With the 2013 legislative session wrapping up earlier in the month, Republicans are pushing ahead to find a candidate who can defeat freshman Rep. Karen Castor Dentel, D-Maitland, next year -- and it appears they've found their man.
On Wednesday Longwood City Commissioner Bob Cortes, who filed to run in January, is staging the kickoff in his bid for the Republican nomination to challenge Dentel in 2014. Cortes has the support of much of the Republican leadership -- including House Majority Leader Steve Precourt, R-Orlando, and Seminole County Sheriff Don Eslinger. Other Republican members of the Florida House from the area -- including Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, Rep. David Santiago, R-Deltona, Rep. John Tobia, R-Melbourne Beach, and Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne -- are also backing Cortes.
Besides garnering the support of much of the local Republican leadership, Cortes team has not been shy about highlighting their candidates Puerto Rican heritage, hoping it will attract the attention of that demographic group which continues to grow throughout Central Florida. They have also been playing up Cortes background as a businessman with their candidate calling for less red tape and government interference in the free market.
I am running for state representative because I want the American Dream of owning a home, owning a business, and living in freedom and security to be just as sure for my children and grandchildren as it is for me today, Cortes insists. I will do everything in my power to help lead the way by making sure that Floridas budget is balanced and by making sure that we are creating an environment for small businessmen and women to succeed. Florida can be an example to Washington.
But while Cortes has been reeling in major endorsements and chasing away potential Republican primary opponents, he has not yet cleared the field. At the end of April, businessman Scott Sturgill filed paperwork to run as a Republican. Sturgill, who attended the Central Florida Political Leadership Institute last year, could offer Cortes a real fight in the primary. There is talk that other candidates are looking at jumping into the Republican primary, too.
Cortes, a businessman who served on the Longwood City Commission and eventually rose to deputy mayor, has been raising funds despite not holding his kickoff until Wednesday. In the first quarter of 2013, Cortes raised more than $25,000 and loaned his campaign another $25,000. During the same period, Dentel raised more than $23,000 and spent around $125.
While Republicans have a slight edge over Democrats here in this district representing parts of Orange and Seminole counties, this is expected to be one of the closest Florida legislative races in the 2014 election cycle. Despite the slight Republican edge, Democratic candidate Alex Sink beat Republican Rick Scott by 4 percent here back in the 2010 gubernatorial race.
Dentel continued the Democrats success here in 2012 when she beat out incumbent Republican Scott Plakon in 2012, taking 53 percent of the vote. But this was not exactly Plakons home ground. Plakon moved out of his Seminole County base to help Rep. Chris Dorworth -- penciled in to be House speaker after the 2014 elections--have a more favorable district. The gamble paid off badly for both Republicans as Plakon and Dorworth both lost their seats. Plakon is now running for the seat occupied by Rep. Mike Clelland, D-Longwood.
But despite Cortes having more in the bank and the slight Republican advantage in the district, Dentel has her own strengths. She comes from one of the most prominent families in Florida politics. Her mother, Betty Castor, served as education commissioner and was the Democratic nominee in the U.S. Senate race that Republican Mel Martinez won in 2004. Her sister is U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, who has been a proven winner for Democrats in the Tampa Bay area since being elected to Congress in 2006.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis piece exclusively for Sunshine State News.