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Alan Cohn: Strategy won’t change without Ross Spano in the race

“You take Ross Spano out of the equation, and people are still incredibly concerned about corruption in Congress and government in general, and cynical about politicians,” he said.
Alan Cohn, above, will face Scott Franklin in the general election.
Alan Cohn, above, will face Scott Franklin in the general election.
Published Aug. 27, 2020

Alan Cohn, the Democratic nominee for the Congressional District 15 seat, says his campaign message won’t change even though he won’t face investigation-plagued incumbent Republican Rep. Ross Spano in November.

Cohn, a former broadcast investigative reporter, has emphasized his credentials as a corruption-fighter, saying that makes him the best candidate to take on Spano. Federal authorities are looking into campaign finance law violations from Spano’s 2018 race.

Spano lost a primary to Lakeland city Commissioner Scott Franklin, who ran partly because of the investigations.

Cohn said that won’t change his approach.

“You take Ross Spano out of the equation, and people are still incredibly concerned about corruption in Congress and government in general, and cynical about politicians,” he said. “We need somebody there with the skill to speak truth to the most powerful.”

Cohn has also emphasized in his campaign an economy he says isn’t working for middle-class families, of which he says his is one.

He said the district is trending Democratic — it voted for Trump by 10 points in 2016, but for Spano by 6 points in 2018.

But he faces an uphill financial battle. In a fundraising email after winning his hard-fought primary against state Rep. Adam Hattersley, D-Riverview, he told supporters, “I’m starting over with zero in the bank.”

Franklin, meanwhile, reported $104,030 in cash as of July 29. With a net worth in excess of $7 million, he has since loaned his campaign another $50,000, for a total of $400,000 so far.

Hattersley: No regrets

Hattersley, meanwhile, says he has no regrets about leaving his state House seat to run unsuccessfully for Congress.

Adam Hattersley lost the Democratic primary for Congressional District 15.
Adam Hattersley lost the Democratic primary for Congressional District 15. [ Courtesy Adam Hattersley campaign ]

“Obviously I regret that we lost,” he said in an interview. “But based on the information we had and the landscape at the time, it was the right decision.”

But Hattersley hasn’t endorsed Cohn, and at least a few Hattersley supporters remain angry about what they view as negative campaigning by Cohn.

Hattersley narrowly won his Brandon-based state House seat in 2018. Democrats celebrated the beachhead in conservative east Hillsborough.

But in June 2019, following his first legislative session, he announced he would leave the seat to run for the congressional seat held by Spano.

Before making that decision, Hattersley said, he “made sure that (state House) seat would stay blue – made sure there was somebody to follow.”

That was Andrew Learned, formerly a candidate for the congressional seat, who switched to the state House race when Hattersley announced his move. Hattersley said he’s confident Learned will hold the legislative seat for Democrats.

Some local Democrats criticized Hattersley’s move as opportunistic, including Cohn. But others said Hattersley would be the best candidate for the conservative-leaning congressional district, which includes east Hillsborough, Lakeland and Clermont.

Hattersley has since attended two online Democratic Party “unity events” with Cohn, but says he did not specifically endorse Cohn.

In campaign mailers, Cohn criticized Hattersley’s jump to the congressional race and questioned his environmental credentials because of a past contribution from TECO and because his retirement account included investments in Mosaic and two oil companies.

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