Once-competitive open races all but decided as qualfying ends

By Matt Dixon

Regional political cover and a bit of candidate jostling will lead to a First Coast election cycle that is busy, but more subdued than it once shaped up to be.

The state’s once-a-decade chore of redistricting created several open seats across the state, which can draw lots of interest because beating established candidates is tough. A trio running for newly created seats, though, largely beat the odds.

One is Republican state Senate candidate Rob Bradley, the former member of the Clay County Commission running for a new seat that includes Clay, Bradford, and Alachua counties. He was originally running against Gainesville insurance agent Brain Scarborough, a well-funded Democrat, but Scarborough unexpectedly dropped out in early May.

The only other candidate in the race is a University of Florida student, William Mazzota, who filed to run as a Democrat on Thursday.

Another former Clay County commissioner, Travis Cummings, drew no opponents. He will represent a seat that covers northern Clay County.

In the southern portion of the region, House candidate Travis Hutson escaped a primary challenge for a newly drawn seat that includes St. Johns, Flagler and Volusia counties. Former Flagler County Commissioner Milissa Holland, and Doug Courtney, both Democrats, have qualified, but avoiding a primary is a good way for Hutson, a businessman, to grow his nearly $70,000 war chest.

Other than fairly easy paths to winning open seats, the three have another thing in common: Regionally important political support and lots of campaign cash.

Bradley and Cummings made statewide headlines for raising nearly $70,000 each in their first fundraising quarter.

Bradley has the support of GOP state Sen. John Thrasher of St. Augustine, former Education Commissioner Jim Horne and State Attorney Angela Corey, among others. Hutson has endorsements from Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, Thrasher, and term-limited state Rep. Bill Proctor, R-St. Augustine. Thrasher backed Cummings, too.

One suddenly competitive race: Who’ll replace term-limited GOP state Sen. Stephen Wise. Jacksonville Rep. Mike Weinstein decided to run against fellow Republican Aaron Bean rather than take on Rep. Charles McBurney, also a Jacksonville Republican, after the new House maps roped them into the same district. And on Friday, former National Security Council member and current University of North Florida visiting professor Nancy Soderberg qualified as a Democrat.

A newly drawn 3rd Congressional District that extends from the Gulf of Mexico to Clay County has drawn eight candidates. The two biggest names in the race, U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns and state Sen. Steve Oelrich, R-Cross Creek, have already started taking shots at each other.

Nine candidates qualified for the newly drawn 6th Congressional District, which includes St. Johns, Flagler, Volusia and Putnam counties.

Neptune Beach City Council elections were decided without a vote being cast. The three candidates — Mayor Harriet Pruette, Councilwoman Kara Tucker and former council member Scott Wiley — who qualified are all running unopposed.

In Jacksonville Beach, 10 candidates who qualified for the four seats up for election.

Duval School Board Chairwoman Betty Burney will not run for a third term, which state law likely would have prevented her from seeking anyway.

“I did not want to be seen as an elected official just seeking to continue being an elected official,” she said.

Burney’s District 5 seat had three qualified candidates as of Friday: local teacher Chris Guerrieri, former principal Connie Hall and Pervalia Gaines-McIntosh of Friends of Northwest Jacksonville Schools.

Times-Union writers Khristopher J. Brooks and Drew Dixon contributed to this article.

First appeared in Florida Times-Union. ©2012.

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