Starting at the Georgia border and sweeping through the east and west sides of Jacksonville, the newly drawn Senate District 4 could become a Republican battleground this summer.
Former Rep. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, and Rep. Mike Weinstein, R-Jacksonville, are gathering big-name support as they seek to replace term-limited Sen. Steve Wise. At the same time, Jacksonville attorney Wyman Duggan said he can offer a fresh choice for voters -- describing what he sees as a "market opening" as he runs against two familiar political figures in Northeast Florida.
The winner of the seat is almost certain to be decided during the Aug. 14 Republican primary, as the district includes reliable GOP areas of Duval and Nassau counties. The outcome also could be influenced heavily by the redistricting process that shuffled Senate and House lines in the Jacksonville area.
Weinstein, who was elected to the House in 2008, decided to run for the Senate seat after being drawn into the same House district as a friend, Rep. Charles McBurney, R-Jacksonville.
Also, Duggan and Weinstein are trying to use the district's makeup to their advantage, pointing out that roughly 85 percent of its voting-age population is in Jacksonville while Bean lives in neighboring Nassau County. The district is almost horseshoe-shaped, with the middle of Jacksonville carved into another district that appears likely to elect a black Democrat.
Weinstein said the district lines are a "strong indicator somebody from Jacksonville will be successful. Maps matter."
But Bean said he has close ties to the city, including working at Shands Jacksonville Medical Center and graduating from Jacksonville University.
"Our opponents will have you say I live in Nassau, Bahamas,'' Bean quipped. "But I actually live in Nassau County."
Bean, 45, served in the House from 2000 to 2008 and held top health-committee chairmanships before facing term limits. He has long planned a Senate race and had collected $341,455 in contributions as of March 31.
Some of the state's most-powerful Republicans support Bean, including former Gov. Jeb Bush, state Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine. Bean touts his conservatism, such as supporting efforts to "rethink" tenure for public-school teachers and the deduction of union dues from government-worker paychecks.
"I like to think that my values match up with the values of the voters of the new Senate (District) 4,'' Bean said.
Meanwhile, Weinstein, 63, has long played influential roles in Jacksonville government and economic development, such as serving as a top assistant to former State Attorney and Mayor Ed Austin, former Mayor John Delaney and current State Attorney Angela Corey. He also served as president and chief executive officer of the group that brought the 2005 Super Bowl to Jacksonville.
Weinstein, who has received support from influential Jacksonville businessman and Republican power broker Tom Petway and from former lead Jacksonville Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver, said he has economic-development experience that boosts his candidacy.
"It gives me a history of being able to accomplish things,'' said Weinstein, who had raised $113,100 as of March 31. "It gives me a history of leadership."
Duggan, 43, is making his first run for public office, but he is an attorney with the prominent Jacksonville law firm Rogers Towers and also has held roles such as chairing the city's charter-revision commission. Duggan's campaign said this week he had received the endorsement of Jacksonville's incoming City Council president, Bill Bishop, and its incoming vice president.
As an attorney who works on land use, regulatory and property-tax issues, Duggan said he is positioned to help boost economic development and job growth. Duggan said Florida should be "feasting on the economic refugees from California" but too often sees them go to other states such as Texas, Tennessee or other parts of the Southeast.
"In my day job, I help landowners and businesses create jobs and create economic development opportunities,'' he said.
Duggan also said he offers a choice to voters who are looking for candidates with "new ideas" and private-sector backgrounds. After opening a campaign account in February, Duggan had raised $25,785 as of March 31. He said his campaign will require a grass-roots effort, as he acknowledged he will not be able to raise as much money as Bean and Weinstein.
While the District 4 race likely will be won by a Republican, the primary could draw extra attention because of maneuvering among Senate GOP leaders. Thrasher and Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, are widely believed to be trying to line up enough support to become Senate president in 2016, which includes trying to get their backers elected.
Bean is closely allied with Thrasher, who lives in St. Augustine but grew up in Jacksonville and has extensive ties in the city. If Thrasher becomes Senate president, he likely would have the power to push through priorities of Northeast Florida.
"We would support the hometown guy (in the president's race),'' Bean said.
Weinstein said Latvala offered to help his campaign, but he is not sure if anything will result. Weinstein said he also has to take into consideration Northeast Florida.
"If he's helpful, I will appreciate that,'' Weinstein said. "But I'm also a Northeast Florida guy, and I'm not going to do anything to hurt Northeast Florida."