Debate might ignite sleepy Tampa mayoral race

If you buy the conventional wisdom, Tampa's five-person mayoral race is likely to be winnowed on March 1 to a contest between former Mayor Dick Greco and former City Council member and County Commissioner Rose Ferlita.

But there's no reason to assume that's a sure thing, given the caliber of all five candidates in the race — Greco, Ferlita, former council member Bob Buckhorn, City Council member Tom Scott and former County Commissioner Ed Turanchik. This week may offer the underdog candidates their last, high-profile opportunity to shake up what has been a surprisingly low-key race.

On Tuesday, the candidates square off for a 90-minute debate sponsored by the St. Petersburg Times and Bay News 9.

The Conversation with the Candidates from 7 to 8:30 p.m. will take place at Blake High School and be televised live on Bay News 9.

Mayoral hopeful on 'Political Connections'

Check out Scott today on Political Connections at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. on Bay News 9.

Predictions for 2012 from pollsters

We heard a lot of interesting insight Friday from pollsters, operatives, academics and journalists at the post-election conference organized by University of Florida's veteran Republican pollster David Hill. He expects the next cycle will see more tea party influence, more debate about immigration, a tougher fundraising climate and perhaps more Rick Scott-like political newcomers with business backgrounds. He also expects some candidates, including for president, won't rush to jump in.

"It's very possible we don't have the field set here until maybe February, March of next year," Hill said.

Democratic pollster Dave Beattie, whose clients include Bill Nelson and Alex Sink, noted the low turnout among Democrats in strongholds such as Palm Beach and Broward County last year and blamed it partly on Charlie Crist's battle against Kendrick Meek for Democratic votes in the Senate race. Democrats lacked a clear choice, he said, and uncertainty is one of the biggest problems when you're trying to drive up turnout.

Ultimately, Scott's spending proved insurmountable, Beattie said, noting that Scott and the GOP outspent Sink and the Democrats on TV — $96 million to $36.5 million — by more than Barack Obama spent on Florida TV during all of 2008. In the Orlando market alone, Scott spent more than Nelson did statewide in his 2006 campaign.

State Democratic chairman Rod Smith said Florida will be front and center again in 2012, and the Obama political team is planning an aggressive push for Democratic-leaning Hispanic voters, among other groups. Smith predicted Republicans pushing for tougher anti-immigration laws will help drive Hispanics away from the GOP.

Rod Smith has crossed that river

We tried to coax Smith, Sink's running mate in 2010, into discussing mistakes made in that campaign, but he wouldn't bite: "After the election, I sat down with my consultants, and their names were John Walker, James Beam and Jose Cuervo, my Hispanic consultant. When I finished with them I was done with that consultation."

Rivera's murky money trail

In the final weeks before Election Day this past fall, the Miami-Dade Republican Party paid $150,000 to a political consultant with close ties to the party's then-chairman, David Rivera. But party officials cannot explain exactly what they got for the money. Read more about controversy surrounding the freshman U.S. representative at politics.tampabay.com.

Times staff writer Janet Zink contributed to this report.

Winner

of the week

Pam Bondi. Florida's new attorney general, is on a roll: success so far in the state's lawsuit to overturn the health care reform law, pushing for tougher laws to crack downs on pill mills, and going after a bank accused of defrauding Florida's pension fund.

Loser

of the week

Mitt Romney. Jeb Bush lands on the cover of the latest National Review magazine, featuring a glowing article about his education reform efforts and practically fantasizing about another President Bush. It's a reminder that the 2012 GOP presidential field lacks a conservative giant. Is it so far-fetched to see Jeb jump in late if no clear favorite emerges over the next year?

Debate might ignite sleepy Tampa mayoral race 02/05/11 [Last modified: Saturday, February 5, 2011 6:54pm]

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