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Mystery candidate files to run in Hillsborough tax collector’s race

The new candidate could significantly affect the Democratic primary between April Griffin and Nancy Millan.

A mystery Republican who just filed in the Hillsborough County tax collector’s race may not get many votes, but still could significantly affect the Democratic primary between April Griffin and Nancy Millan.

The new candidate filed Jan. 9 under the name TK Mathew, giving a Tampa post office box as an address. Several local GOP insiders say they’ve never heard of him.

But if Mathew qualifies to run for the office, that will “close” the Democratic primary so only registered Democrats can vote in it.

That matters because Griffin, a former school board member, is a long-time Democratic Party activist — a former Young Democrats president and county party vice chair — and talks about her partisan orientation on the campaign trail.

Millan, by comparison, is a career employee of the tax collector’s office with little political history. Retiring tax collector Doug Belden, her long-time employer and a supporter, is a Republican.

Under Florida law, only registered party members can vote in primaries. But if the only candidates for the office are from one party, then that primary is open to all voters.

At least some local Republicans have said they intended to switch parties temporarily to vote in the primary if it’s closed, including Dee Williams, former long-time Sun City Center Republican Club president. But that’s unlikely to produce large numbers of votes.

The phone number in Mathew’s filing papers went unanswered early this week, as did text messages and emails to the address in the filing papers. Internet searches discovered no campaign web site or Facebook page.

The name TK Mathew doesn’t even show up on Florida voter rolls.

They do list Thomas Kurisungal Mathew, age 30, living in an apartment on Memorial Highway, who first registered in Hillsborough County in April as a Democrat. Elections supervisor’s spokeswoman Gerri Kramer said it’s unclear whether that’s the same person, and the candidate won’t have to file definitive information until the qualifying deadline June 12.

Kramer said Mathew could then qualify as a Republican by paying the $10,102 qualifying fee or as a write-in candidate. Write-ins pay no filing fee and aren’t listed on the ballot, but still cause the primary to be closed.

That statutory wrinkle, sometimes called “the write-in loophole,” has been exploited by candidates with a strong partisan following who recruited write-in filers in their own races to make sure only party members could vote in a primary.

Griffin said she doesn’t know Mathew and has never heard of him, but, “I couldn’t imagine the Republican Party would let that seat go without a fight.”

“My message won’t change” with Mathew in the race, Griffin said. “I’ve run countywide races and gotten votes from both Democrats and Republicans.”

Meanwhile, Millan had a strong fundraising month in December, raising $25,850 during what is usually the year’s worst political fundraising month, for a total $89,500 so far.

Griffin, who has raised $10,135 so far, said she hasn’t yet begun fundraising in earnest because she filed earlier than intended due to Belden’s unexpected announcement of his retirement. She plans a campaign kickoff fundraiser Thursday with a host list including numerous prominent Democratic elected officials.

Cohn to report fundraising total

Democratic Congressional District 15 candidate Alan Cohn said he’ll report raising more than $117,000 in the last three months of 2019, bringing his total for the campaign so far to $190,000.

His opponent in the Democratic primary, state Rep. Adam Hattersley, said he won’t announce figures until the filing deadline Jan. 31.

Former television journalist Alan Cohn (left) and State Rep. Adam Hattersley are Democratic candidates in Florida's 15th Congressional District. (Photos courtesy of Alan Cohn and Adam Hattersley.)

The winner is likely to face incumbent Rep. Ross Spano.

Oliver considering leaving District 59 race

Democratic state House District 59 candidate Andrew Learned got two pieces of good news this week: He raised $14,227 in December, a good haul for a typically slow fundraising month; and his opponent in the primary, Mark Oliver, is considering leaving the race to run instead in District 70.

Democratic state House District 59 candidate Andrew Learned. [Courtesy of Andrew Learned]

The bay-crossing District 70 seat is being vacated by Rep. Wengay Newton, D-St. Petersburg.

In East Hillsborough’s District 59, Democrats hope to hold a seat they narrowly flipped in 2018. Not having a primary battle could help Learned in the general election.

His December take brings his total to $58,310. Oliver has raised $29,856.

Oliver wouldn’t confirm that he’ll switch races, but party insiders including Chairman Ione Townsend said he’s considering it.

Contact William March at