TAMPA — Backpack? Check. Chicken pox vaccine? Check.
Choice for Hillsborough County School Board? Don't put that one off, either.
Three School Board seats will be decided in the Aug. 14 primary. A fourth at-large seat could be decided in the primary or, with six candidates on the ballot, go to a runoff in November.
For the candidates, a season that began officially in June is literally a race to an early finish.
"It has been nine days a week for me," said Henry Ballard Jr., who is running against incumbent Doretha Edgecomb in East Tampa's District 5. "There's a lot of confusion, and a lot of people who did not know the election is in August. They are more geared up for the November election."
The contests that will be decided next week are in northern and central Hillsborough County, extending east to Plant City. In addition to the Edgecomb vs. Ballard race, longtime incumbents Jack Lamb and Susan Valdes are being challenged by Cindy Stuart and Eddy Calcines, respectively.
Stuart, who started her District 3 campaign in late 2010, has spent much of her time knocking on doors, often having to correct people when they say they will vote for her in November.
"I stress to people when I talk to them, there are many local races that will be decided on Aug. 14," she said.
Running in District 1, Calcines, similarly, is trying to create a sense of urgency. "It's always going to be that way in the primary," he said. "The expected turnout here is very low."
It was abysmal in 2008, the year of the last presidential election. Slightly more than 10 percent of registered voters turned out for the August primary that year. Valdes won her district with 5,804 votes out of a total of 9,972.
Calcines, saying he detests the "dog-and-pony show" aspect of campaigning, is targeting those who vote by mail.
Ballard is counting on word of mouth in his East Tampa neighborhood, including customers at his Joyce's Sandwich Shop, which his family owns. A troop of Boy Scouts are going door-to-door for him, he said.
Stuart has been a regular at community events and parades, with a Facebook campaign page that is updated almost daily.
Money, for incumbents loyal to the administration of superintendent MaryEllen Elia, is trickling in from school principals, retired School Board members, top administrators and their spouses.
Not as many school officials have given to Valdes, a frequent critic of Elia. Valdes had raised $12,000 as of mid-July —less than Lamb and Edgecomb, but more than Carol Kurdell, a 20-year incumbent.
Kurdell, who had raised about $10,000, is being challenged for the countywide seat by "Joe" Jordan-Robinson, Terry Kemple, Robert McElheny, "Captain" Carl Kosierowski and Michael Weston.
All candidates have made a whirlwind of appearances before the Tiger Bay Club, the NAACP, major churches and, last week, the Tampa 912 Project.
Some of the trips are more productive than others, said Calcines, who was disappointed in the turnout at a forum hosted in July by the League of United Latin American Citizens.
"There were 60 candidates there," he said. "Sixty candidates. And 10 voters!"
Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or email@example.com.