BRANDON — Despite a recent straw poll that suggested Republican state Sen. Ronda Storms faced a formidable opponent in her upcoming primary election, Storms again seems poised to reign supreme in District 10.
Candidate Paul Phillips, who beat Storms in a May pay-to-vote "fun raiser" held by the FishHawk Republican Club and the Brandon Republican Club, bowed out before the deadline to qualify.
Phillips said he did it because of time constraints and family commitments. "The timing right now, it just wasn't going to happen," Phillips said in an interview.
Phillips, a 42-year-old banking attorney who had never previously run for office, released a statement about his withdrawal that praised Storms' experience.
"Senator Ronda Storms is more prepared to handle the important issues facing Florida over the next few years than I," Phillips wrote. "This is no time for on-the-job training."
Storms has held the District 10 seat since 2006. Before that, she served on the Hillsborough County Commission for eight years.
"I thought that was a very kind thing that Mr. Phillips said about me," Storms said. "I thought that was a class act on his part. I certainly wish him well and appreciate his participation and also his intellect. He's a very bright man."
Storms is known for her right-wing convictions and for a "family values" agenda. Some call her extreme, but for years she has garnered strong support from constituents in eastern Hillsborough and southeastern Pasco counties.
Deborah Cox-Roush, chairwoman of the Hillsborough Republican Party, said she's pleased with Storms' representation, and she doubts the validity of that May poll.
"To be honest with you, I've never been in favor of straw polls," Cox-Roush said. "I'm not sure that was a good representation. Nothing against Paul, but it was the makeup of the crowd. A lot of young Republicans that supported him (were there)."
Democratic candidate Stephen Gorham didn't qualify either, but that doesn't mean that the district is officially still Storms-land.
Victoria Brake, a write-in candidate from Valrico, announced her candidacy June 18.
Cox-Roush said she's not worried. She's never heard of Brake.
"I think Ronda is a strong candidate," Cox-Roush said.
Phillips said he hopes Storms remains focused on Republican ideals of smaller government and less taxation.
"I think she's very, very spirited," Phillips said. "She's got what I would call 'grit.' "
All niceties aside, though, Phillips vows he'll be back.
Kim Wilmath can be reached at (813)661-2442 or email@example.com.