Bill Heller takes gloves off as GOP poll shows Jeff Brandes on top
ST. PETERSBURG -- State Rep. Bill Heller went uncharacteristically aggressive in a candidate forum against Republican Jeff Brandes, calling Brandes out for offering a lack of specifics on policy and distorting Heller's record on taxes.
"Who exactly are you planning to take behind the woodshed, and what are you going to do once you get them there?" asked Heller, playing off Brandes' signature slogan during Tuesday's meeting of the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club. He told Brandes, "You talk more about being a member of Tallahassee's majority party than about what you will do, what legislation you would offer."
The only slowdown came when Heller, D-St. Petersburg, got water on his prepared opening remarks. But here's something that might give him pause:
Results of an internal Republican poll provided to Bay Buzz show Brandes, 34, a real estate director for his family company, is leading Heller, 42 percent to 39 percent among 300 likely voters in District 52. Among them, 18 percent were undecided.
Also, 25 percent agreed Heller, 75, a USF professor, deserved re-election and 32 percent want someone new. Another 40 percent were unsure.
The margin of error is 5.77 percentage points -- close enough to be legitimate but wide enough to leave it neck and neck or a lead for either candidate. The poll was taken Sunday.
The results fit with conventional wisdom that Heller is in danger of losing his seat in a district that only narrowly favors Democrats in voter registration. But Heller accused Brandes of attacking him falsely for seeking tax increases because polling actually shows Brandes trailing. Heller also dismissed a question about whether he needed to be more aggressive earlier in defending a seat the Republican Party of Florida targeted with a lot of TV ads the past three months.
"I don't know how anyone could say that. I've been working my ass off," Heller told Bay Buzz afterword.
For his part, Brandes stuck largely to his campaign themes, and indeed failed to give specifics when asked which departments he would cut as part of his campaign promises. He said cuts need to be "across the board." When other candidates answered whether they were insiders or outsiders, he declined to answer without any explanation. He closed with an accusation that Heller is "trying to leave his own party as we stand here and move to the middle. And the reality is that simply isn’t true.”"