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UPDATE: David Rivera reaches "contender status"

A hot congressional race is beginning to shape up in South Florida: Dem Joe Garcia has left his federal job to run and state Rep. David Rivera says he reached a "major milestone" -- becoming the first candidate to qualify for the ballot by petition. Rivera has also reached "contender" status in the National Republican Congressional Committee's "Young Guns" program to help GOP contenders.

Rivera, says NRCC chair Pete Sessions, "is well on his way to building a winning campaign that will keep this seat in the Republican column."

Rivera said the Florida Division of Elections verified 4,004 petitions from Miami-Dade and Collier counties -- the requirement was 3,777. He says the campaign exceeded the requirement by more than 225 signatures in less than 2 weeks. "That tells me that voters are enthusiastic about my candidacy and I look forward to sharing my ideas for what I will do for them in Washington as their next Congressman."

Both presumed front runners are likely to have primary challengers for the seat that Mario Diaz-Balart is vacating -- after creating it for himself as a Florida House member. Luis Meurice, a member of the International Longshoremen's Association has said he'll run, and Rivera is being challenged by radio host Paul Crespo.

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