TAMPA — Two months ago, Pat Kemp attended a meeting of the Hillsborough County Young Democrats club to hear guest speaker Jim Davis, a former member of Congress.
On Tuesday night, she and rival Gil Sanchez spoke to the group as candidates.
What a difference 60 days has made, she told the crowd of about two dozen.
"I would never have expected to be running for this seat," said Kemp, who's taking a leave of absence from her duties heading the Hillsborough County Democratic Party to run in the special election set for Jan. 26 to fill the District 58 state House seat.
Kemp said she decided to enter the race when she realized none of the candidates for the seat lived in the district, which includes West Tampa, Seminole Heights and a small portion of Town 'N Country. Kemp lives in Seminole Heights.
"I have the experience. I live in the district. I have a record of community service," she said after highlighting her efforts to protect the Hillsborough River and force the state to save historic houses and plant trees as it widened Hillsborough Avenue.
She and two other Democrats — Sanchez and Janet Cruz — will face off in a special primary election Jan. 26. They're seeking to replace Michael Scionti, who resigned last month from the post to take a job with the Defense Department.
Republicans will choose between Hunter Chamberlin and Jackie Rojas-Quinones. The primary winners will face off in the general election on Feb. 23.
Cruz did not attend Tuesday's Democratic gathering.
Sanchez and Kemp agreed the state needed to collect sales taxes on Internet transactions. Kemp said she also backs investing in rail and renewable energy as ways to boost the economy.
She fielded a question about how she expects to win a district with many Hispanic voters.
She cited the election of Barack Obama, saying it showed that voters look for someone who can unite them. As a legislative aide to former Hillsborough County Commissioner Kathy Castor, she said, she helped Hispanic residents. And she pledged to improve her Spanish.
Sanchez said he feels bad that Kemp has been attacked for not being Hispanic. Voters, he said, should vote for whoever they think will do the best job and not consider race or ethnicity.