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And they're off! Candidate qualifying period opens

When the clock struck 12 noon Monday, a handful of candidates were among the first to submit qualifying papers at the Division of Elections in Tallahassee. By noon Friday, the ballot will be set for all of Florida's 27 Congressional districts, 160 legislative districts and hundreds of other county races, and the suspense will end over who's running in which seat and who got a "free ride" -- elected without opposition.

p1040796.jpgThe first candidate to wander into the state elections office Monday was James Jett, 59 (at left), the Republican clerk of courts in Clay County, who's running in the 3rd Congressional District against Rep. Cliff Stearns of Ocala, among others. Jett has accused Stearns supporters of offering him cash and other inducements in exchange for dropping out of the race, and he brought his complaints -- which also implicate Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll -- to the local sheriff. Stearns' office has denied the allegations.

No. 2 in line: State Rep. Clay Ford, R-Gulf Breeze, casually dressed in a blue polo shirt, khaki shorts and white sneakers for the nearly theee-hour drive across I-10. He said he wanted to be first, but added: "I got delayed at the car wash." Nearly half of the constituents in House District 2 in the far western Panhandle are new, but Ford said he's optimistic he'll be re-elected, especially after hearing that his rival hopes to spend $5,000 on his campaign. "A little naive," Ford said.

No. 3 was Bradley Maxwell, a Republican who filed to run against Democratic Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda of Tallahassee. Batting clean-up: Rep. Irv Slosberg, a veteran Democrat from Boca Raton. "I just feel it's important to hand my stuff in myself, rather than trust it to the mail," Slosberg said. He hopped a Delta flight from South Florida to the state capital: "I used free miles!" he said.

Another House candidate, Republican Bob Brooks of Winter Park, filed fifth, and No. 6 was Democratic Rep. John Patrick Julien of North Miami Beach, who is seeking the newly-drawn District 107 seat in the House against fellow incumbent Rep. Barbara Watson.  

-- Steve Bousquet