By John Hrabe | Special to Florida Watchdog
ORLANDO — When Gov. Rick Scott cast his ballot Tuesday at St. Ann Jubilee Center in Naples, he was doing so in a primary election that’s been dubbed “a bit of a snoozer” by the Associated Press.
The lone statewide race is hardly in doubt. U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV, R-District 14, is expected to cruise into a general election matchup with Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.
Not to worry, Florida Watchdog has assembled a list of the five things to watch when the ballots are counted Tuesday night.
5. Miami-Dade County mayor’s race: Election fraud and the absentee ballot scandal
Mayor Carlos Gimenez is fighting off six challengers, including chief rival Joe Martinez, the County Commission president, for the chance to earn his first full term as the chief operating officer of Miami-Dade County. If no candidate crosses the 50 percent plus one vote threshold, the top two candidates will head to a Nov. 6 runoff.
The Miami Herald reports that in the final week “a cordial race between the incumbent and his principal challenger has become more combative.” That’s primarily due to allegations of election fraud involving absentee ballots.
Florida Watchdog’s Marianela Toledo has detailed how earlier this summer police caught Daisy Cabrera and Matilde Martinez with more than a dozen absentee ballots, a violation of new county rules. The women allegedly claimed to be working for the Gimenez campaign, a charge the mayor’s camp denies.
Look early in the night for vote tallies from early and absentee voting to assess how much damage the story has done to the mayor’s campaign and how it could affect the potential runoff.
4. 7th House Race: Tea party vs. Republican establishment
U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s selection as Mitt Romney’s running mate in the Republican race for the White House is considered a nod to the tea party’s growing political influence. However, Florida’s 7th House race between two Republican incumbents could be the true bellwether of the tea party’s power. The Hill, a Washington, D.C., newspaper, reported that the election “pits two poles of the Republican Party against each other.”
Elected to Congress in 2010, U.S. Rep. Sandy Adams, R-District 24, has been dubbed the “heroine of the tea party” by John Gizzi, political editor of the national conservative newspaper Human Events.
But, Adams remains the underdog in the race after being substantially outspent by 10-term incumbent U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-District 7. He has the financial backing and endorsements of the Republican establishment.
Redistricting through the two together in the 7th District.
Outside groups and media figures have played heavily in the race. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has endorsed Mica, while former Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin is supporting Adams.
Late in the campaign, Mica’s campaign shifted course by touting the support of the “Tea Party of Florida.” Tom Tillison, the publisher of Florida Political Press and an original tea party activist, criticized the endorsement as an attempt to mislead voters.
“It is important to understand that this registered political party that labels itself as Tea Party has no connections to the grassroots tea party movement, nor is it supported by any recognized tea party leader in the state,” he wrote.
Check out Florida Watchdog’s profile of the race.
3. Turnout: Enthusiasm gap between the parties
If you logged onto the Florida Department of State’s Election Watch Web page early Tuesday morning, you’d be surprised to learn that Mack was polling in last place for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination. Chris Cate, a spokesman for the elections division, confirmed that those were likely just test numbers as officials prepared for the real results later tonight.
It’s unlikely that election officials will be overwhelmed, as turnout is expected to be low. The two presidential campaigns will be tracking turnout for any signs of an enthusiasm gap between the parties.
The New York Times reports that the Ryan VP pick “has the potential to add a new dynamic to some of the races.” The Republican Party of Florida has made it a priority to register more voters in attempt to gain ground on the Democrats’ registration advantage.
The Sunshine State News’ Jim Turner writes that the GOP outgrew the Democrats “by a near 3-to-1 clip” during the past year. Keep an eye to see how many of these new Republicans actually show up for their first primary election.
As of 9 a.m., 1,075,874 voters had already cast their ballot. Polls close at 7 p.m.
2. The state Senate proxy wars
Conventional wisdom is that a week is an eternity in politics. But, that hasn’t stopped Republican state Sen. Jack Latvala from preparing for the future. He’s looking to win key state Senate races in the primary to aid his bid to become the leader of the Senate in 2017.
“A part-time legislator and full-time campaign consultant, Latvala has his hand in more than a dozen races this year, either as part of his business or to advance his efforts to become Senate president,” writes the Tampa Bay Times’ Tallahassee Bureau Chief Steve Bousquet.
Of several key races, perhaps the most interesting will be the outcome of Senate District 22, which pits Jeff Brandes against Jim Frishe. Both men are Pinellas County House members.
“Frishe, 62 is an ally of Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who during the past two sessions formed coalitions to defeat initiatives supported by leadership on prisons, schools and unions,” explains the Florida Current’s James Call in a profile of the hotly contested race.
Third-party groups have played heavily in the race. Tuesday’s results will show if Latvala is well-positioned in his leadership campaign. But he faces his own primary challenge, going up against candidate Zahid Roy, a Clearwater businessman.
1. Early voting and absentee balloting numbers in five pre-clearance counties
US Department of Justice officials will monitor balloting in five Florida counties that have been flagged for a history of discriminatory election practices. The five counties subject to the federal Voting Rights Act’s pre-clearance restrictions are Collier, Hendry, Lee, Osceola and Polk counties.
Early voting numbers for these counties will be worth watching because it could affect an upcoming challenge to Florida’s new election rules. The Sunshine State News reports, “Judge Thomas P. Crapps of the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings will issue a final ruling in two weeks, regarding implementation of a controversial new elections law.”
For the 62 counties not subject to federal pre-clearance, the law reduced early voting from 14 to 8 days. It also required greater scrutiny of voters who move between counties without properly changing their voter registration information.
The state’s increasing use and promotion of absentee balloting could make the reduction in early voting days largely moot. The five pre-clearance counties almost certainly will show a higher early voting turnout. But, the rest of the state could account for the loss in early voting with higher absentee ballot turnout.
If the five pre-clearance counties fail to produce a higher overall turnout, look for supporters of the election law to argue that the law delivered on its promise to cut-costs without inconveniencing voters.
Contact John Hrabe at email@example.com