Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Democrats smell blood in House District 44

Republican state Rep. Rob Schenck just finished his first term in Tallahassee. But there's no time for him to relax.

The first re-election campaign is often the toughest, and this year, local Democrats are poised to mount an aggressive challenge.

Florida Democratic Party officials believe Schenck's district is one of the most vulnerable Republican-held seats in the state. And now they have a candidate to trumpet.

This week, Joseph Puglia, a 41-year-old business owner from Brooksville, filed paperwork noting his intent to run. He is supported by local party chairman Jay Rowden and the state party, which is lending staff support and financial muscle.

"I think it's an interesting district," said Steven Schale, the political director for the House Democratic Caucus in Tallahassee. "Some of the trend lines give me the idea that we may have a better chance now than we did before."

The enthusiasm among Democrats is prompted, in part, by the party's national energy. But a Democratic victory in this district, covering Hernando County and parts of Pasco and Sumter counties, would prove doubly tough.

Republicans outnumber their rivals and the GOP has solidly controlled this seat for more than a decade. Democrats hold hope, however, because of the 2006 election results. Schenck won by 1,019 votes, or less than 2 percent.

"In terms of district performance numbers, this is one of the better ones in the state," Schale said.

He doesn't rank target seats held by the GOP but Schale puts District 44 in the top five most vulnerable.

Even Florida Republican officials can't deny the math from 2006. They list it as one of 10 battleground seats, according to an internal political memorandum.

But Chip Case, who manages the GOP House races for the party, said he conducted a recent poll that showed Schenck has favorable name recognition in the district. "That's a pretty good-performing seat for us," he said.

Schenck, of Spring Hill, said his campaign is already sending out mailers and he is adding to the $95,000 already in his campaign coffers.

He plans to tout his record cutting taxes, specifically his involvement in the legislature's property tax reform efforts. "I had a big role and big hand in crafting those ideas," said Schenck, who is vice chairman of the Committee on State Affairs.

He also guided a bill to Gov. Charlie Crist's desk cracking down on exploitative teen modeling agencies and fought unsuccessfully to restrict state employees from double-dipping.

Two Democrats must face off in primary

Before Democrats can ponder the November campaign, they must first battle within the party.

Puglia will face Aaron Whitaker, a 32-year-old Hernando County School District employee, in the Aug. 26 Democratic primary election.

Whitaker called himself the "dark-horse candidate" after learning party officials were supporting Puglia. He entered the campaign —his first ever — unofficially in October after becoming concerned about the fast pace of growth.

"I see the same thing happening here as in my hometown: a way overbuilt and unstructured area," said Whitaker, who was born and raised in Lake Mary outside Orlando.

Like Whitaker, this is the first race for Puglia (pronounced Poo-lee-a). He is a retired New York police officer and United Airlines pilot who now owns Big Red Carting, a local trash collection service.

Puglia said he plans to focus heavily on his business background and talk about improving the troubled economy.

"Having a business here and residing in the community … I have a pretty good firsthand knowledge how people are hurting," he said.

Both Whitaker and Puglia said Schenck is disconnected from the community and criticized Amendment 1 for its negative effects on local government.

They understand the uphill battle to unseat a Republican in a red district but they remain optimistic.

"I think people in the current economic environment are disenfranchised," Puglia said, "and I think it's the Democrats' year."

John Frank can be reached at jfrank@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6114.

Democrats smell blood in House District 44 06/05/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 10, 2008 9:42am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Jameis Winston, Feeding Tampa Bay to provide groceries to families hit by Hurricane Irma

    Hurricanes

    TAMPA — Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston, Feeding Tampa Bay and the nonprofit Corporation to Develop Communities of Tampa will distribute food and gift cards Tuesday to an estimated 400 families who suffered power outages and lost food after Hurricane Irma.

    Tampa Bay Bucaneers quarterback Jameis Winston, center, in green shirt, serves a meal at a disaster assistance registration center in St. Petersburg on Sept. 15. Winston has purchased 400 $25 gift cards from Publix and is scheduled to present some of them to families who lost groceries after Hurricane Irma from 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Corporation to Develop Communities of Tampa at 1907 E Hillsborough Ave. in Tampa. LARA CERRI   |   Times
  2. Hot, isolated, and running out of supplies, parts of Puerto Rico near desperation

    Hurricanes

    JUNCOS, PUERTO RICO — In the heat and humidity here in the central mountains, Meryanne Aldea fanned her bedridden mother with a piece of cardboard Sunday as the ailing woman lay on her side, relieving a large ulcer in her back.

    A man walks from Juncos in search of gasoline. The mountain town is one of the most affected by Hurricane Maria's pass through Puerto Rico. [Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo | Washington Post]
  3. President Donald Trump during a rally in Huntsville, Ala., Sept. 22, 2017. Trump called for football fans to boycott NFL games unless the league fires or suspends players who refuse to stand for the national anthem.
  4. Rick and Tom podcast: Worst-Case (Keenum) scenario

    Bucs

    Rick Stroud and Tom Jones break down the Bucs' 34-17 loss to the Vikings on Sunday in Minneapolis in their latest podcast.

    Minnesota Vikings quarterback Case Keenum (7) scrambles away from Bucs defensive end William Gholston (92) during the first half. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  5. Tonight: Hear ideas for remaking downtown Tampa interchange

    Transportation

    TAMPA — New concepts for rebuilding the downtown interchange will be discussed at a Florida Department of Transportation community meeting Monday night.

    The Florida Department of Transportation renamed its controversial Tampa Bay Express plan, also known as TBX. The plan is now known as Tampa Bay Next, or TBN. [Florida Department of Transportation]