KEY LARGO -- Florida Keys voters get ready. Political candidates for next fall's election are already on the campaign trail.
"When you serve a two-year term, you have to get started soon," said state Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo, who launched her campaign for re-election at Key Largo Fisheries last month.
Raschein, a former legislative aide, is already building a war chest and must soon submit financial reports to the elections office. Much like last year, she said her focus will be on trying to keep windstorm insurance rates low and securing grant money for sewer debt and construction in the Keys.
Her District 120 seat includes the Keys and portions of south Miami-Dade County.
Homestead resident Pamela Gray, a Democrat, has already filed to run against Raschein, who completed her first legislative season this spring.
Reached by the Free Press, Gray said she wasn't yet familiar with many of the issues facing the Keys. However, she said she plans to meet with Keys officials and residents as she builds her platform.
Gray, who has served on the Miami-Dade Planning Advisory Board, is president of the Redland Citizens Association.
"I know Miami-Dade like the back of my hand," she said.
In the race for the U.S. House of Representatives, Key Largo resident Jose Peixoto has already put up his first campaign sign.
Peixoto, a native of Brazil and a Republican, has set his sights on the District 26 seat won last fall by U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Miami.
Three other Republicans, all from Miami area, have also said they plan to run for Garcia's seat. But like the first-term incumbent, they've yet to formally register as candidates, the state elections website shows.
The most recent announcement came last week from Miami-Dade School Board member Carlos Curbelo. Former Miami-Dade Commission Chairman Joe Martinez and Cutler Bay Mayor Ed MacDougall had previously said they'd run for the seat, which the GOP views as vulnerable.
Garcia, for his part, was not interested last week in talking about re-election just yet.
During his next campaign, Garcia is expected to face criticism about his former chief of staff, Jeffrey Garcia (no relation), who allegedly requested hundreds of absentee ballots on behalf of unwitting voters during Garcia's August primary race.
The congressman quickly parted ways with his former top aid, saying he was not aware of the alleged actions.
"We still have a few months before the politics," the congressman said.