Saturday, April 21, 2018
Politics

For Pinellas Democrats, it could be another tough year

ST. PETERSBURG — To understand the serious challenges Florida Democrats face clawing their way back to relevancy in America's biggest battleground state, consider Pinellas County Exhibit A:

It's a safe bet that Barack Obama will carry Florida's most densely populated county in November, even if Mitt Romney wins the state. The president won Pinellas by more than 8 percentage point fours years ago, after all, and Alex Sink comfortably beat Rick Scott two years ago in that GOP wave election.

But it's also plausible that once the votes are counted Nov. 6, Democrats in Pinellas will wind up with few — if any — other gains, despite their slight advantage in registered voters.

We won't know who's running until the candidate qualifying deadline closes at noon Friday, so it's too early for predictions. Still, we know that money matters in politics — sadly, more than anything else in many cases — and we know Republican legislative candidates are almost sure to have vastly more money than the Democrats.

Democrats will likely pick up a number of legislative seats across the state, thanks to redistricting improving the competitive landscape. It will likely take several election cycles before they regain enough clout in Tallahassee to attract significant special interest donations, however, and that will have a key role in what happens in Pinellas elections this year.

Let's take an early look at the Pinellas political landscape, starting with local races.

County Commission

With one decision — halting fluoride treatment in the county water system — Republican commissioners Nancy Bostock and Neil Brickfield handed Democrats a prime opportunity to cast the incumbents as anti-science Neanderthals.

Two respected Democrats stepped up: former state Sen. Charlie Justice to take on Bostock and former state Rep. Janet Long to challenge Brickfield. They still look like serious underdogs.

Through March, Justice raised less than $4,000, compared to $30,000 for Bostock. For a veteran legislator and former congressional candidate, that is so pathetic it's not clear Justice is even a serious candidate. Long has not yet filed a finance report, and Brickfield, a relentless campaigner, has raised more than $40,000.

Meanwhile, the Pinellas Republican Party has nearly $260,000 on hand to help local candidates, compared to $19,000 for the Pinellas Democratic Party. And the local GOP won't have to spend much defending other county offices, as not one Democrat has yet stepped up to challenge the county's Republican clerk of court, tax collector, property appraiser or supervisor of elections. It looks like the only Democrat running for sheriff will be smoke shop owner and perennial candidate Randy Heine.

State Senate

Republican state Sen. Jack Latvala, who hasn't yet announced whether he will run in North Pinellas District 20 or South Pinellas/Tampa District 22, casts a big shadow. District 22 is a competitive district Democrats can win, but Democrats acknowledge it's been hard to recruit strong candidates against the popular, and often moderate, Latvala.

No major Democrat has emerged for that district, and none for District 20.

State House

Democrats have at least three strong opportunities to win seats, but resources will be a huge hurdle. Between the political committees operated by assorted legislative leaders and the House Republican campaign operation, Republicans are likely to have anywhere from five times to as much as 10 times as much money to invest in those races.

Let's work our way from north to south.

House District 65: Republican Peter Nehr is defending this redrawn seat, which has become slightly more Republican-leaning. Nehr, who won with more than 60 percent two years ago, faces potential primary opponents, and the Democrat running is Carl Zimmerman, making his third attempt to beat Nehr.

House District 66: Republican state Rep. Larry Ahern is moving into this seat, which became considerably more Republican-leaning in redistricting. Announced Democrats include Mary Louise Ambrose, a lawyer in Belleair Bluffs, and Joanne Kennedy.

House District 67: Republican state Rep. Ed Hooper is now running in the district that Barack Obama and Alex Sink won comfortably. Democrats recruited Bennett Farrell, who runs Clearwater's Lenny's restaurant. If this were an open race Democrats would be favored to win it, but with Hooper in the race it could be a few years before Democrats pick off the seat.

House District 68: The St. Petersburg-area district Republican Jeff Brandes is vacating to run for state Senate as an open seat looks like the Democrats' best shot in Pinellas. Democrats recruited lawyer Dwight Dudley, nephew of St. Petersburg council member Bill Dudley, while Republican former state Rep. Frank Farkas announced Tuesday he is running for the seat. Also announced is Republican Daryle Lee Hamel and unaffiliated candidate Matthew Weidner.

