By Yaël Ossowski | Florida Watchdog
TAMPA — In the shadow of Mitt Romney’s visit to Florida with freshly introduced vice presidential candidate and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., on Tuesday, more than 8 million registered Florida voters will hit the polls to choose their party’s candidates for local, county and state elections.
As the 42nd state to hold primaries this year, and the most populous swing-state in the union, the partisan results from Florida will set the narrative for the general election, setting the field for the nearly 2.7 million independent voters crucial to the U.S. Senate and presidential races, which could change the power dynamic in the nation’s capital.
More than one million voters have already cast their ballots, according to Florida Department of State spokesman Chris Cate, amounting to about 679,000 absentee ballots and 367,000 early votes, representing just more than 12 percent of eligible primary voters.
Because of the state’s closed-primary system, independent voters will be locked out of party primaries, but they can vote for nonpartisan judges in local county races.
For some seasoned politicians on the ballot, such as 10-term GOP U.S. Rep. John Mica of District 7, at stake is a livelihood and a career, dependent upon name recognition and years of bringing home federal dollars for the district, including being the driving force behind the creation of the Transportation Security Administration.
For his GOP primary opponent, freshman U.S. Rep. Sandy Adams of District 24, it’s about unseating an establishment colleague who has led the party and the country down the wrong path; she’s fueled by endorsements and grassroots support from the tea party movement.
Neither Mica nor Adams, in the last day of campaigning, were available to Florida Watchdog for comment.
In the 23rd District, it’s about finding the most conservative candidate to combat U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of District 20. As chairwoman for the Democratic National Committee, the four-term congresswoman’s seat remains a lucrative prize for the cast of Republican opponents, which include businesswoman Karen Harrington of Pembroke Pines and political activist Joe Kaufman of Weston, who both made their respective cases to Florida Watchdog (Harrington here and Kaufman here).
Other candidates for the GOP nomination include U.S. Elections Assistance Commission member Gineen Bresso of Fort Lauderdale, businessman Ozzie deFaria of Weston and radio host Juan Eliel Garcia of Sunrise.
For District 26, the battle is over the chance to face GOP U.S. Rep. David Rivera of District 25, who has spent the past few months of his political career defending himself against federal probes and ethics investigations regarding his finances.
Veteran attorney Joe Garcia, executive consultant Gustavo Marin, businesswoman Gloria Romero Roses and hotel employee Lamar Sternad are running in the Democratic primary to unseat Rivera and turn the newly drawn 26 district — from Key West to Miami — blue.
In north-central Florida, the hot primary battle in the 3rd District focuses on U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns of District 6, a 12-term lawmaker who first promised to push for term limits in 1988, challenged by three Republicans claiming the more conservative record.
Stearns faces state Sen. Steve Oelrich, R-Gainesville, Clay County Clerk of Courts James Jett and veterinarian Ted Yoho of Gainesville.
In the heart of the Interstate 4 corridor, including suburban parts of Orlando, the 9th District Republican primary aims to find the candidate who will face former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, the Democratic firebrand who first raised the ire of conservatives during the House debates on the health-care reform bill, describing the GOP’s plan as “don’t get sick, and if you do get sick, die quickly.”
The Republicans lined up to challenge Grayson include talk show host Todd Long of Orlando, health-care consultant Julius Melendez of Orlando, businessman Mark Oxner of Orlando and former state Rep. John Quinones, R-Kissimmee.
The most important statewide election this fall, the U.S. Senate election, will feature only one Democratic challenger to incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson. Naples resident Glenn Burkett, a health entrepreneur by trade, filed to challenge the 40-year veteran of Tallahassee and Washington politics.
Burkett did not respond to requests for an interview.
The Republican primary, first imagined to be a hotly contested race, has generally been considered favorable for U.S. Rep. Connie Mack of District 14. He’ll still face three opponents on the primary ballot — former U.S. Rep. Dave Weldon, Catholic blogger Marienela Stuart and Army Col. Mike McCalister.
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