Republicans have such a grip on Florida politics that state legislative elections, on the whole, haven’t been nail-biters for years. The question isn’t which party will hold the Florida Legislature this election – it’s exactly how much of a hold the GOP will have on either chamber. The Republican Party is fighting hard for a two-thirds supermajority control; right now, the split in the state House is 42 Democrats, two vacancies and 76 Republicans – just a few seats shy of the 80 the GOP is aiming for. In the Senate, Republicans hold a 23-16 advantage, with one open seat, as they try to expand to at least 27 seats. Democrats are largely playing defense, trying to hold on to districts to stop further Republican gains. Here are 10 races where the political firefight is the hottest.
STATE SENATE DISTRICT 3
Dixie, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Hamilton, Jefferson, Lafayette, Leon, Liberty, Madison, Suwannee, Taylor and Wakulla counties
Candidates: Loranne Ausley (D), Corey Simon (R)
Florida Republicans have long sought this prize, the only blue state Senate district in the Panhandle. They spent $5 million against now-incumbent state Sen. Loranne Ausley in 2020, but still saw her secure it by seven points. But the prospect of a party flip appears more likely this time around because redistricting has pushed the district purple.
Ausley’s challenger, Corey Simon, was most recently the CEO of Volunteer Florida and is a regional celebrity thanks to his time as a star on Florida State University’s football team in the late 1990s. Both candidates have their respective party’s apparatus backing them, pumping tens of thousands of in-kind support for their campaign operations and their party’s Senate campaign committees paying for ads.
One recent attack mailer against Simon depicted him in a black and white photo on a shooting target. Critics attacked the ad as racially insensitive, citing the history of using images of Black people for target practice, especially in the Jim Crow era. On the Republican side, Simon took out a full-page ad paid for by the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee in the Tallahassee Democrat to announce he was pulling out of a debate sponsored by the newspaper, the League of Women Voters and WFSU, dismissing the event as a “liberal farce designed to fool voters.” Overall, the content of those ads have generated controversy around both candidates and raised the animosity in an already contentious race.
STATE SENATE DISTRICT 10
Seminole and Orange counties
Candidates: Jason Brodeur (R), Joy Goff-Marcil (D)
State Sen. Jason Brodeur, the incumbent, has been drawn into Florida’s “ghost candidate” controversy after disgraced former Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg told state investigators that Brodeur “absolutely” knew about a plan to recruit a spoiler candidate to join the race in which he was ultimately elected in 2020. Brodeur has not been accused of wrongdoing, but prosecutors have filed charges against others involved in the scandal and got a conviction on a misdemeanor campaign finance violation against Seminole County Republican Party Chairman Ben Paris.
Joy Goff-Marcil, now a member of the Florida House, has seized on the controversy, calling for Brodeur to resign and be investigated. Brodeur has not wavered and is supported by one of the largest campaign war chests in the Florida Legislature, with over $1 million raised between his campaign account and political committees to date. Despite his total so far, Democrats remain optimistic of their chances to flip the seat this year: The district’s constituents went to Joe Biden by four points in 2020, making it one of few blue-favored Senate tossups.
STATE SENATE DISTRICT 14
Candidates: Jay Collins (R), Janet Cruz (D)
In an inverse of many of the races on this list, the Democratic candidate has a commanding fundraising lead over her opponent, but that hasn’t stopped Republican leadership from putting its might behind its candidate. Tampa’s Janet Cruz, the Democratic incumbent, has raised almost $1 million dollars between her campaign account and political committee, while her challenger, U.S. Army veteran Jay Collins, has brought in just over $500,000. The fundraising lead, plus the district’s 4-point Biden advantage in 2020, has given her campaign momentum.
Collins has enjoyed critical support from Republican powerhouses, including a power-packed fundraiser that was hosted by Senate President-designate Kathleen Passidomo of Naples, state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, outgoing Senate President Wilton Simpson of Trilby, outgoing House Speaker Chris Sprowls of Palm Harbor and others. Cruz has received the backing of her party’s legislative leadership, including incoming House Democratic Leader Fentrice Driskell, also of Tampa. Cruz also was designated one of the 2022 “frontline” candidates by the Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. Those in the Tampa area may see a blitz of campaign material in the final weeks leading up to Election Day, as both campaigns have over $250,000 left to spend.
