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Close House Races on GOP Side; Rangel Falls

August 26, 2014 - 6:00pm

Two candidates in one of the hardest-fought legislative primaries of the year were separated by the thinnest of margins Tuesday night, while an incumbent was turned out of office elsewhere in one of the few surprises of the evening.

In House District 15, a Jacksonville-area district that had seen candidates Jay Fant and Paul Renner combine to spend almost $700,000 as of Friday, Fant held a three-vote lead over Renner as of 10:30 p.m. While some votes were yet to be counted, the race seemed destined for a recount.

Fant had cast himself as a tea party-style challenger to Renner, who had the support of establishment figures like state Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, and the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce. Fant had loaned his campaign almost $375,000 as of Friday in an effort to win the nomination.

The winning candidate will almost certainly replace Rep. Daniel Davis, R-Jacksonville, who left office to take a job leading the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce. The winner of Tuesday's GOP primary will face off against two write-in candidates in the general election.

In Polk County, former nonprofit executive Colleen Burton and attorney John Hugh Shannon were battling in a close race for the GOP nomination to replace House Appropriations Chairman Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland. Burton led by 173 votes out of nearly 8,500 cast in House District 40.

In Central Florida, Rep. Ricardo Rangel was defeated in his bid for a second term by John Cortes, vice chairman of the Democratic Hispanic Caucus of Florida. Cortes, a retired corrections officer from New York City, led with almost 52 percent of the vote to Rangel's 48.percent.

"From his time as a police officer to his extensive work as an activist in Osceola County, John has always put his fellow community members ahead of himself," Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant said in a statement. "I look forward to working with John to ensure that the residents of District 43 continue to have representation that puts the middle class first this fall."

Ed Narain, an AT&T employee backed by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, defeated former state Insurance Consumer Advocate Sean Shaw in a closely-watched House Democratic primary in Hillsborough County. Narain had almost 41.5 percent of the vote to about 34.9 percent of the vote for Shaw; two other candidates split the rest. The winner faces only a write-in candidate in the general election to replace Rep. Betty Reed, D-Tampa, in House District 61.

In Sarasota County, Venice doctor Julio Gonzalez beat Venice attorney Richard DeNapoli in one of the more bitter House races of the year. Gonzalez and his team painted DeNapoli as a "carpetbagger" who moved into House District 74 solely to run in the Republican-dominated seat, while DeNapoli's supporters accused Gonzalez of running away from his own words and distorting DeNapoli's aborted attempt to join the military.

The seat is currently held by term-limited Rep. Doug Holder, R-Venice. A write-in candidate, but no Democrat, has qualified in the race.

Former state Rep. Brad Drake, R-DeFuniak Springs, succeeded in the first step of his comeback campaign in House District 5. Drake left the House in 2012 after being drawn into the same district as Rep. Marti Coley, R-Marianna, during the reapportionment process. Coley is leaving the House because of term limits. Drake will face Libertarian Karen Schoen in the fall.

Former Rep. Steve Perman, D-Coral Springs, was less successful. He lost overwhelmingly to Broward County Commissioner Kristin Jacobs in the House District 96 primary. Jacobs will have to defeat a write-in candidate in November to officially claim victory.

Jay Trumbull, a 25-year-old businessman, beat three other candidates in the GOP primary for the Panhandle seat being vacated by Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, also forced out by term limits. Trumbull will take on Democrat Jamie Shepard, Green Party candidate Henry Newman Lawrence III and a write-in candidate in House District 6.

Future House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, said he believed his party would hold onto its majority in the chamber.

"Our candidates come from diverse backgrounds, and each one brings a unique perspective on the challenges our state faces," Crisafulli said. "Our message of economic prosperity, educational excellence and abundant opportunities is a clear winner, and Florida House Republicans are committed to conservative solutions that improve the quality of life for all Floridians."

Several candidates formally won election to the state House after winning primaries Tuesday. Among those winners: Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel-Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee; Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora, who won a five-way race to replace Rep. Bryan Nelson, R-Apopka; Rep. Tom Goodson, R-Titusville; Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres; Rep. Kevin Rader, D-Delray Beach; Fort Lauderdale City Commissioner Bobby DuBose, a Democrat who beat Lauderdale Lakes Commissioner Levoyd Williams in a race to replace House Minority Leader Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale; and Rep. Barbara Watson, D-Miami Gardens.

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