Expect the Unexpected in Qualifying Week

Under The Hood

The coming week is one of the most exciting periods of the political season. No, it’s not Election Day. That’s when the suspense ends. This is qualification week.

From noon on Monday until noon on Friday, we’re in that phase when anything can happen. Surprise contenders. Sudden retirements. Closed primaries. No one knows for sure what will happen, but almost surely, something will happen that most of us for the moment don’t suspect. But here’s a few things I will be looking for, not because I have particular insight but precisely because I don’t.

State House District 73

The Sarasota-centered House district has a new shape and a new number, but remains as swingy as ever. Republican Rep. Fiona McFarland holds the seat today. But so everyone knows, nobody has served this seat or one analogous to it for a full eight years since term limits first came into existence. McFarland won the seat in 2020 after Democrat Margaret Good gave it up to run for Congress. Good won the seat in a nationally watched special election viewed as a mid-midterm referendum on Donald Trump in early 2018, and held onto it the following November. Before her, Republican Alex Miller won the seat in a seeming landslide but only when a sex scandal knocked the Democrat out of serious contention.

And toss aside what you think you know about gerrymandering. This seat is more divided than ever. Republican Donald Trump won here but by less than half a percentage point over Democrat Joe Biden in 2020.

But to date, only one Democrat is running, first-time candidate Derek Reich. Sure he could put up a fight, but McFarland has almost $200,000 cash to operate with now. The question this week is if a Democrat with an existing fundraising network and more name recognition gets in the race.

Sarasota County District 2

To date, there are five candidates filed for this Sarasota County contest and not one of them is named Christian Ziegler. There’s candidates including Mark Smith on the Republican side hoping that means the incumbent will sit this race out. Is Ziegler, also vice chair of the Republican Party of Florida, ready to bow out of public office after one term?

There’s arguments to made either way as to what’s the wiser move. He won election county-wide, where whoever secured the Republican nomination was bound to win the office. But the race will be decided this year in a district election — despite Ziegler’s best efforts to convince voters to abandon single-member elections earlier this year. The district has more Democrats in it than Republicans, but not that many more. There’s good Democrats in the race, but all have significant flaws. At least right now, this election cycle feels like one where Republicans will get a boost up and down the ballot, so an incumbent with name recognition might be able to ride a red wave over any numeric disadvantage. 

We’ll learn this week if the hyper-partisan Ziegler will roll the dice  and run again or take a more conservative (with a lower case c) route.

School Board runoffs

This is some mechanical minutia, anyone who has followed School Board races in the region knows Democrats perform better in August and Republicans do better in November, especially with nonpartisan races. I know, I know, parties in School Board races? Well clutch your jewels, they will be more involved than ever this year. 

What I notice looking at the Sarasota candidate roster is every race has just two candidates. That means races will be decided effectively in August. But if a third candidate appears on the ballot, as is the case in most Manatee County School Board races, there’s a much higher probability nobody secures a 50% majority in the primary and the top two vote-getters will advance to November. Some of the most important school races in the last decade (Bridget Ziegler, Scott Hopes) were won by candidates who came in second in the primary but prevailed in November.

But these are just the questions I start the week with. The fun will come with scenarios not publicly imagines but likely being concocted in kitchen table consultations as we speak.

Jacob Ogles is contributing senior editor of SRQ MEDIA.


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