Hillsborough County Republicans on Friday tapped a 26-year-old Dover woman who just completed a summer internship at the White House to replace Trey Traviesa in the House District 56 race.
Rachel Burgin, Traviesa's legislative aide before he made the sudden decision this week to not seek re-election, is already considered the favorite because her opponent is Democrat Lewis Larricchia, a political unknown.
But her rapid ascent jolted the Republican establishment and Democrats.
Among the nine candidates vetted Friday during five hours of interviews at the Alfano Conference & Banquet Center were former state Rep. Sandy Murman, Traviesa's predecessor, and Mark Proctor, an eastern Hillsborough political consultant and real estate broker.
"Everyone is in shock," said Murman, who represented District 56 for eight years until term limits forced her out of office in 2004. "It's unfortunate with all these major issues we have that they can't use my experience."
Republicans edge Democrats 40,600 to 37,600 in the district, which stretches east from Davis Islands, according to the August primary registration numbers.
Because Traviesa waited until after the June 21 qualifying deadline to drop out of the race, the task of choosing a replacement fell to a three-person committee of local GOP officials. Chairman David Storck and state committeewoman Carol Carter made the decision. The third member, A.J. Matthews, was out of the country.
Burgin was a secretarial aide for Hillsborough County Commissioner Brian Blair after her brother, Josh, served in the same role. In 2004, Josh Burgin lost a state House bid in District 62.
She later served as Traviesa's aide for two years. After the last legislative session, she moved to Washington, D.C., for a summer internship at the White House.