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Hillsborough's county races heat up for fall

TAMPA — Sure, we've got the GOP presidential convention and all, but let's not get too cocky, Hillsborough County.

Now that the primaries are over, Tallahassee thinks we're chopped liver — at least when it comes to our local political races.

Observers say the special interest groups and political committees that spent money on legislative Republican primaries, which could affect future leadership in the state Senate, most likely lost interest after Tuesday.

The lobbyists, for instance, who hoped to sink Tom Lee in the Senate District 24 primary against Rachel Burgin? It's doubtful they'll be helping his general election opponent, Democrat Elizabeth Belcher.

"They're going to look at this thing and just say, 'We're going to have to deal with Tom,' " said Republican consultant Chris Ingram.

So it's back to hunting for local money. The local races expected be top-dollar affairs include the contests for Hillsborough property appraiser and supervisor of elections.

Ronda Storms, the former county commissioner and state senator, socked incumbent Property Appraiser Rob Turner in the Republican primary Tuesday after he became embroiled in a porn scandal. She faces Democratic former state Rep. Bob Henriquez and two no-party candidates in the November general election.

Consultants not working on the property appraiser race say Henriquez would need to raise $150,000 to $200,000 to make the race competitive. They say that kind of fundraising is necessary to launch a targeted and effective direct mail campaign.

By contrast, Turner easily won re-election in 2008 after raising about $70,000.

The elections supervisor race is between Democrat Craig Latimer, now the office's chief of staff, and Republican Richard Glorioso, a departing state representative from Plant City. Both men have raised close to $70,000 each, and consultants expect that race easily to be six figures as well.

The fact that voter turnout will be so high because of the presidential election cranks up the ask, said Republican consultant April Schiff. Many of those voters will be interested only in the national elections.

"To saturate the (number of) voters who are going to show up at the polls you have to spend more money," she said. "That drives the amount of money the campaigns need to spend to saturate the voters with their message."

In the appraiser's race so far, Henriquez has raised about $26,000. Storms brought in $64,000 before the primary.

A big chunk of her bounty — $45,000 — came from the Hillsborough Republican Party. It contributed the money after Storms dropped out of her Senate re-election campaign, closed her treasury and donated what was left to the party.

Reports showing how much that was are not yet available, and Storms said Friday she did not know the figure.

Who are potential contributors to the campaigns? Henriquez said he has been contacting some of Turner's contributors, particularly those in the development and real estate community, whose objective is to get the most competent person elected.

"And they've been reaching out to me," he said. He added: "I'd love to get $200,000, but … honestly, I don't know if either of us will get that."

(Only two local candidates have raised well over $200,000 so far: Hillsborough Sheriff David Gee and Commissioner Kevin Beckner, who are running for re-election.)

One surprising person who says he may contribute to both Storms and Henriquez is Sam Rashid, a Hillsborough Republican Party stalwart.

Rashid said he thinks partisan politics should not play a role in the election of constitutional officers. He said Storms, as a Republican, may be more receptive to some appraisal issues involving large landowners and developers. Then again, he added, "Bob is qualified. He's not a radical person."

"I might end up hedging my bet."

In the elections supervisor's race, he said he will support Democrat Latimer over Republican Glorioso.

Storms said she had the opportunity to get money from her Tallahassee connections — including other elected state officials — but declined.

"Frankly, I thought my opponents would try to make it an issue," she said.

Without the state party help she got for her Senate campaigns, she said she's turning to many of the same local Republicans who have helped her before. She declined to say much about Rashid's comments. "Sam knows what he's doing," she said. "We're good."

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3374.

Hillsborough's county races heat up for fall 08/18/12 [Last modified: Sunday, August 19, 2012 12:09am]
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