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Republican state Senate candidates who had the backing of top legislative leaders won their primaries with surprising ease on Tuesday, while a Miami Beach Democrat becomes the first openly gay man to get elected to the Florida Legislature.
David Richardson, a certified public accountant, defeated three other candidates and won the seat since only Democrats ran for the state House seat. Richardson's victory was hailed by gay rights groups that had backed his campaign.
Former Senate President Tom Lee - whose political career appeared over six years ago - defeated Rep. Rachel Burgin by getting 59 percent of the vote in a Hillsborough County state senate primary. The race had gotten so heated at one point that the Republican Party of Florida chairman warned against character attacks.
Meanwhile in northeast Florida former Rep. Aaron Bean won 64 percent of the vote in a tough GOP state Senate primary against Jacksonville Rep. Mike Weinstein.
"Today the residents of Senate District 4 did not just vote for me; they voted for positive, conservative leadership that is focused on creating jobs, helping our small businesses compete and prosper, and creating opportunities for our state's children," Bean said in a statement.
Several GOP Senate candidates - including Rep. John Legg - who won their primaries had the backing of incoming Senate President Don Gaetz. Legg - who has no opponent in the general election - won his primary with nearly 63 percent of the vote.
Gaetz, R-Niceville, and other top senators were able to raise millions in contributions from outside groups that was then used to bolster the campaigns of candidates such as Bean.
"This historic infusion of civic commitment, practical experience and fresh ideas will change the Senate and chart Florida's course for the next decade," Gaetz said in a statement.
Florida voters on Tuesday weighed in on some 70 state House and state Senate primaries.
The legislative elections follow the once-a-decade job of drawing new districts. Despite the redrawn districts 39 candidates were elected without opposition in June.
Some legislators were forced to run in reconfigured districts, but most incumbent legislators won their primaries. One exception was Rep. Steve Perman, D-Boca Raton, who lost his re-election bid to former Rep. Kevin Rader.
Rader was one of several former legislators attempting a comeback who was successful in the primary. Former Rep. Frank Farkas from St. Petersburg won his primary, while former Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, had 59 percent of the vote with 92 percent of the vote counted.
Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, is being forced to leave the Senate due to term limits, but he easily won a GOP primary for a state House seat in Pasco County.
In a hard-fought Democratic primary, Rep. Geraldine Thompson defeated Victoria Siplin, the wife of State Sen. Gary Siplin. Thompson won 56 percent of the vote for the central Florida state Senate seat.
Rep. Dwight Bullard, a Miami Democrat, bested House Democratic Leader Ron Saunders and three other Democrats in a primary for a South Florida senate seat that stretches from Miami-Dade County to Key West. Bullard's mother now holds the post.
Two House races - including one in Miami-Dade County and one in central Florida - appeared likely to require a recount. Democratic primaries for state senate seats in Palm Beach County were considered too close to call Tuesday.
One interesting newcomer who won on Tuesday was Dane Eagle, a Cape Coral Republican. Eagle, who got his start out of college as an aide to Gov. Charlie Crist, won 70 percent of the vote in his primary contest.
The race between Bean and Weinstein had attracted millions in spending by outside groups because the contest could help swing the future leadership of the Florida Senate. The two opponents are backing rivals for Senate president.
Weinstein had called his election part of a "power struggle" against Tallahassee insiders.
"If I win it indicates that maybe a few people in Tallahassee can't decide," Weinstein said. "If I lose it only encourages the style of politics where a few people with access to other people's money decide."
But Gaetz defended the heated nature of this year's legislative races and his decision to throw his support behind certain Republicans running in the primary.
"Politics in Florida is a full-contact sport," Gaetz said. "Primaries and general elections fights can be tough and they can be bruising."