2018 state qualifying
From News Service of Florida

Florida’s 2018 state elections are set, with seven major candidates running for governor, three contested state Cabinet seats and fifteen state Senate incumbents facing opposition as the qualifying period closed Friday.

At the top of the list is the campaign to replace term-limited Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who is running against U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

Chris King, a Democrat and Orlando-area businessman, was the last major gubernatorial candidate to file, submitting his paperwork shortly before the five-day qualifying period for state and local offices ended at noon Friday.

King entered a crowded Democratic field that includes former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, Palm Beach investor Jeff Greene and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.

“I still very much believe that I have a pathway to win this race, but I recognize that it’s daunting,” King said. “Democrats haven’t won since I was a freshman in high school. I would argue that it’s because we have not cast a vision that excites people and that lifts people up.”

Heading into the Aug. 28 Republican primary for governor are Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Palm Coast.

A third elected official won’t be on the ballot but will be involved in the GOP primary, a point that was underscored Friday morning when President Donald Trump tweeted an endorsement of DeSantis.

“Congressman Ron DeSantis, a top student at Yale and Harvard Law School, is running for Governor of the Great State of Florida. Ron is strong on Borders, tough on Crime & big on Cutting Taxes – Loves our Military & our Vets. He will be a Great Governor & has my full Endorsement!” the president tweeted.

DeSantis said he was “honored” by the thumbs-up from Trump.

“He has thrown his support behind me, because he knows I’ll fight to keep Florida the best state in the nation when I’m your governor!” DeSantis told his Twitter followers.

Trump’s endorsement comes after a new Fox News poll of likely Republican primary voters showed Putnam leading DeSantis by a 32-17 percent margin, with 39 percent undecided.

In other statewide races, 14 candidates — not including write-in candidates — qualified for the three Cabinet seats.

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, who was appointed to his post by Scott, will face former state Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, in November.

Republican candidates seeking to replace term-limited Attorney General Pam Bondi include Ashley Moody of Tampa and state Rep. Frank White of Pensacola, while two Tampa Democrats — state Rep. Sean Shaw and Ryan Torrens — will face off in the August primary.

In the race for state agriculture commissioner, qualified Republican candidates include state Sen. Denise Grimsley of Zolfo Springs, former state Rep. Baxter Troutman of Winter Haven and state Rep. Matt Caldwell of North Fort Myers. On the Democratic side are Nikki Fried of Fort Lauderdale, Jeffrey Porter of Cooper City and Roy Walker of Fort Lauderdale.

In the state Senate, where 22 of the 40 seats are up for election, 15 incumbents will have opposition.

The three Democrats who face primary contests include Sen. Gary Farmer of Fort Lauderdale, who will have a rematch against former state Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek. Farmer defeated Waldman in a 2016 primary.

Sen. Annette Taddeo, D-Miami, will face Republican Marili Cancio in the general election.

Meanwhile, 11 Republican Senate incumbents will face Democratic opposition, including Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa, who is being challenged by Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa.

Two Democratic senators, Audrey Gibson of Jacksonville and Lauren Book of Plantation, won re-election without opposition.

There are five open Senate seats in which both parties have qualified candidates.

In the 120-member House, where all the seats are up for election, more than two-dozen incumbents were re-elected without opposition, including candidates who only face a write-in opponent.

Among those heading back to the Legislature are incoming House Speaker José Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, and incoming minority leader Kionne McGhee of Miami.

Rep. Barry Russell, D-Lauderdale Lakes, failed to qualify by the Friday deadline Friday, resulting in the election of Anika Omphroy, another Lauderdale Lakes Democrat.

Joseph Casello, a Boynton Beach Democrat, was elected to an open Palm Beach County seat without opposition.

Former Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami, who was raising money for a Miami-Dade County House seat, failed to qualify.

Although the Republicans hold a majority of the House and Senate seats, Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Terri Rizzo said her party fielded candidates for every Senate seat and had more than 100 candidates in the House races.

“We have a record number of people who have stepped up to run, and what this shows us is that no GOP seat is safe,” Rizzo said in a press release.

She also said there were a record 82 women running as Democrats for legislative seats.

“Women will be the difference in 2018, I do truly believe that,” Rizzo said. “They are instrumental to the success of the Democratic Party, and they feel more empowered than ever to take their future into their own hands by running for office.”

—Assignment Manager Tom Urban and staff writer Christine Sexton contributed to this report.

Lloyd been covering Tallahassee since 1983. He has previously worked for the New York Times Regional Newspapers group and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. He grew up in Jacksonville and Palm Beach County, earning a journalism degree from the University of Florida. His journalism career began with the Ocala Star-Banner in 1977.