STATE SENATE DISTRICT 18
Candidates: Nick DiCeglie (R), Eunic Ortiz (D)
The race to replace term-limited Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes features a seasoned legislator and a first-time candidate for public office. Republican state Rep. Nick DiCeglie is leading in fundraising, with almost $500,000 left to spend in the campaign’s closing weeks. He’s backed by powerful state and local officials, including Gov. Ron DeSantis and Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. The district’s makeup also is slanted in his favor, with its constituents siding with Donald Trump by about five points in 2022.
But Eunic Ortiz, a union and political organizer who led a team that advocated for the ballot initiative that will gradually raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, received early buy-in from her party. She was backed by Democratic candidate for governor Charlie Crist in February, and has since piled up a long list of endorsements from Democratic lawmakers, including state Rep. Anna Eskamani and state Sen. Shevrin Jones. If elected, she’ll be the first openly LGBTQ woman elected to the Florida Senate in history.
STATE SENATE DISTRICT 36
Candidates: Ileana Garcia (R), Raquel Pacheco (D)
Ileana Garcia won this Miami-Dade seat by just 32 votes in 2020 against Democratic incumbent José Javier Rodríguez, but that was after former state lawmaker Frank Artiles allegedly recruited a sham candidate to run against Rodríguez in a scheme to siphon votes. She has since taken hits in office for controversial statements about racism, abortion and the LGTBQ community.
Those controversies have not, however, sapped her fundraising power. She has raised close to $1.2 million as of the latest tally. That’s over ten-fold more than her opponent, small business owner and military veteran Raquel Pacheco. The seat seemingly has not been as high a priority for those in the Democratic Party than Republicans. A more seasoned Democratic candidate, state Rep. Michael Grieco, blamed the “Tallahassee establishment” for a lack of support when he dropped out of the race before it even began.
The candidates have sparred via advertisements while jockeying for clout in the Hispanic-heavy district. An ad from Garcia’s camp that was funded by the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee accuses Pacheco of trying to mislead voters into believing she is of Cuban descent. That was in response to an August campaign video in which Pacheco says she fled her country of birth as a child “because of Fidel Castro and his communist military invasion.” More precisely, she fled her home country of Angola when Cuba sent troops to the country in 1975.
Bottom line: A return to Tallahassee for one of the Senate’s most controversial legislators appears likely, but the seat’s close outcome the first time around still leaves it in the potential flip category.
STATE SENATE DISTRICT 38
Candidates: Alexis Maria Calatayud (R), Janelle Perez (D)
Both first-time candidates entered this race for this open seat after exiting other Florida races. Janelle Perez, a small business owner and the first chair of the Miami LGBTQ Advisory Board, dropped a challenge of U.S. Rep. María Elvira Salazar. Calatayud, who has been a campaign manager and aide to Republican state Rep. Vance Aloupis, originally filed to run to fill her former boss’ seat when Aloupis decided not to seek a third term. She switched to this Senate race after redistricting.
Shortly after filing to run, Calatayud was endorsed by outgoing Senate President Wilton Simpson and Senate President-designate Kathleen Passidomo. Perez has garnered support from Democrats from several levels of government, including Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book, congressional candidate Annette Taddeo and Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava. She has also been backed by the Florida chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, which endorsed Republicans like U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and Gov. Ron DeSantis at the top of the ticket this election cycle.
Calatayud enjoyed an early fundraising lead, but Perez has stormed ahead over recent months. She has over two times the amount of her opponent left to spend in the closing month of the campaign. That, and the seat’s roughly 7-point Biden advantage in 2020, means Perez, a cancer survivor, has a strong chance – along with Ortiz – of being the first openly gay member of the Senate.
