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Saunders joins Bullard and Bush for three-way Senate match-up

Rep. Ron Saunders, the House Democratic leader, made it official Friday and filed papers to withdraw from his House seat and on Monday will file to run in the open Senate seat, District 35 under the new Senate map.

Saunders joined state Rep. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, and former state Rep. James Bush III, D-Miami, who have already announced for the seat now held by Bullard's mother, Larcenia, who is retiring because of term limits.

Saunders, a Key West native, first ran unsuccessfully for state Senate in 2004 in a race against the elder Bullard that got quite nasty. Direct mail pieces were sent against Saunders that portrayed him as someone trying to "turn back the clock" because he was a white man taking on a black woman. One mail piece depicted scenes of police hosing down civil rights protestors from the Birmingham riots of the 1960s.

The group that financed the ads, People for Fairness and Equality, ultimately was fined by the Florida Elections Commission for failing to include proper disclaimers on their mailers. It also received money from another shadowy group out of Washington, D.C., known as Americans For Free Speech. That group got big donations from U.S. Sugar and Florida Crystals.

Saunders said that while the race will be a tough one he doesn't expect the same fire power against him. "The people that were nasty last time aren't going to be nasty this time,'' he said, with confidence. "When I ran for the legislature last time, I'd been out for a while. At this point, we haven't had a senator from the Keys in over 40 years."