Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Open Primaries Prove Fruitful for Some Candidates

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Open Primaries Prove Fruitful for Some Candidates

Article excerpt

Michael Bennett believes he owes his election as a state legislator to Florida's new open primary system.

The electrical contractor from Bradenton won the open Republican primary for the vacant seat in House District 67 last Tuesday. He's sure Democrats put him over the top because his opponent had a name beloved by Republicans but anathema to many Democrats.

"Ninety percent of the Democrats looked down at that, and even if they didn't know either one of us, they weren't going to vote for a Ronald Reagan," Bennett said.

Sure, this Ronald Reagan wasn't the Ronald Reagan of stage, screen and White House fame, but name recognition can do a lot for a politician, or in this case, perhaps, hurt him.

Although the evidence is circumstantial, it seems to indicate that open primaries are a boon for challengers and bane for incumbents as well as Republicans named Reagan. That may, however, hasten the open primary's demise through a loophole that closes a primary if a write-in candidate gets in the race.

Florida's open primaries are limited to contests in which the winner would be unopposed in the general election. Write-in candidates are such opposition although they neither appear on the ballot nor are required to pay a qualifying fee or submit petitions as other candidates must.

The Constitution Revision Commission proposed open primaries, and they were approved by voters two years ago. Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Gerald Kogan, who chaired a revision committee that drafted the measure, did not recall the write-in issue even being discussed.

The panel's intent was to give opposition party members and independents a voice in elections from which they otherwise would be excluded.

An open primary was held in a special election for a Florida Senate seat in 1999, but last week marked the first statewide application, although few races qualified.

There were no open primaries in congressional or state Senate races and only 14 in state House contests -- seven Republican and seven Democratic. A number of local races also were affected.

Whether open primaries affected outcomes is open to speculation because county elections supervisors did not break down the results by party affiliation. …

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