ST. PETERSBURG ó Raymond Blacklidge once was in the running for Floridaís insurance commissioner. The insurance executive now hopes to win the District 69 state House of Representatives seat being vacated by Kathleen Peters.
He first must beat fellow Republican, lawyer Jeremy Bailie, in the Aug. 28 primary, then face Democrat Jennifer Webb in the Nov. 6 general election.
Blacklidge, 58, and Bailie, 27, appear to agree on several issues. They oppose off-shore drilling and Medicaid expansion. They support legalized sports betting in Florida, though Blacklidge advocates certain restrictions.
"I definitely donít want any big casinos coming here,íí he said. "I think we have an exception for the Seminole Indians, but I donít want to see any Las Vegas-type gambling places."
Blacklidge believes texting while driving should a primary offense, but Bailie does not, citing 4th Amendment concerns and issues "with bicycle citations that are disproportionately issued to minorities."
Voters have "a good choice between two good candidates," Blacklidge said.
"The difference is my extensive experience and knowledge through the years and my life experience gives me a better advantage to represent the people of Florida in Tallahassee," said the former Illinois school board member, alderman, and Republican precinct committeeman.
Bailie, who has never run for office, was a Legal Fellow for Congressman Gus Bilirakis.
"I think what people are looking for is fresh ideas and new perspectives on the challenges we are facing and I think thatís one of the big things I am bringing to this race," he said. "Iím a consistent conservative and someone who is going to watch over taxpayersí dollars as carefully as they watch their own money."
Blacklidge has raised more money than Bailie. As of July 27, he had $167,680 in campaign contributions compared to Bailieís $75,955.
"I have been around a lot longer. I know a lot more people," Blacklidge said. "My gray hair didnít just appear overnight. I have a track record. People know what I stand for. I am an open-minded person who will listen to every argument and listen to the facts."
Insurance companies are prominent Blacklidge contributors.
"I have been in the business for 32 years. A lot of them trust that I will do the right thing for Floridians," he said, also touting his independence. "Iím not going to be a rubber stamp for anyone."
In 2016, he was one of the candidates nominated by then Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater for the stateís insurance commissioner.
Bailieís financial contributors have included former Ambassador Mel Sembler and his wife, Betty, and Young Floridians for Opportunity.
"Weíve got a lot of resources behind us," Bailie said. "Weíve got a lot of community leaders that are supporting me. I have got grass-roots support of hundreds of donors from all walks of life. Itís not all about money, but itís about having the folks who will go out on a July day and knock on hundreds of doors."
Neither candidate has allowed Floridaís sweltering summer to slow their door-to-door campaigning.
"Iím trying to hit everyone before Aug. 28," Blacklidge said.
Concerns vary, he said. "People along the beaches may be concerned about short- term rentals and offshore drilling," he said, adding that those inland mention transportation and traffic.
"It varies from person to person. Some of the people talk about pot holes on their street. Some people talk about education and where is all the money going," he said.
Bailie said he and his supporters have knocked on "thousands of doors" and have "hundreds of yard signs" throughout the district.
"People are excited to see a fresh face, someone who has the energy and passion to work hard and do what is right for Pinellas County and not the same old ideas," he said.
Both candidates say religion is an important in their lives and influences their politics.
"Iím an individual who prays every day and I truly believe everyone has a right to find their own religion and their way to God," said Blacklidge, who is Catholic.
"Iím a very forgiving person and I will work to do my best to represent the people of South Pinellas County. Just because someone has wronged you, you donít get back at them politically in a way that would harm the citizens of Florida."
Bailie sings in the choir at First Baptist Church of St. Petersburg. His faith influences his world view, he said, as does the fact that his father and grandparents are immigrants from Ireland.
"It was one of the reasons that motivated me to run for office," he said, adding that his family came in search of the American dream.
"They found it and it was hard work and sacrifice, but they were able to pass along opportunities to my brother and me that they didnít have and I get to pass on to my daughter, who is going to be born in October. Iím running for this seat because I want to make sure that the American dream and those opportunities are still available to my daughter."
Blacklidge, who said he has no higher political aspirations beyond District 69, has contributed more than $30,000 of his own money to the race.
"Iím not here to make a name for myself. This is public service. Iím a grandfather," he said.
"Iím not going to run for governor some day. Iím not going to be president. Iím not going to run for attorney general, but I think the legislature could benefit from my experience in insurance, because that affects citizens of Florida every day, whether itís their home owners insurance, their auto insurance, their flood insurance or workers compensation insurance."
District 69 includes Gulfport, Madeira Beach, Pinellas Park, South Pasadena, St. Pete Beach, Treasure Island and parts of St. Petersburg.
Contact Waveney Ann Moore at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes