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With Tom Lee out, CFO race narrows to Patronis vs. Ring

“It’s always better if they have a tough primary on the other side,” said Democratic nominee Jeremy Ring, who will likely face incumbent Republican CFO Jimmy Patronis, who was appointed to the job by Gov. Rick Scott, in the general election.
Jimmy Patronis,[MONICA HERNDON   |   Times]
Jimmy Patronis,[MONICA HERNDON | Times]
Published Apr. 20, 2018

The decision by state Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, not to run for state chief financial officer clears the way in the Republican primary for incumbent CFO Jimmy Patronis, whom Gov. Rick Scott appointed to the job and backs for election in November.

It also sets up what looks like the final general election matchup, with Patronis facing Democrat Jeremy Ring.

Ring said there's good news and bad news for him in the new development.

"It's always better if they have a tough primary on the other side," he said. If Lee had stayed in the race, the GOP nominee "would have had to spend a good chunk of their money on the primary."

Jeremy Ring, (AP Photo/Steve Cannon, File)

But Ring said in a down-ballot race where candidates struggle to get attention, it's also an advantage to come from a large metropolitan area with lots of voters who know your name – as he and Lee both do, but Patronis, from Panama City, does not.

So for Ring, "There's some good news and some bad news," Ring said. "Regardless, we're going to play the hand we're dealt. I'm not losing sleep over it.

"It was mentioned it in passing within our team today, but not a whole strategy session."

Patronis had praise for Lee following the news.

"Sen. Lee has passionately served the state for many years – I've always been a huge admirer of his," Patronis said, mentioning Lee's work on ethics reform in the Legislature as Senate president.

"There's no way those initiatives would have passed if he hadn't put the weight of the Senate Presidency behind them."

Lee has said for months he intended to seek the office, which he ran for unsuccessfully against Alex Sink of Tampa in 2006.

He said he changed his mind for family reasons. In January he cited similar concerns for missing the opening day of the legislative session.

"My responsibilities as a father have caused me to re-evaluate this decision," he said.

But he left open the question of his political future, which could include entering the race for the District 15 U.S. House seat, which Republican Dennis Ross of Lakeland will retire from, or running for re-election to his state Senate seat.

He said a local campaign would be more manageable than "the rigorous travel of a statewide campaign" considering his duties as a father.

A local race could mean the House race, re-election to the Senate or another alternative, he added. In the past, Lee has speculated about running for a Hillsborough County commissioner's seat.

His announcement doesn't end the suspense for Tampa Bay area Republicans who could see a string of political dominoes fall quickly if Lee leaves his Senate seat.

State Reps. Shawn Harrison of Tampa and Danny Burgess of Zephyrhills both would be interested in running for Lee's Senate seat.

Both said Thursday they're focused right now on re-election but could switch over to the Senate seat quickly if it came open.

That could lead to a scramble by local Republicans to find candidates to fill their House seats, in a year when Democrats are mounting greater challenges to legislative seats than in the past.