The Orange County Republican Executive Committee has opened up for potential candidates to come forward to replace Scotland Calhoun, who withdrew late Friday from her challenge of state Rep. Amy Mercado for the Florida House District 51 seat.

Orange REC Chair Charles Hart said Wednesday he has sent out notice to county Republicans and REC members asking anyone interested in running to send in resumes and letters and prepare to meet with him and State Committeewoman Kathy Gibson on Thursday.

“We’re keeping an open mind; we don’t have a front-runner,” Hart said Wednesday.

Calhoun withdrew after party officials concluded she wasn’t eligible, since she would not turn 21 until the spring.

The challenge is to take on Democratic incumbent Mercado in the November election, seeking to be the first Republican to represent the district since redistricting redefined it following the 2010 election.

A candidate who enters the race as Calhoun’s replacement can still appear by name on the November ballot. Last year the Democrats had to replace their candidate in a special election to fill House District 44, but the replacement, Eddy Dominguez was named after the ballots were printed, so the ballot had the name of his predecessor instead of his.

Still, the challenge for a new HD 48 candidate in the solidly-blue and heavily-Hispanic district would be daunting.

The Republican Party hasn’t fielded a candidate in the southeast Orange County district in any of the past three elections. Mercado won victory in 2016 against an independent candidate. Her father, state Sen. Victor Torres, was the District 48 representative before her, winning unopposed in the 2012 and 2014 elections.

Calhoun entered the race in June and was rewarded by the Republican Party of Florida with a $50,000 state party donation to start her campaign. But no such seed money is expected this time, so the next candidate likely would have to start fundraising from scratch, one potential candidate said.

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