Dawn Thompson leaves House District 51 race; Victoria Torres jumps in

SEMINOLE — The race for state House District 51 should be interesting if the zigs and zags of the past week are any indication.

First, Republican candidate Dawn Thompson dropped out of the race. That left St. Petersburg business owner Larry Ahern as the lone Republican challenger to Democratic incumbent Janet Long.

Then, in the final hours of qualifying, Victoria A. Torres paid the qualifying fee to make it a three-way race. Torres, 44, is an Orlando resident who is running on the tea party ticket.

State law requires a representative to live in the district he/she represents, but "they have to live in the district as of election day," said Jennifer Davis, spokeswoman for the Florida Division of Elections.

That means Torres can live in Orlando until Nov. 2.

"This is America. That's part of a democracy. Everyone's free to jump in and run," Long said.

Neither Ahern nor Torres could be reached Friday for comment.

The race for District 51 has been controversial from early on. Thompson, 42, was accused before qualifying of distributing campaign fliers and buttons in violation of a state law that requires candidates to have a treasurer and bank account before spending money. Last week, the state Elections Commission cleared Thompson of wrongdoing.

Thompson said she was relieved at the decision. But she withdrew anyway for the good of the party and threw her support to Ahern. Ahern, 55, owns a swimming pool remodeling and commercial fountain business, according to his campaign website, larryahern.com. He is married and has three daughters.

"I'm running for state representative because Florida needs leaders who will champion rights that empower the individual and limit government," according to the site. "As a small business owner in this community for 30 years, I've created jobs and balanced budgets. I want to bring common sense and business practices to Tallahassee to get Florida back on track."

As of March 31, he had raised $15,581.12.

Long, 65, is a former member of the Seminole City Council who has served in the Florida House since 2006. She touts her independence, saying, "I'm not defined by an R or a D after my name. … Nobody tells me what to do or how to vote. I can vote my conscience."

Florida, she said, has many challenges and requires hard work to meet them. Serving in the Legislature requires the passion that Long says she has in abundance. She is married and has three children and three grandchildren. Long had raised $85,660 as of March 31. Her website is electjanetlong.com.

District 51 includes Seminole and South Pasadena, and parts of Pinellas Park, Largo and the unincorporated Lealman area.

Reach Anne Lindberg at alindberg@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8450.

Dawn Thompson leaves House District 51 race; Victoria Torres jumps in 06/19/10 [Last modified: Friday, June 18, 2010 5:40pm]

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