Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Politics

Brandes, Frishe hunting for votes in St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — The battle for a state Senate seat in St. Petersburg plays out every weekend amid the sounds of lawn mowers and barking dogs.

Separated by a couple of miles, Republicans Jeff Brandes and Jim Frishe knocked on doors Saturday in search of votes in a newly drawn district where the turnout will be low and the stakes are high. Every vote counts.

The two House members' styles were on display, but voters weren't too accommodating. Many weren't home. The few who were seemed polite but reserved.

Brandes, 36, and Frishe, 62, are walking in Senate District 22, which includes South Pinellas and part of Tampa. One will succeed Sen. Dennis Jones, who is retiring due to term limits.

Frishe, in a long-sleeved white dress shirt, gray slacks and black wing tips, parked his Honda Accord on Bayou Grande Boulevard and went to work with a list of households with Republicans who reliably vote in primaries.

At the first four houses in Precinct 144 (Brandes' current House district), no one answered. At each, Frishe left a leaflet highlighting his experience, with a handwritten "Sorry I missed you" note and a letter from a local Republican leader, Eileen Blackmer of Shore Acres, which noted in italics that Mayor Bill Foster, Sen. Jack Latvala and Jones all support Frishe.

"I know the system. I don't see that as a negative," Frishe told one woman at her door after dodging an electrical cord.

A few more houses and sweat began trickling down Frishe's face. He soon was wiping his brow as much as James Shields at a Tampa Bay Rays game.

It rankles Frishe that some House GOP colleagues are helping Brandes. Frishe attributes it to his arm-twisting job as House majority whip.

"I'm not incapable of rubbing people the wrong way," Frishe said as he crossed the street.

Undaunted, he shook the hand of a man with a Brandes sign firmly planted in his front yard. The voter, Tim Flanagan, said he did it for a friend, and seemed to admire Frishe's spunk. "You've got my vote," said Flanagan, promising to plant a Frishe sign, too.

Nearby, in St. Pete's Old Northeast section, Brandes went hunting for votes, armed with a list of GOP voters who vote by mail or absentee ballot.

His brochure, larger and bolder than Frishe's, included a "return your absentee ballot" reminder, with detailed instructions.

Dressed for comfort, Brandes wore a "Jeff Brandes for Senate" T-shirt, shorts and sneakers.

Like Frishe, Brandes walked alone. But as a member of the Cox Lumber family, Brandes can pay dozens of workers who also walk door-to-door. He says he pays up to 30 workers, but no more than 10 or 15 at any time.

Brandes beat Democratic Rep. Bill Heller two years ago and said he wants to become a senator because that's where the real action is in Tallahassee, and there's lots wrong with the status quo there.

At a house on 25th Avenue, a Dalmatian welcomed Brandes loudly. Its owner listened politely as Brandes talked of going to local schools and serving in the Army in Iraq.

Walking precincts is one more element of a campaign, along with yard signs, TV ads, mailers, phone banks and the rest, he said.

"It's building that layered approach," Brandes said.

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