most basic part of campaigning -- shaking hands -- is out. Working a crowd is impossible. Soliciting money seems intrusive, even rude, when so many people are out of work and worried about getting sick. Former Gainesville Mayor Rodney Long, a Democrat, dropped off his paper work to run for a state House seat in Alachua County. He wanted to do it in person.
"It's the symbolism," Long said. "The fact that I want to represent the people. I want to go through every step. If we had not had COVID-19 I (still) would have been up here personally. I put it in the box so I know it got here."
All 120 seats in the state House are up for election. Republicans hold an advantage of 73-46, with one seat vacant. At least 26 incumbents are leaving due to term limits or other reasons, so nearly one-fourth of the House will turn over. For the first time in memory, Democrats say they will field candidates in every legislative seat in the state. In the Senate, which has staggered terms, 20 of 40 seats are up this time and a 21st is open because Republican Tom Lee is resigning with two years left in his term.
The most competitive Senate races are expected to be in Miami-Dade and suburban Orlando, where moderate Republicans Anitere Flores and David Simmons are term-limited out of office.
Hopes are always high at the start of qualifying. Benjamin Alexander Thaddeus John Horbowy showed up to run as a Republican in the sprawling Big Bend Senate district held by the retiring Bill Montford. He wore a "Make America Great Again" hat and videotaped himself filing his papers.
"I'm putting all five of my names and my heart and soul into what we're about to do," Harbowy said.
The candidate qualifying period ends at noon Friday.