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Four Central Florida House Races Turn Up the Early Heat

April 14, 2013 - 6:00pm

Some of the most competitive 2014 Florida House races -- getting noisier as the legislative session winds down -- are centered along the I-4 corridor. Candidates are already raising serious cash.

Here's a look at four Central Florida races -- HD 29, HD 30, HD 31 and HD 44 -- that beg an early look:

HD 29

Keep an eye on House District 29 which covers parts of Seminole County. This is already shaping up to be one of the key House races in 2014 with two familiar faces ready to battle it out.

Democrat Mike Clelland defeated Republican incumbent Chris Dorworth, who was penciled in as House speaker after the 2014 elections, in November by less than 200 votes. Clelland wont find 2014 to be a cakewalk since former Rep. Scott Plakon, who lost his seat to Democrat Kathy Castor Dentel last year, has already jumped in the race against him.

On paper, Plakon should have the edge carrying this seat. Republicans have a 10-point edge over the Democrats when it comes to registration and Rick Scott routed Alex Sink in this district back in 2010.

But as Clellands victory in 2012 showed, Democrats can do well here and the incumbent certainly has been helping his cause. In his first months in office, Clelland has shown no hesitation in voting with the Republicans when he needs to. While he cant raise campaign cash during legislative session, Clelland has also shown he is serious about fundraising. In the first quarter of 2013, he raised more than $22,000 and spent none of it. Plakon also posted impressive numbers during that period, raising almost $16,400 and spending almost $750.

HD 30

With 53 percent of the vote, Dentel beat out Plakon in 2012 to represent parts of Orange and Seminole counties. Dentel, well-funded though she's likely to be all the way to the finish line, can expect another tough fight in 2014 as she faces a Republican challenger in Bob Cortes who is already pulling in a sizable war chest.

While Republicans have a slight edge over Democrats here, this is a swing district that Sink carried over Scott by 4 percent in 2010. Cortes, a businessman who served on the Longwood City Commission and eventually rose to deputy mayor, hopes to win the seat back for the Republicans. So far, he has raised more than $25,000 and loaned his campaign another $25,000.In the first quarter of 2013, Dentel raised more than $23,000 and spent around $125.

Cortes may find himself in a primary. There are rumors that other Republicans will be entering the contest, but so far they remain on the sidelines and only one -- Lucas Boyce who works for the Orlando Magic -- has said he will not run. In the meantime, Cortes continues to assemble an impressive list of endorsements as he readies for 2014.

HD 31

Rep. Byron Nelson, R-Apopka, faces term limits in 2014 and three Republicans have already filed to run for this seat representing parts of Lake and Orange counties.

Eustis chiropractor and businessman Randy Glisson entered this race at the end of January and he started off with a bang, posting impressive fundraising numbers. In the first quarter, Glisson raised more than $20,000, loaned his campaign $5,000, relied on near $750 through in-kind donations and spent more than $950. Glisson is the son of Jim Glisson, a veteran of the Legislature who ran for lieutenant governor back in 1978.

Despite his familys political connections, Glisson faces a serious opponent in the primary. Businesswoman Terri Seefeldt is a prominent Republican activist and she entered the race in early February. In the first quarter of 2013, Seefeldt brought in almost $11,000.

Central Florida Republican Joseph Stephens is also in the race, entering it in the middle of March. As of Friday afternoon, his first quarter fundraising numbers were not yet posted.

Whoever emerges with the Republican nomination will be a heavy favorite to head to Tallahassee. There are currently no Democrats in the race.

HD 44

Former Rep. Eric Eisnaugle is looking to get back to Tallahassee and has an impressive war chest to make it happen. Eisnaugle was elected in 2008 and appeared on the fast track to leadership, including serving as vice chairman of the Economic Development Policy Committee in his second term. Eisnaugle was also a favorite of social conservatives. His wife, fellow attorney Carrie Eisnaugle, serves as president of Florida Right to Life.

But, after redistricting, Eisnaugle stepped aside in 2012 in favor of a more senior Republican -- namely Steve Precourt, who currently serves as majority leader.

With Precourt facing term limits in 2014, Eisnaugles chances of returning to the Florida House to represent parts of Orange County look very probable.

Eisnaugle raised more than $7,000 in the first quarter of 2013, meaning he has now raised more than $123,500. He has been very frugal with his money so far, spending less than $3,800. Eisnaugle has garnered the support of many prominent Republicans who are trying to keep other candidates -- namely Winter Garden City Commissioner Bobby Olszewski -- out of the race.

While Olszewski is still on the sidelines, Eisnaugle does have one primary opponent already -- businessman and pastor Ronney Olivera. Olivera ran against Democrat Randolph Bracy for a House seat representing Orange County. Bracy clobbered Olivera in a heavily Democratic district, beating him by almost 40 percent. So far Olivera has not filed paperwork with the state for first quarter fundraising.

There are no Democrats in the race yet but whoever emerges with the Republican nomination will be a heavy favorite to win this seat.

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

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