House District 69: This is another open seat, since Democrat Rick Kriseman opted not to run again. It's a swing district. Democrats have recruited financial planner Josh Shulman, who last year finished in third place in his bid for St. Petersburg City Council. Announced Republicans running for the seat include Republican activist and IT consultant Jim Dobyns, South Pasadena Mayor Kathleen Peters and lawyer David Phillips.

"We've recruited a strong slate of candidates who are part of the Pinellas community and who are energized and excited and raising the necessary money to be competitive,'' said Christian Ulvert, a Miami-based consultant working on the Democrats' state House campaigns. "And we're going to have a strong ground game from the president all the way down the ticket."

Indeed, the Democrats are fielding some solid candidates in Pinellas, but mostly they are either ceding races, running newcomers against incumbents or facing a hefty financial disadvantage.

It could be another tough year for Pinellas' supposed majority party.

Adam C. Smith can be reached at [email protected]

Comments
Ex-FBI deputy director ‘disappointed’ in Comey comments

Ex-FBI deputy director ‘disappointed’ in Comey comments

WASHINGTON — Andrew McCabe, the former FBI deputy director, is "very upset and disappointed" by comments made by his former boss James Comey that contradict his account of a disclosure to the news media, McCabe’s lawyer said Friday. "Andy has at all ...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Carlton: Mayor’s race: plot twists, meteoric rises, candidate implosions. It’s what we do in Tampa.

Carlton: Mayor’s race: plot twists, meteoric rises, candidate implosions. It’s what we do in Tampa.

The one thing you can say for sure about electing a mayor in Tampa is you can’t really say anything for sure.Historical proof: A couple of elections ago, Harvard-educated hometown-boy-gone-to-Washington Frank Sanchez was going to be our next mayor, h...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Carlton: Kids, want to make them listen? Vote

Carlton: Kids, want to make them listen? Vote

Today across America, high school students are expected to walk out of class in their latest show of solidarity against gun violence and elected officials unwilling to do much about it. It marks a grim anniversary — 19 years since Columbine bra...
Published: 04/20/18
Castor ends speculation: She’s running to be Tampa’s next mayor

Castor ends speculation: She’s running to be Tampa’s next mayor

TAMPA — For months, Tampa political aficionados have speculated: Will she or won’t she?Does Jane Castor, the city’s first woman police chief and presumed heavyweight mayoral candidate, really want the job? Asked and answered. Castor filed paperwork T...
Published: 04/19/18
Everybody loses in a trade war, Canadian chamber CEO warns Tampa officials

Everybody loses in a trade war, Canadian chamber CEO warns Tampa officials

TAMPA — President Donald Trump has tweeted "trade wars are good, and easy to win."Don’t believe it, the president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce told Tampa business and political leaders on Wednesday."We share more with you than with anybody els...
Published: 04/19/18
Hernando clerk of the court announces resignation to run for judicial seat

Hernando clerk of the court announces resignation to run for judicial seat

BROOKSVILLE — Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller Don Barbee this week submitted his resignation — effective Jan. 7 — to run for an open circuit judge seat.Barbee, who is in the middle of his second term, said he made the move "with a tremendo...
Published: 04/17/18
Poll: Democrats’ advantage in midterm election support is shrinking

Poll: Democrats’ advantage in midterm election support is shrinking

Democrats hold an advantage ahead of the midterm elections, but a Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that edge has narrowed since January, a signal to party leaders and strategists that they could be premature in anticipating a huge wave of victorie...
Published: 04/16/18
Spokesman: Former first lady Barbara Bush in failing health

Spokesman: Former first lady Barbara Bush in failing health

HOUSTON — Former first lady Barbara Bush is in "failing health" and won’t seek additional medical treatment, a Bush family spokesman said Sunday. "Following a recent series of hospitalizations, and after consulting her family and doctors...
Published: 04/15/18
Trump assails Comey in tweetstorm, calls for ex-FBI director to be imprisoned

Trump assails Comey in tweetstorm, calls for ex-FBI director to be imprisoned

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump attacked James Comey in a fusillade of tweets Sunday morning, calling for the former FBI director to be imprisoned as Trump served up a number of his favorite theories and alleged misdeeds without evidence.Trump’s ...
Published: 04/15/18
President Trump’s approval rating is back near first-100-day levels

President Trump’s approval rating is back near first-100-day levels

President Donald Trump’s approval rating stands at 40 percent in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, slightly more than his 36 percent approval rating when last measured in January. It’s also the highest he’s enjoyed in Post-ABC polling since his fi...
Published: 04/15/18