Jackie Toledo and Julie Jenkins in tight race for South Tampa House seat

Toledo, the Republican incumbent, and Jenkins, her Democratic opponent, both claim bipartisan cred.
Community activist and marketing professional Julie Jenkins is locked in a tight race with  two-term Republican state Rep. Jackie Toledo in South Tampa-based District 60.
Community activist and marketing professional Julie Jenkins is locked in a tight race with two-term Republican state Rep. Jackie Toledo in South Tampa-based District 60. [ Times ]
Published Oct. 24, 2020|Updated Oct. 27, 2020

TAMPA — The demographics for House District 60, which covers South Tampa and western Hillsborough city and unincorporated county neighborhoods, haven’t changed much since Jackie Toledo was elected in 2016.

In a district that is almost evenly split between Democratic, Republican and independent voters and which trends young and white, Toledo acknowledges she has a fight on her hands.

A recent St. Pete Polls survey found Toledo trailing her Democratic opponent, Julie Jenkins, by about 10 percentage points among 405 likely voters with a 4.9 percent margin of error.

Toledo, 44, a single mom of five children ranging in age from 9 to 22, blames President Donald Trump for dragging down-ballot candidates with him. In 2016, Trump won the district over Hillary Clinton. The Oct. 18 St. Pete Polls survey showed the president trailing former Vice President Joe Biden by double digits.

Toledo, who points to her support for LGBTQ rights and sponsorship of toughening texting-while-driving laws as evidence of her willingness to work with Democrats, says she’s being hurt by Trump’s political struggles. And she also questioned the veracity of any polling in these less than trusting times.

Still, Toledo says she feels confident she’ll persuade voters that a vote for her isn’t one for the president.

“I think I’ve separated myself from national politics,” she said.

Jenkins, who owns a small marketing firm, says her experience as a community activist, including a stint as neighborhood association president, taught her to place pragmatism above politics.

“I’m the real deal bipartisan candidate," said Jenkins, 58.

Both candidates place education as a high priority. Toledo points to a historic teacher raise and education budget as an accomplishment, while Jenkins says the state hasn’t done enough to repair crumbling facilities and provide teachers with adequate support for supplies.

They do share a common political past: a desire to sit on Tampa City Council.

Jenkins lost three city council races, most recently to Charlie Miranda in 2015. Toledo lost a nail-biter of a runoff with Council Chairman Guido Maniscalco that same year.

Toledo, a civil engineer by training, says she helped bring two massive federal grants recently to Tampa by utilizing her professional knowledge to work the phones at the Florida Department of Transportation.

“It helps to speak the language," Toledo said.

Jenkins wonders why Toledo wasn’t more active with the All For Transportation initiative in 2018, which greatly boosted funding for county transportation projects.

“Crickets,” said Jenkins about Toledo’s public efforts.

And the campaign has turned negative, especially on television and paid mailers. Both candidates say the other is lying or exaggerating about their record or intentions.

“People do that when they’re scared,” Jenkins said, who also criticized Toledo for missing political forums and community events.

Toledo said she’s not scared, just a working single mom juggling five kids. She sees constituents everywhere doing errands and her office is highly visible, she said.

But, Toledo, acknowledges, in a deeply partisan moment, it might not matter that she — and Jenkins — are running as bipartisan problem solvers.

In 2018, Toledo had a tough race against Democrat Debra Bellanti. And 2020 looks even more challenging.

"This is a swing district,' she said.

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