Write-ins put lid on primaries
Last minute write-in candidates closed primaries between Republicans vying for a state Senate seat and Democrats running for the Hillsborough County Commission.
In the District 3 commission race, incumbent Kevin White will square off against former state Sen. Les Miller and businesswoman Valerie Goddard in the Aug. 24 primary.
The winning Democrat will face Dwight Bolden - a political newcomer who filed to run as a Democrat but qualified as a write-in candidate - in the Nov. 2 election.
"I didn't have any money or a campaign team, so I went with the non-traditional way," said Bolden, whose name, under election laws, won't appear on the ballot.
He wasn't the only unexpected contender to qualify this week for the fall elections.
In the District 12 Senate race, a pair of unknowns qualified as write-in candidates, fueling speculation about whether the two were asked to run to close the primary.
They are Derek Crabb, 30, a Petco store clerk, and Kimberly Renspie, 20, a student at Catawba College in North Carolina.
If they hadn't filed, all district voters, regardless of party, would have decided the race between former state Rep. Kevin Ambler and Hillsborough County Commissioner Jim Norman in the primary.
The write-in candidates mean that only Republicans can vote in the primary, leaving all other voters with a choice in November of the primary winner and the two write-in candidates whose names won't appear on the ballot.
Observers say Florida's closed-primary system often causes confusion among voters.
"This issue comes up in every election," said Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida.
Ambler said his campaign has conducted polls showing a lead over Norman in an open primary, when all of the district's registered voters would be able to cast a ballot.
"I've never heard of him," he said Friday, referring to Crabb. "He just appeared out of nowhere."
Norman, Crabb and Renspie did not return phone calls seeking comment.
In other races, a write-in candidate prevents state Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, from winning re-election outright.
Hillsborough Elections Supervisor Earl Lennard, a Republican who was appointed last year by Gov. Charlie Crist after the sudden death of Phyllis Busansky, also won a two-year term after Democratic challenger Jackie Beiro dropped out of the race on Friday.
A plethora of local candidates made it under the wire before Friday's noon deadline to qualify.
Five of the county's seven commission seats are up for grabs, with Mark Sharpe and White running for re-election. Ken Hagan is vacating his District 2 seat to run for the countywide seat that Norman is vacating. That leaves Hagan's seat and the District 1 seat vacated by Rose Ferlita, who is expected to run for Tampa mayor next year.
In the county's school board races, Candy Olson, a board member since 1994, will face Frank Hernandez, who served as a director of diversity and multicultural awareness at USF.
Incumbents Jennifer Faliero and April Griffin also face competition. The non-partisan board members run in the primary, but if no candidate gets at least 50 percent of the vote plus one, a runoff would occur during the Nov. 2 general election.
More than 50 candidates for Community Development Districts throughout the county also qualified this week to run for boards representing about 20 housing subdivisions.
In Pasco County, veteran Commissioner Pat Mulieri, who has held the District 2 seat since 1994, will face fellow Republican and former state Rep. Ken Littlefield in the primary.
The winner will face outspoken community activist Clay Colson in the general election. Colson, a lifelong Democrat, qualified Friday with no party affiliation.
Commissioner Michael Cox, the board's lone Democrat, will defend his District 4 seat against Republican Henry Wilson Jr. of New Port Richey in the general election. Cox, a former mayor of New Port Richey, unseated two-term incumbent Steve Simon in 2006.
To qualify, a candidate must have the required number of voters' signatures, which is based on the number of registered voters, or pay a qualifying fee.
Candidates for judicial and federal seats qualified during a period that ended in April.