March column: Hagan, White build $100-k war chests

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County Commissioner Ken Hagan says he'll show $100,000 or more for his first month of fundraising in his race for the commission's District 2 seat when he files a campaign finance report due next week.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Stacy White, running for re-election to his District 4 seat, said his report will also show more than $100,000 in the bank after he brought in $52,076 in March and about $40,000 in April. White has had a campaign account since 2015 but only started fundraising in earnest in March.

Hagan, who filed April 5, has held three fundraisers — one a $50,000-plus event hosted by a group including land use attorney Vin Marchetti.

Hagan faces a term limit in his countywide seat, and is seeking the District 2 seat now held by Commissioner Victor Crist.

He said he's following his usual campaign strategy of trying to complete his fundraising before the election year begins so he can devote that year to retail campaigning.

"I'm very encouraged with the support," he said.

Neither of the two Republicans has a declared opponent yet. Building a big campaign fund early is a tried-and-true method for discouraging challengers.

County Democratic Party Chair Ione Townsend said the party intends to recruit candidates to run in the two districts — "We won't leave any race uncontested" — but wouldn't name any names.

Dems claim rapid growth

Hillsborough County Democrats say the backlash against President Donald Trump is boosting their membership and fundraising to record levels, and say in the 2018 election, they'll upend the usual maxim that non-presidential election years are bad for their party.

Since January, Townsend said, the party has been adding close to 40 new precinct representatives a month. It now has 233 compared to about 135 at this time last year, and expects to add another 30-40 members at its next meeting.

"It's a combination of things,'' she said. "It's because Hillary Clinton didn't win and it's a reaction to Trump and his policies."

Usually, parties experience a letdown in activism and fundraising following a presidential election, said party executive director Mark Hanisee. But the county party's Spring Fling fundraiser in April saw increased attendance over last year — more than 300 attendees — and the $37,301 raised in the first quarter of 2017 was triple the first quarters of 2015 and 2016.

"I don't think the usual voting patterns will hold in this election year," he said.

Nonetheless, the Democrats' numbers still don't equal those of the local Republicans, who say they've also experienced a surge in interest since the 2016 election.

Navy vet to run against Ross

Andrew Learned, a Bloomingdale Navy veteran who runs an academic tutoring business, says he plans to file to run as a Democrat against U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, in 2018.

Learned, who's 30 and single, hasn't run for office before but said in an interview he's always wanted to be in public service.

He would join four other Democrats who have already filed, all without significant political experience. None has yet raised significant campaign money. Learned is the only one from Hillsborough County, which constitutes half the district.

Learned grew up in Valrico and was student body president at the University of Tampa on an ROTC scholarship, earning a degree in economics and political science. He was a boarding officer in a carrier strike group overseas and later stationed in Bahrain, starting his business in Valrico between deployments. He returned from Bahrain in late April and said he's waiting for his separation date from the Navy to file candidacy papers.

Learned said he disagrees with Ross most strongly on health care. Ross is a vocal opponent of the Affordable Care Act.

"In the rest of the world, if you get sick you get treated," he said. "It's a fundamental right for people to have health care. Our way is more expensive than the way the rest of the world does it."

Ross has held the GOP-leaning District 15 seat since 2010. It's attracting more interest from Democrats, however, since districting changes prior to the 2016 election increased the number of Hillsborough voters and gave it a slight plurality of Democrats.

Political unknown Jim Lange got 42 percent of the vote in 2016 after spending only $37,571.

Contact William March at [email protected]

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