Thursday, April 19, 2018
Politics

Hooper, Farrell wage tough race in Florida House District 67

The local TV commercial airs during ESPN's Monday Night Football and scores of other shows. A soothing voice intones, "Ed is the Legislature's most vocal committed advocate for stronger domestic violence laws."

On another front, Ed Hooper's glossy campaign flyers keep landing in Clearwater and Largo mailboxes, one after another after another. Ed Hooper is working for a world-class education for our kids! one says, while another announces, Job #1 to Ed Hooper is ... Jobs!

Hooper is a Republican incumbent who's running for his fourth and final term in the Florida House of Representatives. His Democratic challenger, Ben Farrell, has plenty of campaign signs posted, but not nearly as much visibility.

Farrell is financially outgunned, having raised less than a tenth of the campaign funds that the well-connected Hooper has. The Florida Republican Party is also pouring resources into the race.

But Farrell has one reason for hope: The newly redrawn House District 67, which takes in much of Clearwater and Largo as well as northern Pinellas Park, now contains nearly 900 more Democratic voters than Republicans.

A close race

The district has 34,695 registered Democrats compared to 33,807 Republicans. However, it also has 23,384 voters with no party affiliation, and 3,937 who are registered with various third parties, according to the Florida Division of Elections.

Given all that, both candidates say they expect a tight race.

"With the raw numbers of voters, it should be reasonably close," said Hooper, 64. "Both of us should be chasing the independent voters, and I am."

Indeed, the incumbent's flyers and commercials consistently carry a general-election message about jobs and schools, utterly devoid of anything that resembles right-wing red meat.

On the stump, Hooper touts his experience in the Legislature and the endorsements he's received from a wide variety of groups, from Realtors to teachers to police officers.

Farrell talks of his years as a small business owner and says it's time for new blood in the state capital. He calls Hooper an incumbent career politician who's part of an "extreme" Republican supermajority in Tallahassee.

"Are you happy with what's going on in Tallahassee?" he keeps asking people.

Tough mailers

Hooper has raised a huge $285,000 campaign war chest, more than twice what he raised for the 2010 election. More than $80,000 of it comes from the state Republican Party. Most of the rest came in $500 donations from Tallahassee-based interest groups.

Farrell has raised $15,400 — $2,800 of it from the Florida Democratic Party.

Hooper has sent a stream of mailers to voters' homes, touting his own qualifications and questioning his opponent's. Farrell, 50, has cried foul over a couple of the mailers.

The Committee to Protect Florida, an electioneering group led by veteran Republican political operative Rockie Pennington, mailed out a flyer this week noting that a credit card company sued Farrell for nonpayment, a bank foreclosed on a house he owned, and Farrell's then-wife got a domestic violence restraining order against him during their 2006 divorce.

Farrell says he settled the credit card lawsuit and that the foreclosed house was his ex-wife's. He says his ex-wife made false accusations against him during their divorce, which featured a lengthy child custody battle.

"There's a big difference between being accused of doing something and actually doing something," said Farrell, who has since remarried. "It's amazing to me how low-class the whole culture of campaigning is. It's really eye-opening."

Hooper responded: "He fired the first negative piece. He had a newspaper printed, bashing me."

Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

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