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Tampa-based state House race could showcase new style of campaigning

One Republican candidate is banking on online influencers driving voters to the polls.
One candidate in the race is leaning on online infuencers, such as “DC Drain," whose real name, Rogan O’Handley, seen here speaking at a rally in St. Petersburg last year.
One candidate in the race is leaning on online infuencers, such as “DC Drain," whose real name, Rogan O’Handley, seen here speaking at a rally in St. Petersburg last year. [ BOYZELL HOSEY | Times ]
Published Jun. 25|Updated Jun. 27

In an open, south Tampa-based state House seat, a competitive Republican primary could test a new style of campaigning while a Democrat has a clear path to the general election.

In the GOP primary, Young Republicans leader Jake Hoffman will face lawyer Michael Minardi and businesswoman Karen Gonzalez Pittman.

Democratic insurance agent Jen McDonald has no primary opponent.

The district has been represented by Republicans for decades — Rep. Jackie Toledo is now leaving it to run for Congress. But redistricting has made it slightly Democratic-leaning. In 2020 it voted for both Joe Biden against Donald Trump and Andrew Gillum against Ron DeSantis by about 4 percentage points.

McDonald has some strengths heading into the race.

She’s second among the four candidates in fundraising with $95,577 in her campaign and $6,250 in a political committee as of the end of May.

She is the only candidate who qualified by petition, and she was on the 2020 ballot in a county commissioner district that covers the House district. McDonald lost 55-45 percent in a Democratic primary against Commissioner Harry Cohen.

“Obviously I’ve got some momentum,” McDonald said. “We’re going to start reaching persuadable voters while the Republicans are fighting over their supervoters.”

Pittman, who operates a vein care clinic with her physician husband, is the leading fundraiser with $121,135, aided by contributions from the health care industry. She began a campaign for a countywide school board seat in January but switched to the House seat in March.

Pittman said she refunded all her school board contributions. Many of those donors, however, have since given to her House campaign.

Minardi trails in fundraising with $31,425 and had spent $25,331 of that at the end of May, but also had about $13,000 in a political committee.

Hoffman, founder of a digital marketing company, has raised $71,146 including $50,000 of his own money, plus $15,200 in an independent committee.

But his biggest advantage in the race may be support of right-wing influencers such as “DC Draino” — real name, Rogan O’Handley — who have built audiences on social media.

Hoffman calls that “a wild card in a legislative primary” and hopes it will drive the turnout of young voters. He acknowledges it may not reach typical Republican primary voters, who are mostly older and white.

But, he said, “You’re not going to reach 30-somethings with mailers … “The question will be how many Republicans under 40 come out and vote.”

Pittman, running a more traditional campaign, said she has “no idea” whether Hoffman’s social media strategy will work.

“It will be interesting to see — sort of like the Kennedy-Nixon debates,” she said, referring to the first televised debate between two presidential candidates, which proved a turning point in the 1960 race.

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