The race to succeed orthopedic surgeon Ed Homan as the state representative in House District 60 is off to an early start.
The primary election is more than a year away, yet Republican Joseph Wendt filed papers with the state in February.
In April, Democrat Christopher Cano and Republicans Shawn Harrison and Trey Stroud joined him.
All except Harrison, who served eight years on the Tampa City Council, are first-time candidates.
And more could be on the way. Local banker Curtis Stokes, the president of the Hillsborough branch of the NAACP, has said he plans to seek Homan's seat but has yet to file any paperwork with the state.
Homan, a Temple Terrace Republican who is serving his fourth term, will leave in 2010 because of term limits.
So far, the men who want to replace him bring a wide range of life experience and differing agendas to the contest.
But they agree on one thing: The key to winning will be building name recognition.
That's why they started early.
Cano, 25, worked as an admissions representative at Everest University until August, when he left to volunteer full time for the Obama campaign.
That experience led him to run and be elected as a Democratic precinct committeeman, a position that used to be known as precinct captain.
Cano, the salutatorian at Hillsborough High School in 2001, started his college education at the U.S. Air Force Academy and finished it at the University of South Florida, where he received a bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary social studies. He's pursuing a second degree in political science, and in the fall, he plans to start on a master's degree in public administration.
For now, he's working as an intern in the office of state Rep. Michael Scionti, D-Tampa.
From that vantage point, "I've seen the budget cuts, and I've seen the vicious cycle of give and take," he said.
In response, Cano said he would support closing loopholes in the state tax code that benefit special interests to the detriment of the public.
"We need someone like myself who is not prone to the biases of the past, someone who can bring new and innovative ideas to the Legislature," he said.
Harrison, 44, said he watched this northern Hillsborough district grow and learned its issues while serving on the City Council from 1999 to 2007.
"I've loved government and service in government for a long time and want to continue that," said Harrison, the first person from New Tampa ever elected to the City Council.
On the council, Harrison worked to lower Tampa's property tax rate for the first time in 20 years, and led an effort for the city to partner with faith-based groups on projects. He lost election to a citywide seat in 2007 to South Tampa Democrat Mary Mulhern.
As a state legislator, Harrison said he would want to continue to concentrate on transportation, job creation and funding for local infrastructure projects.
"Regional transportation is a huge issue for us right now," said Harrison, whom Gov. Charlie Crist appointed in 2007 to the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority.
A graduate of USF and the University of Florida School of Law, Harrison is a lawyer specializing in commercial litigation with the Tampa firm of Wetherington, Hamilton, Harrison & Fair. He also founded Medical Collection Group, LLC, a background and asset-screening firm for the long-term care industry.
Because of his business background, he said he wants to make it easier for small businesses to thrive.
"I know what it's like to grow something from zero," he said.
A Tampa native, Stroud, 46, said he is motivated to run by a desire to serve the community.
Stroud has run his own television production company and works as the Florida region marketing consultant for Verizon Wireless.
He also has volunteered for the Hillsborough Achievement and Resource Center, Executive Ministries, the Bob Sierra Family YMCA, Paint Your Heart Out and the Great America Clean-Up.
Stroud, who lives in the Lake Heather neighborhood north of Gaither High School, said he plans to listen to voters as he walks neighborhoods so that he understands what they want from their state representative.
He describes himself as a fiscal and social conservative.
"My belief is that the smaller the government, the smaller the size and the scope of the government, the better that translates into economic growth," he said. "I would push for the smallest and leanest budget that we could possibly have and still accomplish what we need to accomplish."
A Navy veteran, Wendt, 24, brings a strong libertarian streak to his candidacy.
Though a first-time candidate, he last year was a precinct captain for Ron Paul's presidential campaign and later was a presidential elector — someone who would cast a vote in the Electoral College — for Alan Keyes.
Wendt, who lives in Tampa Palms, said he supports "100 percent protection" of property rights and thinks government's role should be limited to protecting individual rights from the initiation of force and fraud. He opposes laws that limit the private sector, including affirmative action and nondiscrimination laws.
He would abolish "victimless crimes," including prostitution, driving without a seat belt, use of controlled substances and gambling. He opposes abortion, capital punishment and euthanasia.
Wendt also supports the creation of a health insurance voucher program to help the uninsured buy a health policy with a low deductible and low co-pays from a private insurer.
When it comes to the swine flu, Wendt advocates quarantining everyone who has been to Mexico "until we know they do or do not have it." He also would support rounding up migrant workers, testing them for swine flu and deporting those who are here illegally.
Wendt said he wasn't really thinking about running for the Legislature until he heard Crist say Florida needs more federal funds.
"I believe Florida is going to hell in a hand basket," said Wendt, a Hillsborough Community College student who sells Amway products and gold coins. "I think we need people who will actually say, okay, 'How much is all this s--- going to cost?,' 'Why do we need it?' and 'How will this affect me as a citizen?' "
Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@sptimes.com or (813) 269-5311.