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Ronda Storms falling short in contributions but insists she has a chance against Joe Wicker

With more than $63,000, Wicker has raised more than three times as much money as Storms' $18,000 in the race for state House District 59.
Ronda Storms celebrates her 2012 primary victory in the race for Hillsborough property appraiser. She lost in the general election. Now she is running for the House seat being vacated by Rep. Ross Spano, R-Dover. [Times files]
Published Aug. 17, 2018
Updated Aug. 17, 2018

The Republican primary for the 59th state House seat pits a political figure with high name recognition against a business owner who's winning the race for money and endorsements.

Joe Wicker, 40, is an Army veteran who owns a home health-care business. He was first to enter the primary race to replace Ross Spano, who left the seat in a bid for state Attorney General that he eventually dropped. Months later, Ronda Storms, 52, a former state senator and Hillsborough county commissioner, entered the race.

Home healthcare business owner Joe Wicker of Dover is running for state House District 59. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Home healthcare business owner Joe Wicker of Dover is running for state House District 59. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
As an early entrant, Wicker grabbed a number of important endorsements, starting with Spano. Wicker unsuccessfully challenged Spano in 2012 in his only prior run for office. But about a month ago, Spano withdrew his endorsement, citing the entry of Storms into the race.

Wicker has also picked up the backing of key GOP leaders like county commissioners Al Higginbotham and Stacy White. And he has received endorsements from the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Realtors PAC and the Tampa Bay Times.

With more than $63,000 and 143 contributions, Wicker has also raised more than three times as much money as Storms as of Aug. 16. Storms has collected almost $18,000 in 74 contributions.

To Wicker, the numbers show that voters are ready for someone new in the district, which encompasses most of Brandon and parts of Bloomingdale, Riverview, Valrico, Dover, Palm River and Clair-Mel City.

That's not Storms, he said.

"People want an alternative. The first time she ran for office was in 1996. I was 17 and couldn't even vote."

Storms acknowledged that Wicker was the choice of the Republican leaders even before she got into the race, but she entered because so many people were asking for help with issues like flooding and crime.

Storms served two terms as a county commissioner, 1998-2006, and served in the Senate beginning in 2006 before leaving midway through her second term to run unsuccessfully for property appraiser.

During her time in office, representing conservative districts centered in east Hillsborough, she drew attention for her stands on moral issues. She pushed through a policy barring the county from recognizing gay pride events.

Storms said the actions of her opponent and his supporters shows they're concerned she could win.

"If I was not a factor, I wouldn't be having pieces mailed against me every single day," she said. "They attack the leader."

Campaign mailers sent to district voters seek to link Storms to Democrats such as former President Barack Obama and U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist.
Wicker said he has nothing to do with the mailers.

"But I would say that I think the message of getting new fresh ideas into government," he said, "and ending the cycle of career politicians is one that a large majority of us would agree with."

Wicker said his top legislative priorities include improving healthcare delivery, regulatory reform and the condition of roads in the district. Storms said public safety, education and fighting "crony capitalism" are her top three issues.

Despite their differences, there is one thing both candidates agree on: Voters support President Donald Trump.

"If a candidate is not solidly behind the president, that is a death knell," said Hillsborough County Republican party Chairman Jim Waurishuk.

"I support the president's agenda 100 percent," Wicker said.

And Storms: "People want to know you support the president. I want the president to succeed."