Its Never To Early To Speculate

Under The Hood

Image via Facebook: Joe Gruters.

It was always true that Joe Gruters would leave the Florida Senate in 2026. A decision to go ahead and file for Chief Financial Officer that year sent a quick reminder to the political world. I suppose there’ a non-zero chance his departure comes early if Donald Trump is elected President again, though the filing signals the seven-year Senator already has his eyes on a statewide office prize.

Regardless, this could have some serious political ramifications as many a local politician finds themselves looking at the job with various levels of urgency. Why not, despite primaries looming in less than two months, explore the ramifications of an open Senate seat in 2026?

Both state Reps. Will Robinson, R-Bradenton, and James Buchanan, R-Venice, are heavy favorites for re-election this year, but term limits mean they wouldn’t be able to run for another House term in 2026. While Robinson would be a better fit to succeed state Sen. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, that is unlikely to open soon with Boyd eyeing the Senate President’s gavel after the 2026 elections.

State Rep. Tommy Gregory, R-Lakewood Ranch, is part of the same House class, but he announced earlier this year he would step down to take a job as president of State College of Florida Sarasota-Manatee. But there are five candidates to succeed him in Florida House District 72. Four are Republicans, and the winner is likely to succeed Gregory. They could also become a contender to succeed Gruters in Senate District 23.

Based on her constituency, state Rep. Fiona McFarland, R-Sarasota, seems a natural fit to run for Gruters’ seat, though that would mean a risky move in forgoing a fourth term. She, by the way, seems to be the favorite for re-election to her seat now over Democrat Derek Reich, but the seat is the only arguably competitive one in the region that a Democrat could win. That gives McFarland some incentive to run instead for a safe red seat in the Senate even if it means a competitive primary.

The general feeling is she will win re-election in House District 73 as long as she files to run there, but there’s a risk of a blue wave every cycle, and Democrats can and have won the Sarasota-based House district when conditions are right. Should McFarland leave the seat open in 2026, the big news may well be the House seat becoming an instant battleground.

Of course, a host of state and county officials in both regions could also turn their attention to the Senate seat. I can think of a few Sarasota school Board members who may prefer to run for this job rather than face an assuredly nasty re-election bid, assuming they still have any interest in public office at all by that point.

Gruters managed to win the seat with no Republican Primary opposition in 2018, but he had a rare amount of political strength as a long-time local party leader connected closely to Trump’s campaign. A 2026 race will more likely resemble when now-U.S. Rep. Greg Steube ran for Sarasota’s open Senate seat. He was a state representative then but faced County Commissioner Nora Patterson, fellow state Rep. Doug Holder and former state Rep. Ray Pilon in a competitive race the Republican nomination that came down to the wire. Democrats had a competitive Primary too, for that matter.

It may seem ridiculously early to consider the political fallout of an open seat on the ballot years from now. But politics is a game of chess, and that’s a game that requires figuring out an opponent’s possible move several steps in advance. Honestly, any candidate waiting to game out the primary now is probably a little late to the game.

Jacob Ogles is contributing senior editor for SRQ MEDIA.

Image via Facebook: Joe Gruters.

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