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Gaetz's slate runs table in Senate GOP races

Celebrating victory Tuesday night, Sen. Don Gaetz said his candidates were superior. But it didn't hurt to have more than $3 million for mail, TV ads and ground support, much of it from corporate interests in Tallahassee such as utilities, doctors, health care companies and agribusiness.

In race after race, Republican Senate candidates backed by Gaetz and his leadership team vanquished their rivals. Aaron Bean beat Mike Weinstein in Jacksonville, John Legg crushed two rivals in Tampa Bay and Tom Lee beat Rachel Burgin convincingly in east Hillsborough.

Like his predecessors, Gaetz openly played favorites and steered massive amounts of money to favored candidates in party primaries. If even one Gaetz-backed Senate hopeful lost, it would have hampered his momentum as he prepares to take the reins of the Senate in November. But they all won. The candidates who railed against "insider politics" and "Tallahassee special interests" lost. 

Gaetz, R-Niceville, could not resist a little gloating, and he took a dig at Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who backed Weinstein and another unsuccesful Senate candidate, Rep. Jim Frishe, who lost to Rep. Jeff Brandes.

"It doesn't help to lose every primary that you engage in," Gaetz said. "But Jack Latvala is an experienced political operative." Latvala did not return a call seeking comment on the election results.

In the fourth race, Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, defeated Frishe, a Latvala-backed candidate. It was no coincidence that Latvala's chief rival for the 2016 Senate presidency, Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, was invited to Brandes' victory party.

"I'm very proud to support Jeff Brandes," Negron said. 

-- Steve Bousquet

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