TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Candidates began trekking to Tallahassee on Monday to qualify for the 27 congressional races and 160 legislative contests up for grabs this fall, with some of them making the trip solely out of respect for tradition or the fear that their paperwork might not make it safely to elections officials.
Technically, the paperwork doesn't have to be personally handed in -- it can be mailed in or delivered by someone else. But that's too much of a chance for some candidates, whose very futures can rely on making sure that the 'i's are dotted and the 't's crossed. Qualifying ends at noon Friday.
"I've heard about the FedEx plane crashing and I deal with the U.S. post office all the time and I know stuff gets lost in the mail," said Rep. John Patrick Julien, D-North Miami Beach, referring in part to a plane crash in 2002 that prolonged qualifying. "So I wasn't taking any chances."
Rep. Clay Ford, R-Gulf Breeze, said he wanted to do it on his own.
"I just think it's something that's sort of important to do," he said. "It kind of makes a statement that I'm interested enough to get here and make sure it's done right."
Ford faces Republican challenger Jeremy Bosso in a Panhandle district where 45 percent of the constituents are new to the incumbent. Bosso also qualified Monday
Some candidates have already seen their races take shape -- sometimes in unusual ways. James Jett, the Clay County clerk now running for the seat currently held by Congressman Cliff Stearns, a fellow Republican, has seen accusations that Stearns tried to induce him to leave the race overtake his actual platform. Stearns denies the charges, but Jett said an FBI investigation into the matter remains open.
Jett insists he didn't want the allegations to become the focus of the race.
"I would rather talk about the spending levels in Washington and the taxes in Washington," Jett said. "But this involves character and this involves honesty and integrity, and certainly that is an issue for any person running for office."
A few still don't know whether they'll face a competitor or who it might be. Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, had a challenger from the Pirate Party. But the name doesn't appear on the state Division of Elections website, and Pirate Party candidate Ryan Moffitt's web page appears to be down.
"I can't believe that considering, like, pirates from Somalia and you know -- I just can't believe that someone could want to say he's with the Pirate Party," Slosberg said.
Julien faces a likely showdown with Rep. Barbara Watson, D-Miami Gardens, among others -- but promises to keep things civil.
"If it gets dirty, it's not going to be because of me," he said.
Also qualifying Monday was Republican Congressman C.W. "Bill" Young, who is seeking a 22nd term after first getting elected to his seat in 1970. Democrat Jessica Ehrlich, expected to be Young's main opponent for the seat, also turned in her papers Monday.
Others were new to the process. Bradley Maxwell, a 33-year-old consultant, said his run against state Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, was "the first time I've run in a serious race." He ran for the Legislature while he was in college, also as a Republican, but didn't make it very far.
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