Tight down-ballot races may affect Hillsborough voters’ lives more than marquee contests

State Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa, faces a challenge from Democrat Janet Cruz.  [Times files]
State Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa, faces a challenge from Democrat Janet Cruz. [Times files]
Published August 30

It's game on for the Nov. 6 general election.

Most of the attention and TV ads will focus on the races for governor and U.S. senator, but critical local races in Hillsborough County will have arguably more impact on voters' lives.

Here's a look at the most competitive ones:

• Janet Cruz vs. Dana Young, Tampa's state Senate District 18. Cruz must win what may be Florida's most critical state Senate race for Democrats to build legislative influence. Now outnumbered 16 to 24 in the Senate,

State Rep. Janet Cruz is challenging state Sen. Dana Young in District 18. [Times files]
State Rep. Janet Cruz is challenging state Sen. Dana Young in District 18. [Times files]
Democrats are expected to flip one South Florida Republican seat. This is their best chance for a second flip to put them at 18 to 22. They’ll pull out all the stops for Cruz and Republicans will do the same to protect incumbent Young. Expect many, many TV ads.

• Vern Buchanan vs. David Shapiro in U.S, House District 16. Now down 11 to 16 in the state's congressional delegation, Democrats have a chance of two flips in South Florida, and this may be their best chance at a third. They've got a grudge against incumbent Longboat Key Republican Buchanan, whom they consider vulnerable, and a candidate they consider viable, Siesta Key lawyer Shapiro. The district, where Trump won by 9 points, covers much of South Hillsborough County.

• Kristen Carlson vs. Ross Spano in U.S. House District 15. Incumbent Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, had an easy re-election but decided to quit, leaving Democrats an outside shot in this 10-point pro-Trump district encompassing most of East Hillsborough. They've recruited a candidate they like — prominent lawyer and Emily's List-backed Carlson. Carlson works in Tampa and lives in the Polk County side of the district. But Spano, a third-term Dover state representative, starts with name ID and a partisan edge.

• Fentrice Driskell vs. Shawn Harrison, state House District 63. This New Tampa-Lutz district flips like a pancake because the university-area student vote surges in presidential years. But Republican incumbent Harrison held it in 2016 and has an edge in this non-presidential year, unless a big Blue Wave hits. Democrats consider newcomer Driskell, a lawyer who was Harvard's first black female student body president, a potential rising star.

• Victor Crist vs. Mariella Smith, County Commissioner District 5. Development industry contributions make it almost impossible to dislodge an incumbent Republican commissioner. Can Smith, a South County community and environmental activist, take out Crist? If so, Democrats are halfway to their first county commission majority in decades.

• Todd Marks vs. Kim Overman, County Commissioner District 7. A vicious primary may have injured Republican Marks, and countywide races are becoming harder for Republicans. But so far, Overman, who would be the other half of the Democrats' hoped-for majority, hasn't been able to match him in fundraising.

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