Dunn, Ausley both draw opponents

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Congressman Al Lawson, a Tallahassee Democrat, helped launch this year’s candidate qualifying period Monday by filing paperwork to challenge Republican incumbent Neal Dunn in another North Florida district.

Lawson submitted his paperwork in person at the state Division of Elections to run against Dunn, of Panama City, in Congressional District 2. Lawson appeared shortly after qualifying started at noon and said he wanted to make sure he would have time to respond if elections officials had questions about the documents before qualifying ends Friday.

“I can remember the time I was out in Denver and tried to file paperwork and the (FedEx) plane crashed,” Lawson, who has represented Congressional District 5, said. “We were trying to get on a bus to get back here. So, I want to make sure if anything is wrong with the paperwork, you know, I got until Friday for them to get in contact with me.”

Two decades ago, Lawson, at the time a state senator, was among several candidates left scrambling after their qualifying papers were lost when a Federal Express flight struck trees short of a runway at the Tallahassee airport at the end of the qualifying week.

By late afternoon Monday, Lawson and Dunn were listed on the Division of Elections website as having qualified.

Dunn has represented the district since 2017.

This year’s qualifying period will end at noon Friday, when candidates for governor, three state Cabinet posts, a U.S. Senate seat, 28 congressional seats and all 160 legislative seats have to make sure their paperwork is submitted.

Candidates can qualify by submitting petition signatures or paying fees. For example, legislative candidates with political parties can pay about $1,782 to run for legislative seats. The cost is $1,188 for candidates without party affiliations.

Congressional seats require $10,440 to run with a party tag and $6,960 for unaffiliated candidates. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and his Democratic challenger, U.S. Rep. Val Demings of Orlando, paid the fees for their campaigns.

Candidates for governor must pay $8,050.86 with party affiliations and $5,367 without. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis paid. Dot-Inman Johnson, a former Tallahassee mayor, dropped off paperwork Monday at the Division of Elections for Democratic Congressman Charlie Crist’s gubernatorial run.

Lawson was joined by several candidate surrogates in submitting paperwork at the state’s R.A. Gray Building, which also has a “drop box” at the entrance for candidate papers.

Lawson’s decision to challenge Dunn in Northwest Florida’s District 2 will be one of the higher-profile races of the year. Most congressional and legislative races involving incumbents likely will not be competitive.

In the Senate, former Florida State University and NFL football player Corey Simon, with the backing of Senate Republican leaders, will try to unseat Sen. Loranne Ausley, D-Tallahassee, in November. A second GOP candidate, Virginia Fuller, also plans to run for the party’s nomination.

Simon, who was appointed in 2020 as CEO of Volunteer Florida, filed paperwork Monday to run in Senate District 3. His candidacy likely will make the race one of the most closely watched legislative contests this year. 

Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, incoming President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, and Sen. Ben Albritton, R-Wauchula, endorsed Simon, which signals he will have heavy financial support.

Ausley, a former House member, was elected to the Senate in 2020 in a costly race against Republican Marva Preston. Ausley received 53.4 percent of the vote, while Preston received 46.6 percent. 

Ausley had about $243,000 in cash on hand in her campaign account as of May 31, according to a newly filed finance report. She also has received in-kind assistance from the Florida Democratic Party, which has covered costs of campaign staff.

As the qualifying period got underway, 28 of the 120 state House districts had only a single announced candidate, including Republican State Rep. Jason Shoaf, who represents District 7, which includes Gulf and Franklin Counties.

Apalachicola Times Editor David Adlerstein also contributed to this report.

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