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NAPLES — Southwest Florida voters should get ready to spend some extra time at the polls this year.
More than 140 candidates for state, federal and local elections qualified to run for office by Friday's noon deadline. And while the ballot may seem longer than it has in recent years, election experts said Friday it's par for the course given the fact it's a presidential election year.
"There seems to be an abundance of candidates (and) one of the factors is this is a presidential election year, so voter turnout is much higher," said Peter Bergerson, a politics professor at Florida Gulf Coast University in Estero. "Potential candidates see this as an opportunity, (plus) in Southwest Florida there are some open seats and (candidates) perceive this as an opportunity."
The majority of the races on the ballot in August, ranging from U.S. Senate to County Commission seats, are contested primaries. Races that voters will be asked to cast a vote in include:
■ U.S. Senate, where six Republicans — including Congressman Connie Mack, R-Fort Myers — will go head-to-head to battle for the nomination to replace Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat. Nelson hasn't entirely wrapped up his party's nomination, though. Southwest Florida businessman Glenn Burkett, a Democrat, will be on the ballot in an attempt to unseat Nelson.
■ U.S. House of Representatives, District 19. The field is still crowded, but the Republicans vying to replace Mack in Congress have a little breathing room after some candidates who planned to run decided not to. Six Republicans qualified for the seat by Friday's deadline.
■ Collier County Commission. All three incumbents filed for re-election, and all are running in a contested election. The August primary will decide the race in District 3, but the primary winner in districts 1 and 5 will face an opponent in November.
■ Lee County Commission. Four Republicans — including former Lee County Manager Don Stillwell — are vying to replace District 2 Commissioner Brian Bigelow, who bowed out so he can run for Clerk of Courts. The winner of the August primary won't be the board's newest commissioner, though. He will have to face a challenger come November. Three other commission seats — District 1, 3 and 5 — also will be on the August ballot.
November's ballot is shaping up to be a lengthy one as well. Voters will be asked to vote on several referendums and independent fire district board seats, in addition to county commission, state House and Senate and federal candidates.
John Knowles, an elections expert and spokesman at Ave Maria School of Law, said elections like these may be overwhelming, but they also offer voters many choices.
"I think what is cool about it is there's going to be a lot of good options," he said. "The more candidates you have mean the more constituencies (you reach)."
Knowles said it will be interesting to see how many candidates, particularly in crowded fields like the U.S. Senate and House races, will be in it for the long haul.
At least one person already has dropped out of the race to replace Mack. Just days after qualifying, Republican Brian Owens withdrew from the congressional race.
Now that the qualifying period has passed, Bergerson said campaigns will shift into high gear. That means Southwest Floridians can expect to be inundated with campaign commercials, mailers and phone calls. It also means local party officials are preparing to get out the vote for their party's candidates.
Mickey Gargan, chairwoman of the Collier County Democratic Executive Committee, said her organization plans to focus on getting President Barack Obama and Nelson re-elected, and getting Democratic congressional candidate Jim Roach elected. Gargan said the organization will look at the referendum issues to see where it stands and will advocate the party's position.
Frank Schwerin, chairman of the Collier County Republican Executive Committee, said his organization will do much of the same for its candidates, but can't take a position on any one candidate until after the primaries. Schwerin said the fact that so many Republicans have thrown their hats in the myriad races shows "a robust energy" in the party.