Four relatively unknown candidates are vying for the Brandon area State House of Representatives seat, left open when Rep. Rachel Burgin jumped ship to the State Senate race.
Now voters in District 59 — Brandon, Riverview and Valrico — must find a way to chose from a field of candidates with limited name recognition, similar ideological stances and nearly nonexistent political track records.
A veteran. A retired police officer. A lawyer. A former Brandon business leader. They're all Republicans who want to tackle the economy and bring jobs back to Florida.
Some are from the district. Others are not. They're young, and not so young. Active fundraisers or dedicated community leaders. And they've all spent considerable time sweating in the summer heat as they go door-to-door introducing themselves to the voters who will decide which one is to face Democrat Gail Gottlieb in the fall.
"It goes back to retail politics," said Deborah Cox-Roush, former chairwoman of the Hills- borough County Republican Party. "Meeting your voters, your constituents, attending forums, attending Republican events. It's just people getting to know you. That's the forum our candidates have to use."
In an age of super PACs and Twitter feeds, some say it's refreshing to see a race grounded in traditional campaign techniques: canvassing, mailers, phone banks, yard signs.
"When you get down to it, their views are probably pretty similar on almost every issue," said conservative writer Jeff Lukens. "If you did a poll, issue by issue, they'd pretty much line up. It just comes down to personal taste and who you think will be most effective."
Each candidate has his or her own niche. Joe Wicker, a veteran who did two tours in Iraq, hopes to carry the military vote, Lukens said.
Ross Spano caters to a large evangelical following and plays up his status as a business owner who created 14 jobs in the district.
Betty Jo Tompkins, who has the longest resume in the race, is counting on her community connections built through her participation in groups such as the Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce, the Hillsborough County Farm Bureau, and the Hillsborough Soil and Water Conservation District supervisor.
And then there's former police chief Mike Floyd, the only candidate who entered the race before Burgin opted to run for the state Senate.
"We have business owners, we have activists, we have people who have stepped up and want to serve our county," Cox-Roush said. "And I think it's our political process at its best."
Wicker and Spano are leading the pack in campaign dollars raised. Wicker, a Georgia native who originally filed for the District 57 race and then switched to District 59, where his wife is from, rings in with nearly $38,000 raised as of July 20. Spano is following closely with nearly $32,000 raised as of the last filing. Tompkins registers just under $10,000, and Floyd is barely on the scene with only $100 logged.
Caitlin Johnston can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 225-3111.