TAMPA — After spending a recent steamy afternoon knocking on voters' doors dressed in shorts and a campaign T-shirt, state House candidate Dana Young declared herself "sweaty and gross" and glad to be cooling off in her campaign headquarters across the street from Plant High School.
With the headquarters' television set to the Glenn Beck show on the Fox News Channel, she lamented all the negativity in the District 57 race.
"People want an issue-based campaign," said Young, a Republican. "They don't like all the mudslinging."
Indeed, the race between young and Democrat Stacy Frank has been marked by brutal campaign attacks as the state parties duke it out for an open seat in a district where the number of voters registered as Democrat or Republican is nearly equal. Fundraising totals underscore the significance of the contest, with Young and Frank collecting close to $450,000 each — more than nearly every other state House candidate.
Frank's campaign headquarters are about a mile away from Young's, in a Kennedy Boulevard strip center that Frank owns. Earlier this week, Frank's volunteers prepared campaign pieces, with The Oprah Winfrey Show on the office television.
Her workers included retired teachers, and a woman who said she was throwing her support behind Frank because she's a fan of her mother, Pat Frank, the former county commissioner who is now Hillsborough's clerk of courts.
Wearing a khaki skirt and blue blazer, Frank fielded phone calls from her mother and Dan Molloy, who lost to Young in the Republican primary and recently contributed to Frank's campaign.
She said she decided to run for office because she saw a "dire need" for honest leaders in the state Capitol.
"It's absolutely corrupt," said Frank, 55, who has a law degree from Florida State University. "It's the type of leadership that's up there. That attitude that it's my way or the highway. It's all about power and ambition."
Young, 45, who earned a law degree from the University of Virginia, has spent the past 12 years as a stay-at-home mom. She said she decided to run for office after a series of conversations with friends about politics that started before the 2008 election of Barack Obama.
"People started saying, 'You need to get involved,' " Young said. And so she did.
"It was just a frustration with what I saw going on, the motivations of people that I saw in office and what they saw as important," she said. "I really felt I could add something in terms of true public service."
The stakes are high in the seat, which represents south Tampa, Westchase and Town 'N Country. Republicans want to hold onto the post, left open when Faye Culp left office due to term limits. Democrats want to take it over to lessen the GOP hold on the legislature.
Frank has endured the wrath of a small but vocal group of parents who object to her work negotiating leases for cell phone towers on school properties.
Young supporters have capitalized on their ire, feeding them campaign literature to distribute that pairs Frank with health warnings related to cell tower emissions.
On other pieces, the Young camp paints Frank as "ultra liberal," featuring her on fliers next to pictures of Obama.
Frank calls the nationalizing of the race a distraction from the problems facing Florida.
"They're trying to make it about Washington when, in fact, it's all about Tallahassee," Frank said. "They can't deal with the fact that Republicans have been in control for 12 years and they're destroying our state."
Frank's backers cast Young as in the pocket of big business and a mouthpiece for the Republican Party with no ideas of her own.
The two women offer voters a distinct choice.
"Stacy Frank and I have a fundamental disagreement over the proper role of government in our society," Young said. "I believe in limited government and the power of the individual. I believe in most circumstances, the private sector can do things better and more efficiently than the government."
She points to federal health care legislation as an example, saying she supports Florida's participation in a lawsuit challenging the law's constitutionality.
Young also supports an Arizona-style immigration law and opposes the proposed 1-cent sales tax in Hillsborough County that will help pay for light rail.
Frank says the best way to address Florida's illegal immigration problem is to void state contracts with vendors who hire undocumented workers. Fewer job opportunities, she reasons, would reduce the motivation for living in the country illegally.
She opposes Florida's health care lawsuit against the federal government, and supports Hillsborough's transportation sales tax. A centerpiece of her campaign has been her opposition to offshore oil drilling long before the BP oil rig disaster.
When asked about the basic differences between her and Young, Frank goes on the attack: "My opponent is a right-wing extremist who is part of the Tallahassee status quo and is out of touch with the voters in this district."
Frank makes her claim based on the more than $80,000 in donations Young has received from political groups. Frank has received less than $20,000 from similar organizations.
With election day near, Frank reflected on the impact of the statewide spotlight on the race.
"We should have had more debates, more forums," she said. "That would have allowed voters to see what the true positions are, not crafted commercial portrayals of the positions."
Janet Zink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3401.