With qualifying over, there is now a chance to look at the field as a whole and the races to watch. The following ten races aren't necessarily ranked in the order of the most competitive, or the most likely to flip, but instead from my perspective, are going to be the most interesting to watch. Because of the plot lines in the state senate, there are more state senate races than state house.
So here goes (and feel free to disagree in the comments section):
10. Darren Soto v Will McBride. (Senate District 14) Looking at the district demographics, this shouldn't be a race, and in the end, it wouldn't surprise me if it wasn't one. Soto, who was first elected in a 2007 special election, has served three terms in the Florida House and remains the most significant elected Puerto Rican in Florida. His election to the State Senate was all but certain until Will McBride, a prominent attorney in Orlando, threw his hat in to the ring. McBride, who has the personal capacity to make this race interesting, may be the best candidate the Republicans could throw at Soto. Quite honestly, he would have had a much better shot running in a friendlier district vs Grayson. That being said, the numbers are really working against McBride, which is why this race isn't ranked higher.
9. Scott Plakon vs Karen Castor Dental (House District 30) - In the musical chairs of House redistricting in Central Florida, Scott Plakon found himself going from a predictably Republican district to one that is far more competitive. Plakon is very likable and an authentic conservative --- and anyone, Republican or Democrat who goes on the Daily Show wins a few points in my book. Castor Dental is a school teacher and working mother from Seminole County, and daughter of Betty Castor, and is a very impressive candidate in her own right. My sense is both will have little problem raising money in what could be the most high profile competitive state house seat in the Orlando area.
8. Mack Bernard vs Jeff Clemens (Dem Primary, Senate District 27). Had Kevin Rader stayed in this race, it would probably have moved a little higher up the board, but regardless, this is the classic new Democrat vs progressive Democrat race. Clemens has won the support of much of labor, while Bernard is supported by the school voucher community. It is not a majority black district, but the large African American and Caribbean American pockets in the district mean that the black vote could be as much as 35% of the primary in a low turnout Palm Beach County election.
7. Alex Diaz de la Portilla/Gus Barriero v Javier Jose Rodriguez (Primary/General, House District 112). At the last minute, former State Senator Alex Diaz de la Portilla (DLP) threw his hat into the ring for HD 112, a move that forced the highly impressive Eric Padron to drop his bid. However, DLP's run back to Tallahassee isn't an easy one. First up is former State Representative Gus Barriero, who is making a second comeback attempt after a scandal forced him to resign from the Crist administration. Assuming DLP gets past this race, he then has to get past one of the more impressive Democrats running this year, Jose Javier Rodriguez. It is Miami, so buckle up.
6. Tom Lee vs Rachel Burgin (GOP primary, Senate District 24). The Jerry Springeresque drama surrounding the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser led State Senator Ronda Storms to abandon her re-election efforts and run against the Property Appraiser. This has created a classic establishment GOP vs. grassroots/tea party GOP primary in eastern Hillsborough County. Tom Lee, a former President of the State Senate, is seeking a return to the legislature with the support of the GOP establishment, while Burgin, who sort of comes from establishment roots (she was a legislative assistant appointed to fill the spot of her boss, when he suddenly resigned), is running as the tea party alternative.
5. Dwight Dudley v Frank Farkas (House District 68). For about a decade, this north St. Pete House seats has produced some of the most watched races in the State House. This year is no different. On the GOP side, the likely nominee is Frank Farkas, who served four terms in the House from 1998-2006 and falls very much into the model of a Pinellas moderate Republican. On the Democratic side, Dwight Dudley, an impressive attorney with a record of St. Petersburg community involvement. The district leans a little Democratic, but that never stopped Farkas when he was in the House. If the Democrats hope to have a good year in 2012, this is the kind of seat they have to win.
4. Jeff Brandes v Jim Frishe (GOP primary, Senate District 22). With Senator Jack Latvala deciding to run in the North Pinellas-based seat vacated by term-limited Dennis Jones, this south Pinellas Senate seat is once again home to a barn-burner of a race. Jim Frishe is a longtime Pinellas pol, currently in his second tour of duty in the Florida House of Representatives. Jeff Brandes is the newcomer, elected in 2010 to the Florida House, bringing ambition and personal wealth to the race. This is another race that could have Senate Presidency ramifications and is definitely one to watch.
3. Mike Weinstein vs Aaron Bean (GOP primary, Senate District 4). Weinstein, who is from Jacksonville, enters the race with significant support from local GOP political and fundraising players, including the former and founding owner of the Jacksonville Jaguarsand many, if not most local elected officials. Bean, who is from Nassau County, which is a small fraction of the district (he does now work in Duval), comes into the race with the support of many in the statewide GOP establishment. My Tallahassee friends say Bean wins. My Jacksonville friends say Weinstein wins. It is Duval County Republican establishment versus Florida Republican establishment in this race that could have significant implications on the future leadership of the Senate.
2. Frank Bruno vs Dorothy Hukill (Senate District 8). This race, pitting Volusia County Council Chairman Frankl Bruno and 4-term State Representative, Dorothy Hukill, could easily turn out to be the most competitive state senate general election race come November. Bruno, who very well could be the single best State Senate Democratic recruit in a decade, comes to the race as a proven winner in Volusia County with strong Republican support. Hukill, a veteran state legislator and former local elected official is no slouch in her own right. It is a classic 50:50 district and could very well be that way all the way to Election Day.
1. Maria Sachs v Ellyn Bogdanoff (Senate District 34). For the first time in decades (probably since Florida went to single-member districts), redistricting has put two incumbent state senators into the same district. On paper, Sachs has the edge. The district has a strong Democratic lean, and if this was a true open seat, would probably be close to a "Likely Democratic" seat. But it isn't really an open seat. Bogdanoff has represented a good chunk of the district for going on a decade and has survived some tough races. Sachs is impressive in her own right, serving as a prosecutor early in her legal career. This race could set some records for state senate spending as both sides see this as a must win.