Florida’s qualifying period for hundreds of state and local offices began Monday, signaling the start of what will be a pivotal election year in the state.
At the top of the ticket will be an open governor’s race, with term-limited Gov. Rick Scott running for a U.S. Senate seat. The race to replace Scott is expected to draw at least seven major candidates, including two Republicans and five Democrats.
Floridians will also get a chance to vote in the Cabinet races for attorney general, agriculture commissioner and state chief financial officer.
In the 40-member state Senate, 22 seats are up for election this year. All 120 state House of Representatives seats are also up for election.
Qualifying began at noon Monday and will run through noon Friday.
Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine was at the state Division of Elections on Monday morning, filing his paperwork in preparation for the Aug. 28 Democratic primary for governor.
“I know that people in northern Florida, central Florida and southern Florida … one thing that they really want is someone that has a history of getting things done,” Levine said.
Levine, who was businessman in the cruise industry before he ran for mayor, also filed a disclosure form noting he has a net worth of $133 million. He has spent close to $9 million of his own money through May on his campaign. It has given him an edge in fundraising and television advertising in the Democratic field.
But while opening a campaign office in Tallahassee, Levine downplayed those advantages, saying he believes it’s personal contact by him or by his supporters in his field offices across the state that will make the difference.
“It’s boots on the ground. It’s talking to people,” he said.
And Levine is not likely to be the wealthiest candidate running for governor, with real estate investor Jeff Greene of Palm Beach expected to join the Democratic primary. Greene has a net worth of $3.8 billion, according to Forbes.
Other Democratic gubernatorial candidates who qualified on the first day included former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, who filed her paperwork on Friday, and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. Orlando-area businessman Chris King and Greene are expected to qualify later this week.
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is expected to face U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Palm Coast in the Aug. 28 Republican primary for governor.
Qualifying for the three Cabinet races also began on Monday, with former state Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, filing to run for chief financial officer. He will face Jimmy Patronis, a former Republican state lawmaker who was appointed to the Cabinet by Scott.
In the race for attorney general, where Republican Pam Bondi is stepping down because of term limits, Rep. Sean Shaw, D-Tampa, qualified for the race.
Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-North Fort Myers, qualified to try to replace Putnam as agriculture commissioner.
In the Legislature, as of late Monday afternoon, nine Senate incumbents had qualified for their seats, including Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, who is in line to become Senate president after the 2020 general election.
Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa, also qualified on Monday, and she is expected to face House Minority Leader Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, in what will be one of the more heavily contested Senate races in the fall.
Dozens of incumbents also qualified in House races on Monday, including Rep. Jose Oliva, a Miami Lakes Republican who is slated to become the next House speaker after the Nov. 6 general election.
Former state Sen. Ronda Storms, a Valrico Republican, on Monday qualified in House District 59, which is represented by Rep. Ross Spano, R-Dover, who is running for Congress.
Michael Grieco, a Democrat running in House District 113 in Miami-Dade County, was also at the state Division of Elections on Monday morning.
“I wanted to see it firsthand. There’s something about coming up here and filing your paperwork personally,” said Grieco, who is seeking to replace Rep. David Richardson, a Miami Beach Democrat who is running for Congress.
Grieco noted the Aug. 28 primary election is not far away, with absentee ballots scheduled to be mailed to voters on July 24. “It sneaks up on you pretty quickly,” he said.