Incumbent Joe Saunders faces tough race to keep his District 49 seat

By : Jamie Hyman
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Orlando – Two years ago, state representative Joe Saunders made history by becoming the first openly gay legislator sworn into the Florida legislature. (He was the second openly gay candidate voted into the legislature, beat to the punch by Democrat David Richardson, a CPA from Miami Beach, who secured his seat in the August primary elections. Saunders won his bid during the November general elections.)

His district, District 49, covers UCF and the surrounding areas, and leans Democrat.

Still, incumbent Saunders faces an extremely competitive race to maintain his seat. His opponent is Rene “Coach P” Plasencia. Saunders says the Republican Party has spent well over half a million dollars, including some attack ads putting Saunders side by side with sex offenders based on a bill tightening consequences for affairs between underage students and authority figures in schools.

“I think there’s a moment when you cross the line and I think my opponent has done that a couple of times,” he said. “I don’t pull my punches but I try to be honest and tell the truth. Sometimes that’s hard to hear. We tried to not cross any lines and keep it above the fray and I think the Republican Party of Florida has crossed that line in this race.”

Why the intense focus and spending on District 49?

“I think the Republican party is making a play to get a super majority in the house,” Saunders says. “I think they’re worried about [former] Gov. [Charlie] Crist getting elected. They have to pick up a bunch of seats, so they’re going really hard on a bunch of seats that are even a little competitive.”

Saunders adds that he thinks the election is “going to be close,” and he’s concerned about low turnout so far in his district. He said they had 15% of voters turn out as of Oct. 31, near the end of the second week of early voting, compared to statewide turnout of 40% in 2010.

He said in non-presidential election years, voters in his district simply don’t show up.

“Students at UCF and Valencia aren’t going to vote this cycle,” he said. “My opponent is a Hispanic man [the Republican Party is] hoping will pull away some of the Hispanic Democrats.”

SaintPetersBlog, a political website out of St. Pete, published a poll claiming Plascensia is ahead of Saunders by about 13%. However, Saunders says his campaign has done their own polling and while it shows a close race, the results are that Saunders still has an edge over Plascensia.

“They lean in support of me but I need to work for it,” Saunders says.

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