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  1. Hillsborough

Race for congressional seat held by Republican Ross Spano is heating up

Political insiders now expect a second prominent Democrat in the race for the Congressional seat held by Republican Ross Spano — former Tampa Bay area broadcast reporter and anchor Alan Cohn. [Photo courtesy of Alan Cohn]
Political insiders now expect a second prominent Democrat in the race for the Congressional seat held by Republican Ross Spano — former Tampa Bay area broadcast reporter and anchor Alan Cohn. [Photo courtesy of Alan Cohn]
Published Aug. 1, 2019

As expected, state Rep. Adam Hattersley, D-Riverview, announced this week he'll run for the congressional seat of Ross Spano. But Democratic insiders now expect a second prominent Democrat in the race —- former Tampa Bay area broadcast reporter and anchor Alan Cohn.

The result could be a tough primary battle for the right to challenge Spano.

Cohn, formerly with WFTS-Ch. 28 in Tampa, ran unsuccessfully for the congressional seat in 2014 against its previous occupant, Republican Dennis Ross. Cohn worked until recently at the ABC affiliate in Sarasota.

Cohn could attract support from some local Democrats who consider it a risky move for Hattersley to leave his state House seat after only one term to run against Spano.

It was a major prize for local Dems when Hattersley won the legislative race in 2018, flipping a seat long held by Republicans in conservative East Hillsborough.

But others, including national-level Democrats, see Hattersley as their best hope for unseating Spano.

After a banner year in 2018, including Hattersley's win, some Dems appear willing to risk some of those gains in hope of bigger wins in 2020.

They see the Tampa Bay area trending Democratic and hope the 2018 anti-Trump wave will be followed by a bigger wave in a higher turnout presidential election year.

"People are tired and worn out by the negativity out of the White House and the lack of spine by Republicans to stand up to Trump," said Hillsborough County Democratic party Chairman Ione Townsend. "I think we'll see another big wave."

Spano's district in eastern Hillsborough, Polk and Lake counties leans Republican.

Andrew Learned, who has already filed to challenge Spano after running unsuccessfully for the same seat in 2018, is expected to switch races and run for Hattersley's state House seat.

Some local Dems wonder if Learned can win the legislative seat Hattersley is leaving open.

Hattersley won the seat by 3 percent in 2018, but Learned said it has been trending more Democratic and racially diverse every year. A strong small-dollar fundraiser in 2018, Learned said he'll have more money than the $71,222 Hattersley had that year.

"The fights are in Tallahassee these days — we already have the majority in Congress," he said of the switch.

Meanwhile, Margaret Good, who made national headlines by winning a traditionally GOP Sarasota state House seat in 2018, will leave it to run against seven-term U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, whose district includes much of southern Hillsborough. Sarasota attorney Drake Buckman was the first Democrat to announce he will try to hold Good's state House seat.

Unseating either Spano or Buchanan will be difficult.

But Sarasota County Democratic Chairman JoAnn DeVries was optimistic about Good's chances against Buchanan. "She ran an incredible campaign in a red district and won. Obviously we can do it again," she said.

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That may not be obvious to Buchanan, who had raised $1,017,563 as of June 30. But Good's campaign said she raised $135,426 in the first 24 hours after her July 22 announcement.

•••

Besides Clerk of Court Pat Frank, who is retiring, three other Hillsborough countywide elected officials haven't filed for 2020 re-election — Sheriff Chad Chronister, Public Defender Julianne Holt and county Commissioner Pat Kemp.

But relax, all three are running.

Holt, a Democrat appointed in 1987, was elected in 1992 and re-elected since. She told her staff last year she'll run again, but said she delayed her announcement because she wanted to keep clear of politics while handling the Nicole Nachtman murder trial.

Chronister, a Republican, said via text message, "I fully intend to seek re-election," but "right now I am focused on being the sheriff."

Kemp, a Democrat, will seek her second and final term as a countywide commissioner.

Tax Collector Doug Belden, Property Appraiser Bob Henriquez and State Attorney Andrew Warren have all filed for 2020.

A pair of Democratic Temple Terrace students are jumping into politics in an ambitious way.

Angel Rafael Morales Jr., 22, a part-timer at Hillsborough Community College, is running for the state House against Rep. Lawrence McClure, R-Dover.

Morales's housemate, Rachael Miriam Quintana, 19, an HCC political science student who hopes for a political career, has filed against county Commissioner Pat Kemp.

The couple share a place in a mobile home park and are new to politics except as volunteer canvassers.

Morales said he's unhappy about the Legislature's actions on felon voting rights restoration, which critics say undercut the intent of constitutional Amendment 4.

Asked why she's challenging a fellow Democrat, Quintana said, "I think (Kemp) has done some great work but I think there is more that needs to be done, mainly in school funding."

Quintana is a local native. Morales, born in Massachusetts, moved here at 15 from Puerto Rico.

They acknowledge they're underdogs. "We decided it's easier to do it together," Quintana said.

Contact William March at wemarch@gmail.com

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