- Associated Press - Friday, June 24, 2016

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Amid the fallout of retirements and a dramatically changed political landscape, the final ballot for the 2016 elections was set on Friday.

Florida officials closed out the qualifying period at noon, but not before a last-minute scramble that saw some candidates switch races or even drop out. Businessman Todd Wilcox was among the last-second changes, backing out of Florida’s Senate race and throwing his support behind incumbent Marco Rubio in a highly competitive race.

This year’s elections come just months after courts approved new district maps for both Congress and the state Senate. Voters nearly six years approved the “Fair Districts” constitutional amendments that require compact political districts that aren’t drawn to benefit parties or incumbents. A coalition of groups challenged maps adopted by the Florida Legislature and the new districts are the result of a lengthy legal battle.

With the new maps in place, all U.S. House incumbents seeking new terms drew challengers this year, including some long-standing veterans. Several incumbents decided against running for re-election, opening up several seats.

Rubio’s last-minute decision to jump back into the U.S. Senate race caused ripples up and down the ballot.

Rubio, who ran for president but was crushed in the GOP primaries by Donald Trump, had repeatedly said he would not seek a second term but changed his mind this week.

Republican U.S. Reps. David Jolly and Ron DeSantis opted to run for re-election instead of challenging Rubio.

Jolly is now running against former Gov. Charlie Crist in a reconfigured Pinellas County seat that now favors Democrats.

Like Wilcox, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera is dropping out of the Senate race and is now backing Rubio.

“This race is too important to lose and I’m fully behind him,” said Lopez-Cantera in a Friday phone call to supporters. “With this seat in Florida comes control of the U.S. Senate.”

Republican Carlos Beruff, a developer who has received support from Gov. Rick Scott, is staying in the race against Rubio. There are also several Democrats running for Senate, including U.S. Reps. Alan Grayson and Patrick Murphy.

Despite the changes, dozens of state legislators in both the state House and state Senate were elected Friday since they did not draw any opponents in their races.

Sen. Aaron Bean, a Fernandina Beach Republican who got a new term, said he was “shocked” that he was among the legislators who returned to office without an opponent. He said he was spending the afternoon double-checking the state website to make sure that no one jumped in at the last moment.

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