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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Wilton Simpson, Ginny Brown Waite pick their congressional candidate



Kelly Rice, a Sumter County cattle rancher and realtor, has not yet announced that he will run for Congress but he already has the backing of two powerful Republicans, state Sen. Wilton Simpson and former member of congress, Ginny Brown-Waite.

Brown-Waite, who retired in 2010, is the former boss of Justin Grabelle, the Republican candidate who is the hand-picked successor of current District 11 U.S. Rep. Richard Nugent.

Rice, 47, is more mature that Grabelle, who had a mixed record as her staffer, Brown-Waite said.

She appointed him as interim chief of staff but gave the job to his predecessor once he returned from a stint doing charitable work.

“I actually demoted Justin,” said Brown-Waite, of Brooksville. “I was hoping he would grow into the job and it just wasn’t there … I know six years have elapsed, but I’m not sure six years is enough..”

Rice, who has not announced his candidacy for the District 11 seat, is a member of the governing board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District and represents Hernando, Citrus and Sumter counties on the board of the Florida Farm Bureau.

“This country is desperate for leadership and I think Kelly’s got the experience to provide it,” she said. “He’s not a Washington insider and, God only knows, there’s enough of them.”

Grabelle, 33, started working in Brown-Waite’s office a decade ago and served as Nugent’s chief of staff. Nugent endorsed him last month immediately after announcing he would not seek re-election next year.

Grabelle, who lives in Ocala, did not return a call seeking comment about Brown-Waite’s remarks Monday afternoon. He had previously said he knows the district well because of his time in Nugent’s office and his work on Nugent’s trademark issue, veterans’ affairs.

Simpson, who said he has known Rice since they both attended Pasco High School, said Rice would also be a better candidate than U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Winter Garden, because of Rice’s knowledge of the district.

“He’s lived her all his life and he’s a good businessman,” said Simpson, R-Trilby.

Webster’s Orlando-area district would become heavily Democratic under a Congressional map recently approved by the Florida Supreme Court. Webster has previously said he was exploring the possibility of running for District 11 -- which would remain solidly Republican -- but he has not made an announcement.

Simpson compared Webster’s potential run as a non-resident to a “carpetbagger,” and to Democratic presidential candidate and former U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton.

“I didn’t like it when Hillary Clinton moved to New York to run for the Senate, and I wouldn’t like it if Dan Webster ran for District 11,” he said.

Though U.S. Representatives are not required to be representatives of their districts, he said, “I think where you live is where you run.”

[Last modified: Monday, December 7, 2015 5:27pm]


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