Thursday, November 23, 2017
Politics

Inside Politics: Battle lines drawn in House District 60 race

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If establishment-style candidates were the winners in most Tuesday primaries, one exception surprised Hillsborough County political insiders: Jackie Toledo's defeat of Rebecca Smith in the state House District 60 Republican primary.

But it's an open question whether Toledo will be able to get the kind of financial support from prominent Republicans that Smith raised, and Democrats hope Toledo's win means a better chance of flipping the seat for their candidate, prominent land-use lawyer David Singer.

Both candidates are running to replace Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, who's campaigning for the state Senate. The district covers most of South Tampa and strips of coastline to the north and down to Ruskin.

In the primary, Smith outspent Toledo more than two to one, $237,818 to $110,800, with the help of big contributions from prominent local Republicans, industry groups and PACs. Though new to politics, she's well-known as a successful businesswoman and a past donor to GOP candidates.

Can Toledo match that fundraising performance?

"I really don't know," said Smith donor Dick Beard, for decades a prominent local GOP donor and fundraiser. He said he's known Smith for years but doesn't know Toledo well.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce, a key backer for GOP candidates, went to bat for Smith with more than $25,000 in digital ads and mailers, but probably won't for Toledo.

But Toledo got backing from some key interest groups, including the National Rifle Association, the Florida Medical Association and the local Police Benevolent Association.

She's also said to have had backing from another powerful interest group, the trial lawyers' Florida Justice Association.

Toledo's husband, Jose Toledo, is active in the group. She got no direct contribution or public endorsement, but did get substantial contributions from lawyers and law firms, including some involved in the FJA.

In addition, Toledo will still have other advantages that helped her beat Smith: a better-known name, partly from her unsuccessful 2015 Tampa City Council race, and a workaholic campaign style.

"I know Smith worked hard, but I think Toledo walked the entire district twice," said Grant, who initially encouraged Smith to run, but like many local GOP leaders, didn't know Toledo well.

Responding to questions via email through a spokeswoman, Toledo said she expects a tough race against Singer, she said, "I never take any race for granted, but I can promise you, he will not work harder than I will to earn the votes in this district."

•••

Castor, Ross, Bilirakis? They're not unopposed

You may not know it with the comparative lack of attention, but there will be opponents on the ballot in November for three local incumbent members of Congress — Democrat Kathy Castor of Tampa and Republicans Dennis Ross of Lakeland and Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor.

Against Castor, there's Christine Quinn, 56, who describes herself as a "mother, grandmother, entrepreneur and Republican advocate." In 2014, she moved her business, My Family's Seasonings, to Lakeland from California, which she said has a less favorable business climate than Florida.

Against Ross, look for Democrat Jim Lange, 54, a business consultant from Lutz who recently has taken on the challenge of trying to spur redevelopment in Haiti by organizing community and civic action there.

A California native, he moved to Tampa to go to college and has been here since. He's married, has one daughter from a previous marriage and three grandchildren.

Against Bilirakis, the challenger is Democrat Robert Tager, 50, a North Miami Beach native, criminal defense lawyer and former assistant public defender. He's recently divorced and has two young sons.

Contact William March at [email protected]

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