If there was any hint that the anti-incumbent mood of the past few election cycles had run its course, that wasn’t evident last night, as the Florida State Primary resulted in more than a few incumbents getting bounced from office.
Two congressmen and numerous local officeholders lost their bids to get the nomination of their party, effectively ending their political career. That wasn’t true in all cases, and a number of incumbents had no trouble winning their party’s nomination.
But the surprisingly high number of officeholders who did lose indicates voters may still be ready to trust newcomers more than long-term politicians these days.
Two Florida congressmen lost their re-election bids, although one of the incumbents, U.S. Rep. Sandy Adams, lost in part because of the redistricting process. When state lawmakers redrew the lines of Florida’s congressional districts to reflect population changes, part of Adams’ old district was merged into the state’s new 7th Congressional district, where another incumbent, Rep. John Mica, was also running. Although Adams sought the backing of the Tea Party activists and claimed to be the only true conservative in the race, she lost, 61-39 percent.
A much bigger surprise was the very narrow defeat of U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns, who has served in Congress for 12 terms, but had to run this year in the newly drawn lines of Florida’s 3rd Congressional District. There was a sense that if Stearns was going to have any trouble, it would come from state Sen. Steve Oelrich – but he finished in third place. The bigger surprise was that a veteran officeholder like Stearns would lose to a first time candidate, Ted Yoho, an animal veterinarian.
It’s worth noting that Yoho ran ads showing “career politicians” rolling in the mud with pig – a none-too-subtle reminder that Stearns was first elected in 1988, when Ronald Reagan was still president. The newcomer edged the veteran politician by about 800 votes, and now will be the favorite to win in November in a district that favors Republicans.
Democrats appear happier with the results in the state’s new 9th Congressional District. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in this district, which voted 2-1 for President Obama in 2008. Former Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson, who won in the state’s old 8th Congressional District in 2008 and then lost is re-election bid in 2010, is making a comeback and ran unopposed for the Democratic nomination.
Because 40 percent of the voters in this district covering Orange, Osceola and Polk counties are Hispanic, Republicans thought they had a shot at the district if they could nominate Osceola County Commissioner John Quinones, who is Puerto Rican. But Grayson ran television ads in the final week before the primary criticizing Quinones for raising taxes in his position as county commissioner, and Quinones lost the primary to Todd Long, who is making is third bid for Congress. A number of political observers, including The Rothenberg Political Report, switched their rating on this race from “toss up” to “Democrat Favored.”
Adams and Stearns were not the only incumbents to have a bad night.
Veteran State Attorney Lawson Lamar lost the Democratic primary to one of his former employees, former prosecutor Jeff Ashton. The ghosts of the Casey Anthony murder trial were hanging over this race. It was Lamar’s office that prosecuted Anthony for first deree murder, and Ashton was one of the lead prosecutors. The jury, though, aquitted Anthony of the most serious charges, in what became a highly controversial verdict.
Ashton, though, left the State Attorney’s right after the trial, wrote a book about the Anthony case that became a best seller, and then launced his bid to unseat his old boss last Janaury. Ashton won, taking 54 percent of the vote.
Incumbents fell in different counties. Lake County voters decided to replace their longtime property appraiser, Ed Havill, with former state Sen. Carey Baker, who got the Republican nomination – usually tantamount to victory in November in this solidly Republican county.
Osceola County voters of both parties were also tough on incumbents. Cindy Hartig lost her re-election bid on the Osceola County school board to real estate agent Tim Weisheyer, while Clerk of Courts Malcolm Thompson lost the Democratic nomination to community activist Armando Ramirez.
Thompson had been removed from office by Gov. Rick Scott after two misdemeanor counts of assaulting employees in his office, but the jury ruled in his favor and Thompson reclaimed his position. The voters, though, appeared to be less forgiving.
Ramirez will face Rayelynne Ketchum in November. Ketchum won the Republican nomination for the Clerk of Court’s office, defeating, among several other candidates, Oliver Dan Durfey, who got some higghly unwelcome publicity over the final weekend before the primary when the Polk County Sheriff’s Office issued a warrant for his arrest on theft charges, accusing Durfey of stealing from the Poinciana church he worked at. Durfey got 7 percent of the vote on Tuesday.
Osceola Democrats did decide to renominate County Commissioner Brandon Arrington, who got 63 percent of the vote against challenger Marta Santiago.
And on the Republican side, a postcard claiming that Jeff Goldmacher was a nudist and atheist – two charges that Goldmacher denies – didn’t hurt his bid for the GOP nomination for county commissioner. Goldmacher won 50 percent of the vote, compared to 32 percent for Tony Ferentinos and 17 percent for Ivan Rivera.
In Orange County, state Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, had to vacate his seat because of term limits, and he tried to convince voters to elect his wife Victoria to replace him. Voters, though, opted instead for veteran state Rep. Geraldine Thompson, who defeated Victoria Siplin in the Democratic primary, 56-44 percent.
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