The rest of the state is taking notice of the race to replace Congressman Jeff Miller.
State Sen. Greg Evers, State Rep. Matt Gaetz and Escambia County Supervisor of Elections David Stafford got the most attention from The News Service of Florida. Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward got a sentence.
Former Escambia County Commissioner Gene Valentino and the two Republicans who have actually filed – Brian Frazier and Chris Dosev – weren’t mentioned at all.
I have not heard much from the Valentino camp – which has been plotting the return of Ron McNesby and demise of Commissioners Lumon May and Steven Barry over coffee at Triggers- so he might pass on this opportunity. Frazier and Dosev are rumored to have resources to raise significant funds. If so, they will be contenders.
With as many as eight people in the race, someone could win the GOP primary with as little as 30-percent of the vote. I also believe a Democrat will file.
IT’S MILLER (REPLACEMENT) TIME
(Weekly political notes from The News Service of Florida)
By DARA KAM AND JIM TURNER
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
Washington may have lost its appeal for U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, but the siren call of the city on the hill is luring a raft of other Panhandle officials poised to take his place.
State Sen. Greg Evers, state Rep. Matt Gaetz and Escambia County Supervisor of Elections David Stafford all confirmed that they’re contemplating bids to succeed Miller, who announced a week ago that he won’t seek re-election after serving 15 years in Congress. Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward’s name is also among those bandied about by local insiders.
Evers is considered one of the Senate’s more-moderate Republicans, despite his predilection for sponsoring National Rifle Association-friendly legislation. He got that reputation, at least in part, because of anti-prison privatization votes and his alliance with Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican who’s consistently been a thorn in the side to Senate GOP leaders.
“I’m praying about it. I’m talking about it to my constituents and I’m definitely looking at it,” Evers, a Republican strawberry farmer from Baker, said Thursday.
Gaetz, currently running to replace his father in the state Senate, was equally coy in a telephone interview Thursday, saying he’s “considering it strongly” but hasn’t yet decided. Gaetz’s father, state Sen. Don Gaetz, earlier this week nixed the notion that the elder statesman would run for the seat, which stretches to the Alabama border.
“I’ve gotten a lot of encouragement from people all over Congressional District 1 and I’ll make an announcement very soon regarding my intentions,” Matt Gaetz, a lawyer who lives in Fort Walton Beach, said.
Stafford, who at one point served as chief of staff to Joe Scarborough during the MSNBC talk show host’s stint in Congress, was even more circumspect.
Stafford said numerous folks in the Panhandle have urged him to run for the seat, and, while he’s been “humbled by their encouragement,” he’s regrouping, at least for now.
“As you know, I’ve been focusing on the presidential primary and now that Election Day is behind us, Kim and I will take some time to discuss how best we can serve,” Stafford said in an email, referring to his wife.
When asked about running, Hayward said in a phone interview he “hasn’t ruled it out.”
Meanwhile Thursday, Gaetz and Evers poured on the Panhandle rhetoric, even before entering the race.
“The decision that I am working through is all about where the biggest challenges are that need solving. I’m happy with where we are in Tallahassee. We’ve balanced budgets. We’ve cut taxes. We’ve repealed or replaced over 4,000 regulations. I look at Washington and it’s a mess. I think that many of the solutions we’ve come up with in Florida are transferrable, to create more problem-solving at the federal level,” Gaetz said.
When a reporter noted that his remarks sounded like something a congressional candidate might say, Gaetz acknowledged, “It does.”
Evers said his constituents “need someone to pick up the same torch” Miller wielded for the military and veterans and to “be that lifeline through Washington to cut through the red tape.”
“To bring it down to a local level, that’s the vision that I feel like I’m the best one to represent in the Panhandle,” Evers said.
Miller’s exit could rearrange the deck chairs on the Panhandle political scene, creating opportunities for not just one but two Senate seats — Evers’ seat and the open seat now being sought by the younger Gaetz. At least three House members — Reps. Doug Broxson, Mike Hill and Clay Ingram — could be in the running for Evers’ Senate post, fueling even more speculation about their possible successors.
The congressional campaign will likely boil down to Evers, Gaetz and Stafford, if he chooses to enter the fray, according to Collier Merrill, a prominent Pensacola businessman and GOP donor.
“It’s going to create a tough race, but at the end of the day we’ll be well-represented,” Merrill said.