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March madness: Senate maps open floodgates of new contestants

As the Florida Senate scrambles to redraw its redistricting map before the 15-day buzzer, the field of potential candidates keeps widening.

Take Saturday's speculation that, in addition to former Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, Rep. Erik Fresen may be ready to jump into the Hispanic-heavy district now held by Sen. Gwen Margolis, a Miami Democrat. That followed news last week that Alex, who was succeeded by his older brother Miguel Diaz de la Portilla in 2010, wanted to return to the Senate in an adjacent district.

The new Senate map released Saturday by Senate Redistricting Chairman Don Gaetz also prompted an official announcement from state Rep. Joe Abruzzo, D-Wellington, that he'll run for the new District 27 in Palm Beach County.

Rep. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, and Rep. Mack Bernard, D-West Palm Beach, also told the Palm Beach Post they are also considering running for the new District 29, a coalition district that is 24 percent black, 26 percent Hispanic.

Former Rep. Pat Patterson of Deland told the Herald/Times Saturday the he will run for the newly-created District 8, a swing seat that stretches from Daytona Beach westward. He expects to run in a Republican primary against current state Rep. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange. Volusia County Commission Chairman Frank Bruno has announced he'll run in the competitive new district as well.

Former Rep. Baxter Troutman said Saturday that he will run for the newly designed District 26, the Lakeland-based district which responds to the court's request to keep that city whole. Troutman,  formerly represented the region for eight years in the House, would likely face Rep. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, for the seat.

And Rep. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, said he will run for District 14, the North Florida seat being vacated by Sen. Steve Oelrich who is running for Congress.

The news that Fresen could join Diaz de la Portilla in pursuit of a fourth Miami-Dade Hispanic seat explains why pressure is mounting from Miami Dade members of the House to get Senate leaders to reconfigure the Margolis' District 35.

The Hispanic voting age population in the proposed district now comprises 49 percent of the Democrat-dominated district. Miami Republicans are urging their Senate colleagues to sweep more Hispanics from surrounding districts into it on the theory that Miami-Dade deserves four Hispanic majority seats.

Miami-Dade delegation chairman Carlos Lopez Cantera said Saturday that with three Hispanic congressional seats in Miami-Dade, "it's almost incumbent upon them" to revise the original map and now draw four Miami-Dade Hispanic Senate seats, he said.

Lopez Cantera didn't raise a point during the first round of maps because of the "gentlemen's agreement" that allowed the Senate to design its own map while the House designed theirs. But now, with the clock ticking and the Legislature given one last chance or the court take control, "all bets are off," he said.

In a memo to senators Saturday, Senate Redistricting Chairman Don Gaetz touted District 35 as a Hispanic majority district, (made so if you add the 1.4 percent black Hispanics to the total.)  

But Alex Diaz de la Portilla, who served with Gaetz in the Senate, disagreed: "It's close, but no cigar," he said.

Call it March madness Senate style. The outcome is certainly just as unknown.