Voters in northwest Hernando County have quite a state House race in store for them.
Florida Democratic Party officials did not place an alternate candidate on the ballot for the District 34 seat after Homosassa Democrat Lynn Dostal dropped out two days after trouncing his primary opponent. Dostal's quick departure means his name won't appear on the ballot, and state party officials had until Aug. 24 to notify the Florida Department of State that they wanted to name a replacement.
The result is exactly what Dostal and other local Democrats were hoping for: a head-to-head general election match-up between Republican incumbent Jimmie T. Smith and former state Sen. Nancy Argenziano, who is running as an independent.
According to widely accepted logic, a Democrat on the ballot would split the vote with Argenziano, benefiting Smith in the heavily Republican district, which includes all of Citrus County and a portion of Hernando north of State Road 50 and west of the Suncoast Parkway.
Argenziano has deep roots in Citrus and garnered a statewide reputation as an outspoken populist during her tenure on the Public Service Commission, so observers say she will present a formidable challenger to Smith by drawing votes across party lines.
The Florida Democratic Party hopes so, according to a statement to the Tampa Bay Times from executive director Scott Arceneaux.
"Nancy Argenziano has been a strong, independent voice for consumers and Florida's middle class families, while her opponent is a Tea Party extremist who supports the same failed policies which have moved our state in the wrong direction," Arceneaux said. "Voters have a clear choice in this election between a proven leader, Nancy, and a proven ideologue."
"That's awesome," Argenziano said when a reporter read her the statement. "I don't want to sound arrogant, but I think it's true."
Hernando Democratic Executive Committee chairman Steve Zeledon said state party officials didn't consult local party members on the decision not to place an alternate candidate, but Zeledon said he strongly agreed with the move.
Argenziano is a former Republican who planned to run as a Democrat for a Panhandle congressional seat, but was foiled by a new law that narrowed the window in which candidates can switch parties.
Despite her name recognition, Argenziano said she expects a battle from Smith and deep-pocketed political committees that will fight to protect the seat.
An Inverness resident elected to his first term in 2010, Smith said voters are telling him they like his record and are turned off by Argenziano's side switching. Having her on the ballot, Smith figures, will work in his favor.
Still friends but not political comrades
Tom Hogan Jr. found out about his old friend's surprising endorsement like many others: He read it in the Tampa Bay Times.
So what did Hogan, a prominent Brooksville lawyer, think about former Gov. Charlie Crist's column proclaiming his support for President Barack Obama? The column ran last Sunday, the day before the Republican National Convention was set to kick off in Tampa.
"What I think is that sometimes you don't mix politics and friendship," Hogan said Friday. "I don't understand Charlie's change of heart, but it's his business."
The two men attended Cumberland School of Law in Alabama together and have been friends since. Until 2010, both were lifelong Republicans. Hogan's father, Tom Sr., is a longtime state committeeman who was on stage in the Tampa Bay Times Forum when the convention got under way Tuesday, a day late due to Tropical Storm Isaac.
Both Hogans supported Crist when he ran for governor in 2006, welcoming the then-attorney general to Brooksville during one of his first campaign stops. Four years later, Hogan Jr. found himself puzzled by Crist's decision to abandon the GOP and run for the U.S. Senate as an independent.
At the time, Hogan recalls, he told Crist he would be his friend no matter what political moves he makes.
Hogan said he and Crist haven't talked about politics since then. Crist called him about a year ago, Hogan said, just to "see what was going on." Shortly after, Crist referred a client to Hogan's law firm.
"He's still a friend," Hogan said, "but politically he's gone in a different direction."
Nienhuis FUN-raiser scheduled Saturday
A Keep Al Nienhuis Hernando County Sheriff Barbecue "FUN-Raiser" is scheduled from 1 to 6 p.m. Saturday at 15470 Flight Path Drive, in the Hernando County Airport Industrial Park, south of Brooksville.
There will be food, line dancing and music by the Embry Brothers Band, a moonwalk and face painting.
The minimum donation to the sheriff's campaign is $25 for adults and $10 for children 12 and younger.
To RSVP, visit sheriffnienhuis2012.com and follow the links, or call the campaign at (352) 585-9911.
Staff writers Tony Marrero and Phyllis Day contributed to this report.