The longshot Democrat running for state Senate District 18 has dropped out of the race, leaving the Democratic Party with a tight deadline to find a replacement.
Joshua Smith, 22, of Hudson notified the state Division of Elections on Thursday he will drop out. Democrats have until next Thursday to find a new candidate. Otherwise, Wilton Simpson, a Republican egg farmer from Trilby, will win the seat unopposed.
Even if the party does find a new candidate, it's too late to remove Smith's name from the ballot. Elections officials would have to print notices in voting booths telling voters that a vote for Smith would count for the new candidate. Those notices would also be included in absentee ballots.
A notable similar scenario was House Speaker-designate Will Weatherford's first campaign for the state House. After former Rep. Ken Littlefield was appointed to the Public Service Commission in 2006, his name remained on the ballot but his votes counted for Weatherford, the replacement candidate picked by party leaders.
Finding a replacement in the state Senate race would be up to local Democratic party officials in Pasco, Hernando and Sumter, the counties covered by the sprawling District 18.
Pasco Democratic chairman Lynn Lindeman said local party leaders were unable to find a replacement in August when Wes Johnson of Tampa dropped out of the adjacent Senate District 17 race. He quipped: "You got anybody you want to run?"
Lindeman said it would be tough to find a credible candidate on such a tight deadline: "It would not be our intention to identify a substitute candidate," he said.
Smith did not return a message late Thursday explaining why he dropped out.
He was hardly a force on the campaign trail, launching his campaign in June with hours to spare before the qualifying deadline. There were no Smith signs on county roadways, and no other visible sign of a campaign. His only fundraising was a $2,000 check from the state Democratic party, enough to cover the filing fee.
When he filed, Smith acknowledged the long odds he had against Simpson, who has deep political connections and a huge campaign war chest. "At the very least, the Democrats of Pasco have somebody representing them," he said at the time.
Lee Logan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236.