It’s put up or shut up time for politicians who face critical deadline in contest to fill South Florida congressional vacancy

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After months of talk, the 26 people who have declared their desire to go to Congress via a South Florida special election have to lay it on the line — with cold, hard cash.

By noon Tuesday, candidates must officially qualify to get on the ballot for the Nov. 2 primary and Jan. 11 special election to fill the vacancy created by the April 6 death of the late Congressman Alcee Hastings.

His long tenure — Hastings was first elected in 1992 — is one reason so many people want the job: 16 Democrats, five Republicans, one Libertarian and four no party affiliation/independents.

The list will be culled by the deadline.

Qualifying is expensive. For Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians it costs $10,440, which is 6% of the job’s annual salary. NPA/independent candidates must pay $6,960, or 4%.

As of June 30, the most recent campaign finance filings show, most of the people who’ve said they’re running didn’t have enough money in their campaign accounts to cover the cost of qualifying. Unless they raised or gave themselves more in the subsequent six weeks, most won’t make the cut.

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A candidate also can qualify for the ballot by submitting signatures of 1,168 registered voters in the district.

Typically candidates pay the qualifying fee, though some use the signature-gathering effort as a way to build up lists of supporters and, if successful, tout it as an achievement demonstrating grassroots support.

The biggest question about the candidate field was resolved in late July. State Reps. Bobby DuBose and Omari Hardy, state Sen. Perry Thurston, and Broward County Commissioners Dale Holness and Barbara Sharief are running for the congressional seat.

A major prerequisite for qualifying: They had to submit irrevocable resignations from their current jobs, which all did by the deadline. If any wasn’t certain of qualifying in August, they wouldn’t have submitted resignations in July.

The vacancy won’t officially be filled until the Jan. 11 special general election. But the Broward-Palm Beach County 20th Congressional District is so overwhelmingly Democratic that the winner of the party’s Nov. 2 primary is virtually guaranteed to become the next member of Congress.

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