Andrew Learned, who appeared to be carrying the Democratic mantle in the Congressional District 15 race, got a surprise competitor as qualifying ended – MacFarlane Ferguson & McMullen lawyer Kristen Carlson of Lakeland.

Her filing means both parties have primaries with competition between the Polk and Hillsborough sides of the district, which has long been a Lakeland seat but where Hillsborough dominates since the last redistricting.

Carlson is a former state prosecutor and attorney for the state Department of Citrus and Department of Transportation but has no other political experience.

She said she made a last-minute decision to run at the urging of Democratic consultants and the progressive fundraising group Emily's List.

"I'm concerned with the hyper-partisan atmosphere in Washington," she said. "It's not serving the nation well. I've worked across party lines in a problem-solving capacity for my entire legal career."

Learned has backing from big Tampa names in the party including prominent fundraiser Alex Sink and U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor.

Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, announced his retirement from the seat in April.

The daughter of a career Air Force pilot formerly based at MacDill Air Force Base, Carlson has two grown sons.

Six Republicans, three Democrats and three write-in candidates have filed for the seat.

Ross Spano kicking off congressional campaign

State Rep. Ross Spano, R-Dover, was expected to kick off his campaign for the CD 15 seat with a series of events this weekend including a lunch for small business operators in Brandon Friday, a Family and Freedom Picnic at McCall Park in Lakeland Saturday, and attending services at The Church at the Mall in Lakeland Sunday.

Candidates file April fundraising reports

A monster race is building in Tampa's state Senate District 18, where Democrat Janet Cruz is challenging Republican incumbent Dana Young.

Young said her campaign finance reports will show $152,544 raised in her campaign and political committee in April, and $1.45 million total so far, with $1.1 million cash on hand.

Cruz, who filed April 10, pulled in $146,600 for her campaign and committee in the partial month, including $62,731 transferred from her previous county commission race.

Other tidbits from the April fundraising reports or the candidates:

  • In the District 63 state House race, Republican incumbent Shawn Harrison has reported $52,350 raised in April, and about $215,000 cash on hand, in his campaign and political committee. Democratic challenger Fentrice Driskell said her report will show $20,945 for April and just under $83,000 so far.
  • In the east Hillsborough District 59 House Republican primary, both Joe Wicker and Ronda Storms said they’re concentrating on gathering signatures to qualify by petition rather than on fundraising. Storms said she’ll show “a little bit” raised in April, and Wicker about $35,000. Democrat Adam Hattersley said he’ll show just over $12,000 including a $3,000 loan from himself.
  • Democrat Debra Bellanti, challenging Republican incumbent Jackie Toledo in the South Tampa House District 60, said her report will show $2,750 raised for her campaign in April, and a total of about $27,000 including money in a political committee run by her political consultants. Toledo reported $36,525 in April for a total $146,950.
  • Democrat Kim Overman, challenging Republican incumbent Commissioner Sandra Murman in the countywide District 7 race, had what she called a slow month because of her tax season work as a financial adviser, $2,850, for a total so far of $27,745. “Next month will be better,” she vowed.
  • Murman, meanwhile, also had a slow month, raising $1,940, but has a total of $166,958. Slow fundraising for Murman two months in a row has increased speculation that she won’t actually jump to District 7, but instead will finish her term through 2020 in her current District 1 seat. Murman has repeatedly denied that.
  • In the Democratic primary for the countywide District 5 commissioner’s seat, Mariella Smith is gaining ground on Mark Nash. Smith, who filed in January, raised about $12,250 for a total of about $61,300, with about $57,600 cash on hand after expenses, said her campaign. Nash, who filed in October, said he raised more than $6,500 in April, for a total of about $65,000. But he has spent at least $16,500.
  • Republican District 2 incumbent Commissioner Victor Crist, who’s jumping to the District 5 race, pulled in only $1,100, his fundraising slowed by the illness and death of his father.