Florida Primary Preview
Given Florida's size and the number of competitive races up and down the ballot, it's a good thing that no other states hold primaries Tuesday.
Both the Democratic and Republican parties are holding primaries to choose nominees who will battle to succeed Gov. Jeb Bush; Rep. Katherine Harris is attempting to become the official Republican nominee for Senate after one of the most tumultuous primary campaigns in recent memory; and there are at least three competitive House primaries.
As always we seek to bring you the information you need to know about the most important races. First, the basics: Sunshine State polling places are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and you can track results at the Division of Elections Web site.
Now for a bit more on the key contests.
Republican Gubernatorial Primary: What once looked like a extremely competitive race between state Attorney General Charlie Crist and state chief financial officer Tom Gallagher has disappointed. Crist has run the far more competent campaign -- a task made easier by tawdry admissions regarding Gallagher's personal life that received major play in the local media and damaged his ability to appeal to social conservatives. Gallagher's campaign has gone negative of late but polling shows it has made little difference. Crist will enter the general election as the favorite.
Democratic Gubernatorial Primary: Rep. Jim Davis has led state Sen. Rod Smith throughout the race but massive spending by the sugar industry on Smith's behalf has made this a close contest in the final days. Two Smith-affiliated 527 groups, funded by the sugar industry, have dumped millions of dollars into the race -- using the cash to bash Davis for a vote he took in the state legislature against compensating two African-American men who were wrongly convicted. Davis still seems like the likely winner but the spending by soft money groups affiliated with Smith should not be underestimated.
U.S. Senate Republican Primary: Katherine Harris should win her party's nomination Tuesday night -- virtually ensuring Sen. Bill Nelson (D) a second term. Despite Harris's many (and well-documented) problems, beating her in a Republican primary has always been a challenge due to a solid base of supporters -- born of her role in the 2000 presidential election -- that will never leave her side. A-list candidates like former House Speaker Alan Bense recognized that difficulty and passed on the contest. Polling shows Harris comfortably ahead of attorney Will McBride and Leroy Collins, the son of a former Florida governor. Harris has shown a tendency to under perform her polling in past House races so don't be surprised if this race is closer than expected. But, a Harris win is still the most likely outcome.
Fla. District 8 Democratic Primary: Businessman Charlie Stuart faces a tougher than expected primary fight from free-spending attorney Alan Grayson for the right to take on Rep. Ric Keller (R) in the fall. Grayson has pumped better than $600,000 into his campaign coffers -- going from an unknown to top competitor in short order. Stuart, who had raised $590,000 as of Aug. 16, has attacked Grayson as a newcomer to the district who is trying to buy the seat. Regardless of the identity of the Democratic nominee, this is a longshot seat. Although it played host to one of the most competitive and costly elections of the cycle in 2000 (remember Linda Chapin?), Keller had solidified this district -- winning with 65 percent in 2002 and 61 percent in 2004.
Fla. District 11 Democratic Primary: Hillsborough County Commissioner Kathy Castor, whose mother, Betty Castor, was the party's Senate nominee in Florida in 2004, has been the favorite from the get-go in this solidly Democratic Tampa-area district. Castor is the best known and best financed candidate ($988,000 raised through Aug. 16). Her main rival for the nomination appears to be state Sen. Les Miller. Miller, who is black, is making a strong pitch to African-American voters in the district but has raised roughly half of what Castor has collected.
Fla. District 13 Republican Primary: In the seat left behind by Harris, it's a three-way race between wealthy car dealer Vern Buchanan, banker Tramm Hudson and state Rep. Nancy Detert. Buchanan has put in better than $2 million of his own money into the race -- blowing away the rest of the field. A poll done in early August for Hudson showed him ahead of Buchanan by a 35 percent to 23 percent margin but that was before Hudson committed a major political gaffe, making controversial comments about African-Americans that drew national attention. Detert is the only serious candidate in the race with a proven base, which might be enough in a crowded race.
Fla. District 13 Democratic Primary: In 2004, national Democrats made clear their preference for Christine Jennings, only to watch her lose the Democratic nomination to 2002 nominee Jan Schneider. Two years later, Jennings is again the preferred candidate of national Democrats. She has also raised $872,000 through Aug. 16 compared to Schneider's $197,000 raised. Democrats believe that with the national environment so favorable to their party this is a seat where they can be competitive -- assuming Jennings is the nominee. It's not clear how much of the competitiveness of the district was due to the controversial Harris, however; President Bush carried it by 13 percent in 2004.
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