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Can Democrat take back Pinellas House seat held by a Republican?

Janet Varnell Warwick hopes to pull that off against incumbent Rep. Linda Chaney.
Florida Rep. Linda Chaney is facing a challenge in the November general election from Democrat and lawyer Janet Varnell Warwick. [PHELAN M. EBENHACK | Associated Press]
Florida Rep. Linda Chaney is facing a challenge in the November general election from Democrat and lawyer Janet Varnell Warwick. [PHELAN M. EBENHACK | Associated Press] [ PHELAN M. EBENHACK | AP ]
Published Sep. 18

Can a little-known, first-time candidate successfully challenge a Republican incumbent in a GOP-leaning swing seat in Pinellas County?

Janet Varnell Warwick is trying to do just that in the southeastern Pinellas District 61, and says she has a chance even though incumbent Rep. Linda Chaney is heavily out-fundraising her.

Warwick said she’s optimistic in part because the district has swung between the parties in the past, although that was before it was redrawn in this year’s redistricting.

A similar district in the past went from Republican to Democratic in 2018, voting for Jennifer Webb, but Webb then lost it in 2020 to Chaney.

The current version of the district covers territory that Donald Trump won by 5 points in 2020 and has a 38-to-33 percent Republican-to-Democrat voter registration advantage.

Warwick, a lawyer who said she specializes in public interest cases including environmental advocacy, had raised $80,457 as of Sept. 8 and had about $27,500 in cash left after expenses, while Chaney had more than $200,000 in her campaign and an affiliated committee.

Warwick, 56, filed just before the qualifying period, saying she had no intention of running until she saw no prominent Democrat challenging Chaney.

She said Republicans in the Legislature simply follow directions from party leadership “like robots … You have to step up and give them a challenge.”

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