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In Hillsborough clerk of the court race, PAC courts GOP votes for Cindy Stuart

Because no other candidates are running, the primary between Democrats Kevin Beckner and Cindy Stuart will be open to all voters.
Hillsborough County School Board member Cindy Stuart.
Hillsborough County School Board member Cindy Stuart. [ WALLACE, DANIEL | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Aug. 6, 2020

Politics makes strange bedfellows, and that’s apparent in the Hillsborough County clerk of the court race, where a veteran Democratic operative working through a Republican-funded PAC is sending mailers seeking Republican votes in the Democratic primary.

Because no other candidates are running, the primary between Democrats Kevin Beckner and Cindy Stuart will be open to all voters.

Orlando-based party operative and consultant Chris Mitchell is using the PAC, Impact Florida, to send mailers attacking Beckner as a tax-raising reckless spender who “slandered beloved outgoing clerk Pat Frank” in their 2016 primary battle. The mailers appear to be going to GOP voters.

Since June, shortly after Stuart entered the race, Impact Florida has raised $22,500 from sources including charter school interests, a committee run by GOP PAC manager Stafford Jones of Tallahassee, and real estate development and construction interests.

Mitchell wouldn’t comment on the PAC, and Stuart didn’t respond to voicemails and text messages for comment.

Conventional wisdom among local insiders is that Stuart, who holds a nonpartisan school board seat, may need Republican votes to beat Beckner, who has a greater history of Democratic Party involvement.

Beckner has sought to mend fences with some local Democrats angered by his negative campaigning in the 2016 race against Frank. Via text messages, he said Stuart was responsible for the mailer and was “lying and stringing together incoherent statements.”

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