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Intrigue builds early in 2014 primary

When you consider the political jockeying that's been taking place in 2013, you would think the primary is being held this week and not a year from now, on Aug. 26, 2014.

The race for Florida House District 61 serves as a perfect example. With incumbent Betty Reed term-limited, the open seat drew four candidates before President Barack Obama's inauguration: Sean Shaw, Ed Narain, Sharon Carter and Tatiana Denson.

If campaign fundraising totals from the last quarter are any indication, Shaw ($64,575) and Narain ($19,535) may end up being the primary contenders and Carter ($975) and Denson ($73) will be the underdogs. Of course, it's early and the money tells only half the story. In this district, voters often go beyond who has most the fliers or mailers to determine the winner.

Carter, a former Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee board member, and Denson, who ran for this seat in 2012, can't be discounted this early. But if the race does come down to Shaw and Narain, the parallels between the two will create intrigue.

Shaw, the son of Leander J. Shaw Jr., the first African-American Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court, has worked as an attorney for the Merlin Law Group in Tampa for three years. Since coming to town, he has joined a number of organizations and committees and was recently appointed to the Mayor's African-American Advisory Council. Shaw, 35, is a member of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity and counts state Sen. Arthenia Joyner among his supporters.

Narain, a former University of South Florida student government president, has lived in Tampa since he was a teen and works as an area manager for AT&T. He, too, is involved in a number of organizations and committees and was recently appointed to the Children's Board of Hillsborough County.

Narain, who turns 37 next month, is a member of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity and counts Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller among his supporters.

And here's one more caveat: They both belong to St. John Progressive Missionary Baptist Church.

So how will they distinguish themselves? Shaw, who once worked for former state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, will tout his Tallahassee experience and garner a lot of support from trial lawyers. Narain, who says 70 percent of his early contributions have come from the community, will paint himself as more of the hometown guy and likely get greater support from the business community.

The race may come down to a block of African-American super voters who will decide on how comfortable they are with candidates. And while East Tampa residents often play a pivotal role, a growing Seminole Heights electorate that's also part of the district may tip the scales.

Here are a few more races offering early intrigue.

Hillsborough County Commission District 7

County Commissioner Al Higginbotham, term-limited from his District 4 seat, will now run for this at-large seat, and if he wins, it's believed he will be the first East Hillsborough incumbent elected official to go on to victory in a countywide election.

To achieve that milestone, Higginbotham, the race's top fundraiser, will have to defeat Don Kruse in the primary and then move on to a general election battle against Tampa City Councilwoman Mary Mulhern, an early favorite to win the Democratic primary now that Hillsborough County School Board chairwoman April Griffin has ended her bid.

The race may end up mirroring the 2012 property appraiser battle between former state Sen. Ronda Storms and former State Rep. Bob Henriquez, a Democrat who defeated Storms by tapping into his Tampa base and cutting into Storms' East Hillsborough support. It helped, of course, that Obama turned out Democrats.

Mulhern probably won't enjoy such an advantage in 2014 and Higginbotham, a former head of the Hillsborough Republicans, may garner greater support west of Interstate 75. Still, Mulhern may be able to capitalize on the backlash Higginbotham has received involving a proposed retail development on Bloomingdale Avenue and his approval of the Bass Pro Shops incentives.

School Board District 4

Terry Kemple, whose conservative, anti-gay, anti-Muslim views have made him a lightning rod at school board and county commission meetings, hopes his third bid for a school board seat will be the charm. In the first two bids, Kemple ran countywide and built name recognition.

Now he gets to rely on his East Hillsborough base, where he received more votes than Carol Kurdell in those precincts in 2012 despite losing the overall race. Three others will challenge Kemple, and the early front-runner appears to be Brandon insurance agent Melissa Snively, who has raised more than $21,000 compared with Kemple's $2,710. Snively, a former Brandon Chamber of Commerce chairwoman, will look to trade on her business connections to best Kemple, Dee Prether and Jereme Monette.

Other races

Speaking of Storms, there's still speculation she may challenge County Commissioner Victor Crist for his District 2 seat. ... School Board member Stacy White appears to be the favorite for the County Commission District 4 seat, but Tampa Police Department senior detective Rick Cochran will contend in the Republican primary with help from the Police Benevolent Association. Democrat Donna Lee Fore will challenge the winner in the general election. ... Look for Michelle Popp Shimberg to emerge as the favorite in the District 2 School Board race. ... In the District 6 School Board race, eight candidates have filed to run for the countywide seat, but there's still a chance Griffin may jump into the race now that she's no longer eyeing the County Commission seat. ... The Florida House District 63 seat trends Democratic, but incumbent Mark Danish better hope Dems turn out for his rematch against former state legislator Shawn Harrison.

Intrigue builds early in 2014 primary 08/23/13 [Last modified: Friday, August 23, 2013 3:08pm]
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