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Where did Hillsborough’s Republican candidates go?

At this point, William March writes, there are no declared Republican candidates for the open clerk of court and tax collector seats or the two open county commission seats.

It’s early in the 2020 election cycle, but some local GOP insiders are worried by what they see as a lack of Republican candidates for Hillsborough offices.

Most blame the county’s 2018 Democratic swing. But some also blame the local Republican Party for what they call lack of recruitment and support for local candidates.

There’s still plenty of time for candidates to mount 2020 campaigns.

But at this point, there are no declared Republican candidates for the open clerk of court and tax collector seats and two open district seats on the board of commissioners. And no GOP challengers to four Democrats seeking re-election: Elections Supervisor Craig Latimer, Property Appraiser Bob Henriquez, State Attorney Andrew Warren and countywide Commissioner Pat Kemp.

There are possibilities.

Term-limited GOP Commissioner Sandy Murman is filed in the clerk’s race but may not run there. She’s evaluating options and may challenge Kemp.

Todd Marks, who ran unsuccessfully for a countywide commissioner’s seat in 2018, is considering the open District 1 race, and former legislator and commissioner Victor Crist is testing the waters for clerk or tax collector.

Why aren’t the Republicans showing up?

“It’s a blue county — we have to recognize that,” said Brandon conservative donor and political adviser Sam Rashid. “Any countywide Republican inherently starts off up to seven points behind,” requiring heavy spending to catch up. “This is no longer the county we turned red in 2000.”

Prominent GOP donor Clif Curry said raising money is tough “because of the perception that the county has turned Democratic” — donors are more likely to give to the party in power.

But Curry also said the local Republican Party “is focused on national politics and has been for several years instead of on local races,” and “has not spent time or money developing new candidates in the last few years. There’s not a large bench.”

GOP political consultant April Schiff said negative campaigning in Republican primaries “has gotten so bad people are not willing to subject themselves and their families to that.”

But she also said the local party “is dwindling in its power and its force, and they aren’t helping the candidates enough with financial and grass roots support.”

County GOP Chairman Jim Waurishuk responded via email that the party is recruiting and interviewing “a number of candidates which would equate to nearly all races” on the 2020 ballot. The criticism of a national focus, he said, is because “they are not in touch with our efforts, and because the Trump effort is so visible.”

Jim Waurishuk, chairman of the Hillsborough County Republican Party. [Times (2016)]

On local recruiting, “We’ve been low-key — best known as ‘operational security’ (OPSEC). I’m not one to let the opposition know what we are up to.”

Spano campaign repays him, Dems raise $$

Republican U.S. Rep. Ross Spano announced this week that “at the recommendation … of the Federal Elections Commission,” his campaign has repaid part of the loans he made to it, possibly from illegal sources, during his 2018 race.

Spano has acknowledged the FEC is investigating the loans, but the campaign didn’t provide any details about what the recommendation said or why the federal campaign watchdogs recommended the repayment. The FEC typically doesn’t comment on investigations until they’re completed.

Times U.S. Rep. Ross Spano, R- Dover, when he served in the Florida House in 2017, [ SCOTT KEELER | Times (2017) ]

Spano said repaying the loans “will leave the campaign with a low account balance,” $71,019 as of the end of September – roughly equal to the totals both his potential Democratic opponents, Alan Cohn and state Rep. Adam Hattersley, announced this week for their initial fundraising quarter.

Hattersley announced having raised $114,474 from more than 1,800 individuals in two months after filing July 29, with $70,262 in cash remaining at the end of the quarter.

Cohn, who didn’t file until Sept. 9, announced raising $72,546 during the three weeks then remaining in the quarter, and said he has $66,562 cash on hand.

Both Democrats say they aren’t accepting corporate PAC contributions.

Spano loaned his 2018 campaign $169,500, reporting at the time that the money came from “personal funds,” which would be legal.

But he later acknowledged he made the loans after borrowing $180,000 from wealthy friends. Using such proceeds for his campaign would violate election law.

In his most recent report to the FEC, he said his campaign had repaid him $110,000 as of Sept. 30.

Spano has raised $402,938 so far in his 2020 campaign. Almost half, $188,300, came from PACS and other political committees.

But after the repayment, his campaign still had debts of $66,857, almost equal to his cash on hand.

Asked whether the FEC’s recommendation on repaying the loans was in writing, campaign spokeswoman Sandi Poreda replied via email, “I don’t believe we have anything in writing.”

The House Ethics Committee is also investigating the matter.

Good raises $450,000 versus Buchanan

State Rep. Margaret Good, D-Sarasota, got a strong fundraising start with $450,000 in three months in her challenge to U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key.

Democratic state Rep. Margaret Good of Sarasota. [Photo courtesy of Margaret Good]

Buchanan raised $370,000 during the same period, his campaign said.

The district includes a large swath of southern Hillsborough County.

Contact William March at