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Latvala and Negron square off anew in Senate battle

Locked in a long-running fight for future control of the Florida Senate, Republicans Jack Latvala and Joe Negron both claim to have the inside track to clinch the presidency in 2016.

Negron claims to have “several more” signed pledges from senators than Latvala, but he wouldn’t show them or name names.

“I’m several votes ahead. We’re in a very strong position,” Negron told the Times/Herald. “I’m confident I’ll have the support to serve as a presiding officer.”

The Senate has 26 Republicans, so the winner needs 14 votes. Latvala described the current state of the race as a “virtual tie.”

“If he’s got the votes, then he ought to show his cards,” Latvala said, daring Negron to ask Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto to call a caucus vote to end the suspense and choose who will succeed Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando. He will take over for two years in November.

Negron, 52, of Stuart, is the influential chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and has the support of the core Senate leadership, including Senate President Don Gaetz, Rules Chairman John Thrasher and Benacquisto. He has a strong Libertarian streak and has focused on the environment and higher education policy.

Latvala, 62, of Clearwater, is a political moderate, a maverick and a skillful tactician who had his most effective session in 2014 and is known for his vote-tallying ability, as he proved in winning passage of in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants (which Negron opposed). His supporters are a varied group of conservatives such as Greg Evers and Alan Hays to moderates such as Charlie Dean and Nancy Detert.

“I’ll put my vote-counting ability in the Florida Senate up against anybody, anywhere,” Latvala said.

Latvala has a potential ace in the hole in South Florida. Former Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff of Fort Lauderdale is seeking a comeback in a grudge match with Democrat Maria Sachs of Delray Beach. Bogdanoff and Latvala are long-time friends and allies and she supports him for the presidency.

In closely-contested leadership battles, pledge cards are closely-held secrets, which adds to the intrigue. History shows pledges can be withdrawn, too.

The Times/Herald made a written request for pledge cards, which the Senate denied, saying that what determines whether something is a public record is its content, now who has the records. Pledges are “political agreements (that) do not relate to the official business of the legislative branch,” Gaetz’s office said.