TAMPA — Four Democrats are vying for the state House District 61 seat open because of term limits, but two appear to be the clear front-runners.
Sean Shaw, a Tallahassee-backed lawyer who came to Tampa four years ago, and Ed Narain, a hometown candidate keyed into many Hillsborough County organizations, have big advantages in fundraising and endorsements. The other two candidates — Sharon Carter and Tatiana Denson — lag behind considerably in those categories.
All are hoping to replace Rep. Betty Reed, who is stepping down after representing the heavily Democratic district for eight years.
Shaw, son of retired Florida Supreme Court Justice Leander Shaw, ran for the Florida House of Representatives in 2008 in Tallahassee before moving to Tampa in 2010. He has landed endorsements from former Gov. Charlie Crist, former state chief financial officer Alex Sink, and state Reps. Janet Cruz and Mark Danish.
His opponents argue he is an outsider more interested in politics than the district.
"Based on my observation of the candidates, one of them has been brought here to run and is a trial lawyers' puppet, and the other lives here and wants to serve his community," said Narain supporter Delano Stewart, a prominent lawyer.
Shaw's supporters, including state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, brush off the limited time Shaw has lived in the district, and counter that he chose to move to Tampa and wants to use his talents for this community.
"I think that we're fortunate to have a young man of his caliber in the community with the desire to want to serve," Joyner said. "He should be judged by what you think the person will do for the people here. I'm confident he will do an outstanding job."
Shaw mentors with several nonprofits and volunteers with Hillsborough County Concerned Citizens Coalition, Metropolitan Ministries, Men of Vision and other organizations.
"I think my record speaks for itself as far as what I've done in the community," Shaw said. "Whether it's the experience I have with the legislative process, my training as a lawyer, my commitment to the community, that's the case I make to the people directly."
Reed, a Democrat serving her fourth term in office, has not endorsed a successor for her district, which includes East Tampa, Seminole Heights, West Tampa and Ybor City.
Narain, an area manager for AT&T and former student body president at the University of South Florida, has earned endorsements from local leaders such as former County Commissioner Tom Scott, former Tampa City Council member Gwen Miller, County Commissioner Les Miller and former state Sen. James Hargrett.
"My opponent may be supported by big names outside the district, but I'm supported by people who have served this district and been elected by the people of this district," Narain said. "The last thing we need is someone who is going to use this district as a stepping stone to another office."
Shaw has raised nearly twice as much money as Narain, logging more than $180,000 as of the last filing. That compares with Narain's $95,000. Carter and Denson trail considerably, coming in at $4,832 and $2,246, respectively.
Shaw is mostly funded through large donations — nearly half are more than $500 — from outside the Tampa area, including Tallahassee and Miami. Of the donors who included their profession, half work in the legal field.
Narain's donors, who come primarily from Hillsborough, tend to give smaller amounts: 60 percent contributed $50 or less.
Denson, the only candidate who has previously run for election in this district, said she is less concerned with the amount of money her campaign raises than on expanding the name recognition she has from the 2012 primary against Reed. Denson earned 20 percent of the vote then.
"I know that when it comes to being a state representative, you should have a real history of advocacy for your community," Denson said. "Prior to any political ambitions, I have already been in the community, establishing relationships and working for these people."
Carter, a construction project manager, is a lifelong Tampa resident and the daughter of the Rev. Frank L. Carter, founding pastor of First Baptist Church of Highland Pines. Carter said education — primarily increasing STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) options — would be her priority.
"I think I could really lead the district to be saved, especially in education," Carter said. "I have an affinity for the community. I love these people, and, of course, I want what's best for them."
Because a write-in candidate has qualified in the race, the Aug. 26 primary will be closed under state law — meaning it's open only to Democratic voters.
Contact Caitlin Johnston at [email protected] or (813) 661-2443. Follow @cljohnst.