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Dennis Baxley Turns His Eyes to Running for Senate in 2016

September 3, 2013 - 6:00pm

One of the leading conservatives in Tallahassee could soon be moving from the House to the Senate.

Dennis Baxley told a crowd in Tallahassee Wednesday that he intends to run for the Florida Senate in 2016. Baxley will be gunning for the seat currently held by Charlie Dean, who faces term limits in 2016.

Baxley is an old hand in the Florida House. He was first elected in 2000 and moved up the ranks, becoming speaker pro tempore, before heading up the Christian Coalition of Florida. He ran again in 2010 and returned to the House, currently chairing the Judiciary Committee.

The chief architect of the Stand Your Ground law, Baxley has attracted some attention in recent months with the controversy over the shooting death of Travyon Martin. While he says he is open to debate, Baxley has shown no signs of turning against the law he backed, saying on Wednesday the Legislature should be careful as bills emerge looking to repeal Stand Your Ground.

The Ocala Republican faces an interesting challenge as he looks to move to the Senate. Since serving as mayor of Belleview in the early 1980s, Baxleys career has been based out of Marion County, which he currently represents. But the Senate district stretches across the northern part of Florida including all of Baker, Citrus, Columbia, Dixie, Gilchrist, Lafayette, Levy, Suwannee, and Union counties, plus part of Marion County.

This is a district which includes numerous media markets and where grassroots campaigning is important. Just ask Cliff Stearns. Despite serving in Congress for almost 25 years, Stearns lost to political newcomer Ted Yoho in a crowded primary last year. Yoho did well in many of the same small, rural counties in the district that Dean currently represents.

Baxley is clearly more of an established politician than Yoho was but he would do well to study the new congressmans playbook. That means Baxley will have to put in time and make appearances across the sizeable district, which runs from the outskirts of Jacksonville like Macclenny to Citrus County on the Gulf which borders on the Tampa Bay region.

With no opponents yet, on paper, it makes little sense for him to announce his intentions three years before the election. But, as well-known as he is in Tallahassee and statewide with conservative activists, Baxley is largely unknown in parts of the Senate district. He has a great deal of work to do and, to his credit, he is giving himself a sizeable window to make inroads in this sprawling and unwieldy Senate district.

Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis piece exclusively for Sunshine State News.

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