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William March: Tampa state Senate race takes center stage

The battle could turn into a $10 million donnybrook, as both sides will have money and incentive to spend it.
Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, the House Minority Leader, announced she would run for Sen. Dana Young's District 18 Senate Seat on April 10. [Catecomm photo]
Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, the House Minority Leader, announced she would run for Sen. Dana Young's District 18 Senate Seat on April 10. [Catecomm photo]
Published Apr. 12, 2018

The battle for control of the Florida state Senate is suddenly focusing on Tampa's District 16 seat, and this week brought good and bad news for newly announced Democratic contender Janet Cruz, who hopes to unseat Republican incumbent Dana Young.

The battle could turn into a $10 million donnybrook, as both sides will have money and incentive to spend it. Developments:

Democratic insiders expect Bob Buesing, already in the race, to drop out as donors move to Cruz, a bigger political name. But maybe not. Buesing is well-liked by local Dems, particularly progressives, and some want him to stay in.

His only public statement so far: "I will take the coming days to make a thoughtful, considered decision …. My priority is, always has been, and will continue to be removing Dana Young from the Florida Senate." A tough primary battle might not serve that goal.

Young responded to Cruz's announcement with one of her own, saying she's raised almost $1.3 million between her campaign and her Friends of Dana Young political committee, and has nearly $1 million cash on hand. The Republican Party will spend millions more to hold the seat.

Cruz starts behind. With donor consent, she can transfer about $65,000 from the county commission race she's leaving; a committee she controls has about $60,000.

Developments in a South Florida congressional race will give the Democratic nominee a boost. Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, who had planned to run for Congress, instead announced this week he'll stay in his Senate seat, saving the party millions they would have had to spend to defend it. That will free up money for the Tampa race, said incoming Senate Democratic leader Audrey Gibson.

Winning the race, expected to be the closest state Senate contest, could put Democrats close to parity in the Senate with 18 or more of the 40 seats, depending on other outcomes.

The Republicans will spend heavily to prevent that, and Democrats will spend what they can – likely $5 million or more on each side, insiders speculate.

Jennifer McDonald filing for county commission

Look for Democrat Jennifer McDonald to file Monday for the County Commission District 1 seat, replacing Cruz.

McDonald, 38, is a commercial insurance agent and past Historic Hyde Park Neighborhood Association president. She's a first-time candidate but has been active in Young Democrats.

Latest on Hillsborough commission races

District 7: Republican Sandy Murman, leaving her term-limited district seat early for a countywide race, holds a long lead with $165,018 over Democratic challenger Kim Overman, who took in $6,525 in March for a total $24,895.

District 5: Mark Nash raised $4,010 in March for a total of $58,382 since his October filing. His Democratic primary opponent Mariella Smith raised $3,348 in March and $49,061 since January. Republican Victor Crist, moving from his term-limited district seat into the countywide race, has raised $80,905.

District 1: Helped along by an endorsement from U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, Aakash Patel remains the strongest non-incumbent fundraiser, with $310,022 raised in his campaign and $94,650 in his political committee. GOP primary opponent Todd Marks pulled in $22,150 in March for a three-month total of $77,125.

Amendment backers target Arthenia Joyner

Backers of a Constitutional Revision Commission amendment to close the "write-in loophole" in Florida election law say former state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, is its leading opponent.

Under Florida law, if all candidates for an office are from the same party, voters not registered in that party are allowed to vote in the decisive primary.

But a write-in candidate is enough to "close" the primary to all but party members. That has led to schemes in which candidates find write-in "opponents" to file to keep primaries closed. The amendment would change that.

But Joyner says parties should be able to choose their own nominees "without outside interference."

She's not the only opponent. The measure got 20 out of 34 votes to advance to final consideration. It needs 22 to go on the November ballot.

But backers including sponsor Sherry Plymale, a Republican, and Democratic Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg, say Joyner is the most outspoken.

"She's pretty much the only one who's vocal, the most consistent and passionate roadblock," Plymale said.


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