The Florida State Primary: the highlights.

With U.S. Rep. Connie Mack clearly in the lead, the primary for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate is no nailbiter.

Floridians head to the polls on Tuesday for the Sunshine State’s primary, and the ballot contains more than a few highly competitive races for voters of both parties to decide – including a few contests that actually will be decided tomorrow.
The polls will be open on Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and both the Republican and Democratic parties have some interesting contests on the ballot. Among the highlights:

U.S. Senate:
There are four candidates on the ballot for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate, including two who have served in Congress, but that doesn’t much matter, and there isn’t a lot of suspense in this campaign. It was noteworthy recently when the incumbent, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., began airing negative television ads against U.S. Rep. Connie Mack Jr., before any votes had been cast in the GOP primary. What Nelson and his team appear to be acknowledging is that Mack, the congressman from Fort Myers, is the clear frontrunner in the primary.
The decision by former Congressman Dave Weldon to jump into the Senate primary didn’t do much to change the dynamics of this race, except perhaps to convince another leading candidate, former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, to drop out. LeMieux’s name will remain on the ballot, although the word “Withdrawn” is next to it.
Few expect Mack to have much trouble defeating the remaining opponents, including Weldon, retired U.S. Army Colonel Mike McCalister and Marielena Stuart. The Nelson-Mack race in the fall is expected to be one of the nation’s tightest Senate battles, and one that could not only help decide which party controls the U.S. Senate (where Democrats now have 53 seats, and Republicans, 47), but could be decided by who wins at the top of the ticket in Florida, President Obama or Republican Mitt Romney.

7th Congressional District:
Virtually every political analyst believes Florida’s new 7th Congressional District will be a safe seat for the Republicans, so this is one instance where voters actually can decide the race on Tuesday.
The new district, redrawn by the state Legislature this year as part of the redistricting process, merged the district of two Republican incumbents: Rep. John Mica, who was first elected in 1992, and freshman Rep. Sandy Adams.
In what has become a fierce battle played out over the Orlando media market, the two candidates have been jockeying for the title of who is the one true conservative in the race, while both candidates have done their best to point out how much actual spending their opponent has done while in office.
Adams has criticized Mica for securing federal dollars for local projects like the commuter rail train known as SunRail, and for supporting the idea of putting tolls on Interstate 4. Since Adams has been in Congress for less than two years, Mica has been taking aim at her support for spending projects, SunRail included, while she served in the Florida House of Representatives from 2002 to 2010, representing the Space Coast area.
They’ve also sought the endorsements of prominent fellow Republicans to help them make their case. Mica got the nod from former Arkansas Gov. Mick Huckabee, while Adams has the support of Sarah Palin and Condoleezza Rice.
The betting is on Mica, based on his stronger name recognition and lengthier tenure in Congress, while Adams’ supporters hope she can make a case to Tea Party voters that if they’re tired of business as usual in Congress, she represents change, not Mica.

9th Congressional District:
The primary for this newly drawn congressional district covering parts of Orange and Polk counties and all of Osceola County, could also be decisive in determining who ultimately fills the seat — but not because the winner of Tuesday’s Republican primary is assured of victory in November.
In fact, Democrats are hopeful that the GOP winner on Tuesday will be the one candidate who they think absolutely can’t win in the fall.
The new 9th Congressional District is, according to most political analysts, one that leans in favor of the Democrats, since President Obama carried the district with 60 percent.
Even so, Republicans haven’t entirely written off the district. They note that President George W. Bush narrowly carried the district in 2004 with 50 percent, and that the Democratic nominee this year will be Alan Grayson, who was elected to Congress in 2008 in the state’s old 8th Congressional District. In 2010, Grayson badly lost in his re-election bid, taking just 38 percent against Republican Dan Webster. Republicans view Grayson as a flawed candidate who may be loved by liberals, but could prove too controversial to more moderate voters.
At the same time, the new 9th District is 40 percent Latino, the largest percentage outside of South Florida, and Republicans hope one of two Latino candidates — Osceola County Commissioner John Quinones or Osceola County School Board member Julius Melendez — is the winner, and can peel Democratic-leaning Hispanic voters away from Grayson in the fall.
Democrats may share that concern. It’s noteworthy that Grayson recently aired television ads attacking Quinones for raising taxes, a spot viewed as an attempt to influence the primary by weakening the county commissioner.
Some analysts have questioned whether Quinones and Melendez will split the Osceola and Latino vote, allowing a third candidate, Todd Long, to win the primary. If that happens, expect the Grayson camp to be smiling on Wednesday morning, since the Democrats have made it clear they believe Long – who is making his third bid for Congress, after having lost the GOP primaries in 2008 and 2010 – is the weakest candidate in the field. Long is from Orange County and doesn’t have a base in Osceola, and Grayson has already accused him of being far too conservative for a district that voted 2-1 for Obama.

State Attorney:
Although two Democrats are running for the office of State Attorney representing Orange and Osceola counties, voters of either party can cast ballots in this race, which pits longtime State Attorney Lawson Ledran Lamar against one of his former employees, prosecutor Jeff Ashton.
The ghosts of the Casey Anthony murder trial hang over this race: it was Lamar’s office that prosecuted Anthony for first degree murder in the death of her daughter Caylee, and Ashton was one of the leading prosecutors who handled the case in court. In the end, the jury ruled against them and found Anthony not guilty on the most serious charges. Did either Lamar or Ashton blow it? Voters on Tuesday have an opportunity to weigh in on that question.

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