State Rep. Ross Spano, R-Dover, has filed papers to run for attorney general in 2018.
Spano, now in his third two-year term in the state House, becomes the fourth candidate to enter the Republican primary for the seat term-limited Attorney General Pam Bondi will vacate next year.
Asked why he's entering what promises to be a tough primary with three other well-known candidates, one from his own home turf, Spano said he believes he stands out in the field.
"If I felt the right person was already in the race I wouldn't have chosen to run," he said. "I'm the only one that has legislative experience, the conservative values and the actual courtroom experience, plus I'm the only one with substantial criminal justice experience."
Spano is an estate planning and probate attorney, but has served on the House criminal justice subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee, currently as chairman.
He has said previously that he'd be interested in running for the state Senate if Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, leaves his seat to run for chief financial officer, as Lee has said he intends.
Spano said his decision to run for attorney general instead was purely because of the nature of the office, and not because of anything to do with Lee's plans.
Recalling an eighth-grade playground incident when he got in a losing fight trying to protect another child from a bully, he said he has always had "a strong desire to protect those being taken advantage of. The attorney general's office is the best place where I can do that."
Spano starts off far behind in fundraising in the race.
According to state campaign finance reports, White leads with $1,735,400, including $1.5 million of his own money, plus $30,000 in an independent committee he's affiliated with, United Conservatives.
Moody has raised $939,636 in her campaign account and $243,000 in her independent committee, Friends of Ashley Moody.
Fant has raised $970,433 including a $750,000 loan from himself. An independent committee he's associated with, Pledge This Day, has about $37,000.
Spano starts the race with about $44,000 in his campaign account and about $7,000 in an independent committee.
"I'm confident that people will support me because of what I bring to the table," Spano said of the financial race. "I'm confident we'll have what we need to be successful. I don't come from a wealthy family and I'm not a millionaire, but I don't think I should be ruled out from running because of that."
He said he intends to form a new committee called Liberty and Justice for All, a name clearly reminiscent of Bondi's And Justice for All.
Bondi, however, has said she'll back Moody in the race.
Moody has publicized a long list of endorsers, many from the world of law enforcement, including numerous sheriffs.
Spano may have an advantage over her in appealing to the conservative base of the Republican Party, but he'll have to compete for that base with White. Moody, meanwhile, has a long head start in locking up support in the Hillsborough County home turf she shares with Spano.
Spano has been asking friends for support for at least a couple of weeks. He said he'll be announcing endorsements later, but at least one local officeholder, state Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-Treasure Island, has said she will back him.
Asked whether he's an underdog, Spano recalled the 2012 election when he filed late in the race for his House seat, but narrowly upset Joe Wicker in a primary.
Spano's District 59 has become somewhat more Democratic with a growing minority population, but he easily won re-election in 2016 despite a tough challenge from Democrat Rena Frazier.
Spano, 51, is married and has four children ages 18-25. He graduated from the University of South Florida and the Florida State University law school.
GOP political consultant Brock Mikosky of Tampa will be involved in managing the campaign, Spano said.
On the Democratic side, another local legislator, Rep. Sean Shaw of Tampa, is considering entering the race, while Tampa lawyer Ryan Torrens has already filed.