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Fighting Begins for Panhandle State Senate Seat Open in 2016

April 7, 2013 - 6:00pm

It might be a long way off, but two Republican members of the Florida House are already positioning themselves in a contest for a state Senate seat that comes open in 2016.

Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Destin, will face term limits in 2016. His son Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, has made no secret that he intends to run for the seat which represents parts of the Panhandle. But theres a Republican candidate who has already filed for 2016 -- Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City. Patronis faces term limits in the House in 2014, while Gaetz's time would not be up until 2018.

This week, Gaetz took to Twitter to swat at Patronis leadership of the Economic Affairs Committee. Why didn't my bud @jimmypatronis use his chairmanship to stop the sending of 290 million to the Miami Dolphins? demanded Gaetz on Wednesday before adding notconservative as a hash tag.

This isnt the first time that Gaetz, one of the more adept members of the Legislature in using social media, has taken aim at Patronis on Twitter. Back in January, Gaetz slammed Patronis for first backing Charlie Crist over Marco Rubio for the Republican nomination in the 2010 U.S. Senate race.

While generally ignoring Gaetz for the moment, Patronis is playing up his conservatism, including a recent lifetime membership in the NRA. Patronis backers also point to their candidates deep ties with the Panhandle and his active community presence.

One Republican consultant who did not wish to be identified said the two candidates will throw mud at each other.

There really isnt that much difference between the two of them, the consultant said. They generally vote the same way on most issues though the business community seems a little more comfortable with Patronis and tea party types like Gaetz more because of his style. Look for both of them to go on the attack.

The consultant added there could be a test of strength between the two candidates in an upcoming special election for the House seat left vacant with the recent death of Rep. Clay Ford.

Keep an eye on that race if they back different candidates, the consultant said. Its to the west of where Gaetz and Patronis represent and Im sure both of them will try to build a little steam here. Im curious to see who the two of them back in the special election. One of them could emerge a real winner or they could both back the same candidate.

The seat that Don Gaetz currently occupies ranks as one of the most Republican seats in Florida. Rick Scott took 55 percent of this Panhandle district in 2010 while Democrat Alex Sink took less than 40 percent.

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

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