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State House District 63: Political newcomer Danish vs. incumbent Harrison

TAMPA — Mark Danish has been out-fundraised by about $188,000 in his campaign for the Florida House.

Along Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, his diamond-shaped signs are dwarfed by giant posters of his opponent, Republican incumbent Shawn Harrison.

But with a time-consuming and inexpensive strategy, Danish, a Democrat, thinks he can win. And Harrison says he is taking nothing for granted.

Harrison, a Tampa lawyer, climbed the political ladder in the traditional way. He served in the Tampa Palms Community Development District and Tampa City Council. In 2010, he was elected to the Florida House.

Harrison, 47, said he is particularly proud of his sponsorship last session of what is now Amendment 9. If it passes, it would exempt the widows of first responders who die on the job from having to pay property taxes.

"I worked really hard on it," Harrison said. "I really want that to pass."

Danish, 58, is a longtime Hillsborough County middle school science teacher who has worked on others' campaigns and always thought he would someday run for office. The recent actions in the Florida Legislature and encouragement from his son pushed him to choose this year and this race.

Danish said he was particularly disturbed that Harrison — who represents the area where the University of South Florida is located — voted in favor of USF Polytechnic's break from the main campus last legislative session.

The move was overwhelmingly opposed by USF students and faculty.

"(Harrison's) voting record does not reflect the community," Danish said.

Harrison has many things going for him: He's raised about $204,000 to Danish's $16,000. He has previous political service in his background. He has strong backing from the Republican Party and local businesses.

Danish has several things, too: He has support from many of the unions. He has the former secretary of the Florida Lottery working pro bono on his campaign. He has a district that leans Democrat. And he has good walking shoes.

Danish either canvasses or calls District 63 residents almost every night of the week. He attributes that as one of the reasons he won the primary, even though he was outspent by his opponent 13-to-1, according to state campaign finance data.

So far, Harrison has outspent Danish 27-to-1, with expenditures dating back to April 2011 — long before he even had an opponent.

The candidates' ideas are about as different as their bank accounts. That's because most of their stances follow party lines.

Danish prioritizes education spending, which he believes will draw businesses to Florida. He wants better infrastructure and "green jobs," and he wants to close tax loopholes that benefit big business.

Harrison wants to create incentives to support small business and draw companies to Florida. He supports charter schools, wants to protect medical practitioners and believes "Obamacare" is bad for the state.

District 63 includes portions of Hillsborough County, including Lutz, New Tampa, Seminole Heights, Town 'N Country, Egypt Lake and Ybor City.

Out of about 87,000 registered voters, about 41 percent are registered Democrats, 34 percent are Republicans and 24 percent are registered as independent.

Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3433.

State House District 63: Political newcomer Danish vs. incumbent Harrison 10/27/12 [Last modified: Saturday, October 27, 2012 4:31am]
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