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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Pinellas County Commission candidate Johnson takes loss -- and $40,000 hit to his bank account -- in stride



The day after a disappointing loss, Johnny Johnson headed north.

The retired Tarpon Springs pediatric dentist owns a 470-acre pine tree farm between Chiefland and Cedar Key, a place to relax and hunt deer and feral hog. Whether he won or lost Tuesday's District 4 Republican primary, the plan was to spend some time there this week to take a break after months of steady campaigning.

Johnson won about 22 percent of the vote, coming in a very close third behind former state Rep. Peter Nehr in the race for the north county seat that retiring Republican Commissioner Susan Latvala has held since 2014. Dunedin Mayor Dave Eggers came out on top of the field of seven candidates, winning about 30 percent of the vote.

"It was a victory either way," Johnson told Bay Buzz on Friday when he managed to get cell phone reception on the farm. "Everybody worked hard and believed in me and we grew together. We were successful in how we ran our campaign, and we accomplished what we wanted to accomplish. We just didn’t get enough votes to take it to the next level."

Still, Johnson, who garnered Latvala's endorsement, thought he would be closer to Eggers and farther ahead of Nehr, especially given the late round of attacks against Nehr in the form of direct mail pieces and an open letter from state Sen. Jack Latvala. The Clearwater Republican said Nehr was ethically challenged.

"It just didn’t seem like it made an impact on people," he said. "Voters either didn’t look at it or looked past it."

Johnson spent nearly $112,000, by far the most of any candidate in the race. That included about $45,000 of his own money. He only expects to get a few thousand dollars back.

"My family looked at it as something we wanted to invest in, to have a strong representative to step in after Susan left," he said. "That's a hit, but one that was planned. No looking back, no regrets."

Johnson has spent the last few days mowing grass and planting grains and cow peas for the deer that roam his property. When he returns on Monday, he plans to actively campaign for Eggers, who now faces Democrat Mark Weinkrantz and no party candidates Carl Folkman and Marcus Harrison.

He also plans to campaign for the Greenlight Pinellas transit referendum on the Nov. 4 ballot -- he and Eggers were the only Republicans in primary who supported the proposed one cent sales tax increase to expand bus service and build a light rail system between Clearwater and St. Petersburg. He told the Yes on Greenlight camp that they could put their campaign signs on the the frames of his signs if the property owners agreed.

Johnson also hasn't ruled out another run. His daughters are grown, his wife Trish has been talking about moving to the beach. Republican Commissioner John Morroni, who won reelection Tuesday in a universal primary and whose District 6 includes the south beaches, has said he doesn't plan to run again. Republican Chairwoman Karen Seel hasn't said whether she will run again in 2016.

"My options," Johnson said, "are open for me."

[Last modified: Friday, August 29, 2014 6:13pm]


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