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Florida Election Qualifying Losing Personal Touch

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File photo of U.S. Senator Bill Nelson. (Photo by Chris Livingston/Getty Images)

File photo of U.S. Senator Bill Nelson. (Photo by Chris Livingston/Getty Images)

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The tradition of Florida candidates standing in line to be among the first to file their qualifying papers was just a memory Monday.

Only one candidate was on hand at the state Division of Elections when qualifying opened at noon for federal and state offices. They include newly redistricted congressional and legislative seats as well as U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson’s seat.

Most candidates are relying on other people, the mail or delivery services to get their papers filed by Friday’s noon deadline. That includes Nelson, a Melbourne Democrat, who sent in his qualifying papers on Monday as did U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV of Fort Myers and former U.S. Rep. Dave Weldon, a Palm Bay physician, both seeking the Republican Senate nomination.

The other major candidate for the GOP nomination, former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux of Fort Lauderdale, did not immediately qualify. A LeMieux spokeswoman said he plans to file his papers in person later this week.

Clay County Clerk of Courts James Jett was the first candidate to file in person. He’s trying to unseat U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns, a fellow Republican, in the Aug. 14 primary.

“I just want to make sure my papers get in,” said Jett, who has stirred up a hornets’ nest by accusing Stearns’ supporters of trying to pressure him into getting out of the race with offers of jobs and money.

Stearns, who sent in his qualifying papers Monday, has denied the allegation that supporters pressured Jett with his consent. Jett said the matter is being investigated by the FBI.

The new district lines are causing some office-seekers to change their political plans. That includes Stearns, an Ocala resident. His existing 6th Congressional District was so drastically reconfigured that Stearns decided to run in the new 3rd District in north Florida.

It’s easier for members of Congress to change districts because, unlike state lawmakers, they are not required to live in the districts they represent. Stearns, though, says he’ll become a 3rd District resident by moving to Orange Park.

State Sen. Steve Oelrich, R-Cross Creek, also is a declared candidate in the 3rd District, but he did not immediately qualify.

By mid-afternoon, 53 candidates had qualified in Florida’s 27 congressional districts. That’s two districts more than the state presently has due to population growth between 2000 and 2010. Fifty-three candidates, meanwhile, had qualified for the 40 Senate districts and 84 for 120 state House seats.

Only a few candidates trickled in to qualify in person after Jett, He was followed by state Rep. Clay Ford, R-Gulf Breeze, who is seeking re-election in the Florida House.

“I got delayed at the car wash,” Ford joked, but added that he thought it was important to file in person.

“It kind of makes a statement that I’m interested enough to get here and make sure it gets done right,” Ford said.

Ford was followed by Bradley Maxwell, a Republican business consultant from Tallahassee, who is trying to unseat state Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, and state Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, who is seeking re-election.

Slosberg had enough frequent flier miles to get a free trip to Tallahassee although he had to fly through Atlanta to get a connecting flight. He said he always files in person.

“It’s tradition,” said Slosberg, one of the few who still adheres to it.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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