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Low Turnout Expected in Today’s South Florida Special Election

Voters today are deciding who will replace Sen. Ken Pruitt in state Senate District 28 following the Port St. Lucie Republican’s early retirement after a lengthy legislative career.

Republican Joe Negron faces Democrat Bill Ramos in the race for the historically Republican district that spans five counties. Tuesday’s election comes after an abbreviated campaign brought on by Pruitt’s early retirement that moved up an election originally set for 2010. It will give the winner a little more seniority than others in the class of senators to be elected a year from November.

A former state representative, Negron is considered the favorite, having secured endorsements from the top Republicans across the state. Negron also outspent his Democratic challenger nearly 15 to 1.

Negron raised $499,685 for the campaign period ending July 30. Of that, he spent $418,000. Ramos campaigned relied on monetary and in-kind contributions of $40,296 and he spent a little more than $28,000.

The campaigns reflected the financial discrepancy. While Ramos spent money on postcards, Negron bought TV airtime

The district runs from Indian River to northern Palm Beach counties with the bulk of voters residing in St. Lucie, Martin and Palm Beach. Shifting demographics in St. Lucie, however, have swung that region to the political left.

Overall, about 26,000 absentee ballots had been returned. In Martin, 11,000 mail-in ballots were received by Election Day along with 1,154 early voters. Supervisor of Elections Vicki Davis said she was expecting a light turnout.

“It’s been quiet so far today,” Davis said Tuesday morning. “I expect it to stay that way.”

Palm Beach recorded only 186 early ballots from two early voting sites. St. Lucie had 605 early voters. The polls close at 7 p.m.

Pruitt’s 19-year career culminated in his tenure as Senate President from 2006 to 2008. His legislative resume was also highlighted by separate stints as the House and Senate’s top budget chairman, a post that put him in contact with leaders of both chambers.

A long-time ally of the late Sen. Jim King, R-Jacksonville, Pruitt played a leading role during King’s term as Senate President. Pruitt also supported the ascension of Senate President Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, who successfully challenged Sen. Alex Villalobos, R-Miami, for the top Senate post.

Earlier this year, Pruitt said he would step down early, citing the desire to spend more time with family, health concerns, and, with kids entering college, the need to make more than the $30,000 a year salary paid to a state senator.

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