Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Democrats Have a Plan to Tie Up GOP; Both Sides Making Sure There's Opponent in Unopposed Races

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Democrats Have a Plan to Tie Up GOP; Both Sides Making Sure There's Opponent in Unopposed Races

Article excerpt

Byline: Matt Dixon

TALLAHASSEE | It was shaping up to be an easy election cycle for Clay County state Senate candidate Rob Bradley. The June 8 end of candidate qualifying was approaching, and the rookie candidate had a dream scenario: An unopposed campaign.

That all changed on June 7 when University of Florida student William Mazzota, a Democrat, filed to run against Bradley. The next day - the final day for candidates to get on the ballot - the Florida Democratic Party gave Mazzota $2,000 to pay his qualifying fee.

Mazzota is part of a larger blueprint, laid out by incoming Senate Minority leader Chris Smith, D-Oakland Park, to keep money away from the Florida Republican Party. State Democrats paid qualifying fees for nine candidates to run - at least on paper - against Republicans that otherwise would have been unopposed.

Because an unopposed candidate can give campaign cash back to a state or local party, the Senate Democrats' strategy ties up potentially millions the state GOP could have used during the current election cycle.

"We would have sent about $2 million back to the party, so, I guess, it was a good move by Chris Smith," said state Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine and one of those affected.

Smith did not return calls to his cell phone seeking comment.

Bradley did not want to comment on his opponent's reason for running. Mazzota said he was contacted by the party, but said he ran to ensure that Alachua County had a candidate in the race.

The move, though, may not come without both political and legislative implications for Senate Democrats.

On the legislative front, Thrasher suggested that Smith's sharp-elbowed approach may act as incentive for Republicans to further kneecap the legislative priorities of Democrats, who are already minorities in both the House and Senate.

"Now he has drawn a line in the sand. It might make life a little tougher, we will just have to wait and see," Thrasher said.

When asked if he was talking about Smith's strategy being held against Democrats during the legislative session, Thrasher said "that would be my concern."

You don't need to look any further than state Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, to see the strategy's political ramifications.

Gibson was unopposed until 11:18 a.m. on the final day of candidate qualifying - 42 minutes before the noon deadline - when Republican C.C. Newby filed to run.

Her qualifying fee was picked up by the Republican Party of Florida.

"It's a tit-for-tat thing," Gibson said. "It was retaliation for Democrats running someone against Senator Thrasher."

St. Johns County Democrat Kathleen Trued filed to run against Thrasher on June 6, two days before qualifying ended. State Democrats paid her qualifying fee the next day.

Like other late-filingacandidates whose qualifying fees were paid by the party, she said she is "in it to win it" and there is no larger strategy behind her race. …

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