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Carlson, Learned again considering run for U.S. 15th District

Democrats believe Ross Spano will be vulnerable because of campaign finance irregularities in his hard-fought 2018 GOP campaign.

With the state and national Democratic parties saying they’ll target Republican Rep. Ross Spano’s U.S. House District 15 in 2020, both the 2018 Democratic candidates, Kristen Carlson and Andrew Learned, are considering running again.

“We’re doing the exploratory thing,” said Learned. He said he’s “keeping my options open,” but is already sending out fundraising emails.

Carlson said she is “certainly exploring a second run” and hopes to decide by May 1.

In 2018, said Florida Democratic Party spokeswoman Caroline Rowland, “We didn’t invest the resources needed to win in Polk County – we didn’t have a field office there” and didn’t register voters there. “We believe we could have won. Those are things we need to change in 2020.”

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, an arm of the national party, named District 15 is one of 33 GOP-held districts nationwide on its initial target list, one of two in Florida, where the party will hire field staff for 2020 and is already running digital ads.

The district includes eastern Hillsborough and the Lakeland and Clermont areas. It’s Republican-leaning, but Rowland said it could trend more Democratic in a presidential election year.

The Democrats believe Spano will be vulnerable because of campaign finance irregularities in his hard-fought 2018 GOP campaign. He has acknowledged his use of personal loan proceeds to fund his campaign may have been illegal.

That’s the subject of Federal Elections Commission complaint.

“We believe he broke the law to win his race and we’re going to remind voters of that,” said Rowland.

But Spano still be harder to beat as an incumbent in 2020. GOP leaders appear to have committed to him.

Spano has become a strong pro-Trump voice, and has been appointed “ranking member,” the top post for a minority Republican, on a subcommittee of the House Small Business Committee -- a plum appointment for a freshman and a key fundraising tool.

In 2018, Carlson jumped into the race late when former Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, announced his retirement. She won the primary over Learned but lost to Spano by 6 points.

Carlson said an earlier start and more campaign experience will give her a better chance in 2020.