Less than two months away from the Nov. 6 general election, the only certainty in the race for District 3 on the Pinellas County Commission is that incumbent Nancy Bostock has more money.
Her opponent, Charlie Justice, is a known entity in Pinellas. He served three terms in the state House and another one in the Florida Senate. And the St. Petersburg resident has run successful campaigns that pulled in thousands of dollars from donors in Tampa Bay and in Tallahassee.
But Justice, who estimated he has raised about $10,000 in the last several weeks, said he is finding it harder to get donors to write large checks for a county race, especially in a poor economy. As of Sept. 14, he had pulled in about $27,000.
Bostock, 44, who began accepting checks for her campaign almost a year ago, said she has nearly $50,000.
The difference is obvious to anyone driving the county's roads, which are littered with Bostock's plain blue and white signs and rarely sprout Justice's.
Justice, 44, said the money gap doesn't trouble him. He has three more fundraisers scheduled before the election.
"I'd say let's vote today," he said, adding that a poll done by the county's Democratic Party in spring showed that he had solid name recognition in the southern part of Pinellas County. Bostock, a Republican from Treasure Island, is better known in the north.
Unlike the race for the commission's District 1 seat, which ignited last week over the Democratic candidate's accusation that firefighter unions have used the Sept. 11 attacks for their gain, the District 3 race has been a quiet one.
So quiet, it is like a study of what happens when two naturally cautious, policy wonks enter a boxing ring. There is a lot of circling, very little hitting.
There are no bristling news releases, no public denunciations, and certainly no yelling on television, a market that is prohibitively expensive for most County Commission candidates.
Instead, both candidates are relying on direct mail, door-to-door talks with potential voters, and events held by neighborhood associations and chambers of commerce.
Bostock, who served on the county's School Board for years and has successfully weathered multiple campaigns, said she was surprised at how infrequently she bumps into Justice on the campaign trail.
In 2008, when she ran for the commission against Rene Flowers, a former St. Petersburg City Council member, the women appeared at many of the same events, she said.
"Typically by these last weeks of the campaign and, I say this in a friendly way, the core group of candidates, they spend more time with each other than they do with their own spouses, there's that sense of camaraderie," she said. "That's been absent this time and it's strange."
"Charlie Justice as far as I'm concerned is close to a zero-level campaign," said Todd Pressman, a longtime Republican political consultant who is supporting Bostock.
Former Pinellas Democratic Party chairman Ramsay McLauchlan dismissed this idea.
"In Charlie's case, he's doing a lot of grass roots stuff, which tends to have an impact on voters but isn't as visible to the press or the public in general," he said.
"The question is what is Charlie going to have as of Oct. 1. If he has $50,000, you can do a lot."
Justice would not discuss his fundraising goals or campaign strategy. He is focusing on "raising our name ID in the northern part of the county as well as solidifying it in the south." And he is handing out more signs, he said.
Like Janet Long, the Democratic candidate for District 1, Justice's campaign has received a boost from Pinellas dentists, many of whom are irate over the commission's 4-3 vote last year to stop adding fluoride to the drinking water. Bostock voted with the majority; Justice has promised to bring back fluoridation as one of the first acts of his tenure. In conversations and speeches, he routinely says that Bostock's record, particularly on fluoride, is too conservative for a commission that has historically been dominated by moderate Republicans.
In public, Bostock's approach has been to focus on the area's economy and on keeping taxes low.
Anna M. Phillips can be reached at [email protected]