Republican leaders said Sunday they expect state Rep. Joe Negron of Stuart, Fla., to be named Mark Foley’s replacement in the District 16 House race when state party leaders meet Monday in Orlando.

A 37-member executive board will choose from among seven candidates to face Democratic challenger Tim Mahoney. State Rep. Gayle Harrell of Port St. Lucie, Fla. and Jupiter, Fla. attorney Tom Rooney are among the contenders.

Negron appears to have the edge going into Monday’s meeting, said Sid Dinerstein, chairman of the Republican Party of Palm Beach County.

"I think that this meeting is going to turn into a unity rally and a lovefest around a very, very fine representative of our party and the community," Dinerstein said.

Negron has all the elements Republicans might want in a candidate who will have less than five weeks to campaign against Mahoney, Dinerstein said.

His run for attorney general earlier in the year gives him some name recognition in every county in the district and campaign funds he can draw on, said Susan Auld, chairwoman of the Martin County Republican Executive Committee.

His experience as a state legislator is another plus, said Fran Hancock, state committeewoman of the Palm Beach County Republicans. Hancock said she plans to vote for Negron at the meeting.

Republican leaders acknowledged that whomever they pick will face a stiff challenge in the coming weeks. Foley’s name will remain on the ballot despite his resignation on Friday after Internet and media reports about sexually explicit instant messages he sent to teenage congressional page.

Auld said she expects some people to be hesitant to pick Foley’s name on the ballot. The local parties are already planning ways to inform voters about his replacement in the coming weeks, she said.

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