STATE HOUSE DISTRICT 60
Candidates: Lindsay Cross (D), Audrey Henson (R)
With state Rep. Ben Diamond, a Democrat, not seeking reelection, Republicans have their eyes set on this slightly blue-leaning district to expand their lead in the Florida House. Audrey Henson, a construction company owner and Republican operative, has buy-in from the Florida Republican Party. She has amassed almost $100,000 from various Republican entities. She has also been endorsed by Florida House Speaker-designate Paul Renner, outgoing Speaker Chris Sprowls and outgoing state Sen. Jeff Brandes.
But she may face an uphill battle. Lindsay Cross, an environmental scientist, has Diamond’s endorsement and the support of dozens of other Democrats from the area and around the state. She has been spending at similar levels and is running in a district Biden won by almost double digits in 2020. Democrats have a lot to be confident about in this particular race, but the ability to win a supermajority in the Florida House makes it one Republicans will not count out.
STATE HOUSE DISTRICT 91
Palm Beach County
Candidates: Peggy Gossett-Seidman (R), Andy Thomson (D)
This battle between two South Florida city officials is one of the most expensive state House races this cycle, and one of the most competitive contests in that chamber. The seat went to Biden by four points in 2020, a narrower margin than before redistricting, meaning Republicans could feasibly flip it. But Democrats have much to be hopeful for because of Boca Raton City Councilman Andy Thomson’s massive cash lead over Republican Highland Beach Town Commissioner Peggy Gossett-Seidman.
Gossett-Seidman survived a tough Republican primary where she had to spend almost $200,000, but Thomson was the only Democrat on the ballot and now has four times more left to spend. Thomson has the support of the seat’s outgoing occupant, state Rep. Emily Slosberg-King, who decided not to seek a fourth term. State Sens. Tina Polsky, Lori Berman, Shevrin Jones and Bobby Powell also support her. Gossett-Seidman has been endorsed by a handful of Republican state House members, including incoming House Speaker Paul Renner and Mike Caruso, Rick Roth, Randy Fine and Chip LaMarca.
STATE HOUSE DISTRICT 100
Candidates: Chip LaMarca (R), Linda Thompson Gonzalez (D)
This race is a rematch of the 2020 contest for the seat, which Chip LaMarca won by 10 points. It’s projected to be a lot closer this time for Broward’s only GOP state representative, thanks to redistricting. The district narrowly went for Biden in 2020 by just six-tenths of a percentage point. Voter registration in the area also leans towards Democrats by a little more than 1,000. Due to those narrow margins, Florida Republicans have invested heavily into LaMarca; the House Republicans’ political committee cut him a $49,000 check in August and the Republican Party of Florida ponied up $22,500 in in-kind contributions. Their support has contributed to the more than seven-fold fundraising lead he has over Linda Thompson Gonzalez.
The Democratic candidate has attacked LaMarca over his voting record, including “yes votes on the state’s 15-week abortion restriction and a ban on transgender athletes in female sports in public schools. This race could be a litmus test for how strongly Democratic voters are mobilized by the abortion issue this election cycle, in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.
STATE HOUSE DISTRICT 120
Miami-Dade and Monroe counties
Candidates: Adam Gentle (D), James Mooney Jr. (R)
Incumbent state Sen. James Mooney Jr. eked out a tight primary victory that saw him advance with just a 90-vote margin. He’s facing another competitive contest in the general election. He won his seat in 2020 by less than a percentage point, but the area went to Trump in the same year by four points. It also went to Gillum in 2018, demonstrating its tendency to swing. Adam Gentle, a Key West attorney, secured the Democratic nomination by over 1,000 votes. If elected, he would be the eighth openly gay lawmaker in Florida state legislative history. So far, he has attacked Mooney for his support of the state’s ban on abortions after 15 weeks that passed earlier this year.
Gentle doesn’t have as many lines of attack to energize voters that some of the other Democratic challengers across the state do. Mooney has voted more in the center, opposing parental right legislation dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by its opponents, for example. The fact he is less open to attacks for supporting such legislation – and he enjoys a sizeable fundraising lead – may tilt this race in his favor.