1. Florida Politics

Could Jim Norman have a real race on his hands?

Published Jan. 28, 2012

Florida Sen. Jim "Smooth Sailin' '' Norman just got a real live Republican opponent, which is either cause for optimism or more of the same old cynicism.

John Korsak, a Republican Party activist who works as a homeland security consultant and lives in Lutz, is running to "restore the public's trust in government."

He says solving Florida's problems takes "people of character and ethics."

Korsak does not specifically say that a sitting politician who faced an FBI investigation and is currently under review by the state ethics board over a $500,0000 vacation home his wife got via a political benefactor is probably not a man of "character and ethics."

He also does not say: An incumbent whose campaign slogan could be Vote for Me: I Didn't Get Indicted might not be your best bet for "restoring the public's trust." But I think it's implied.

So this time around we might have something vaguely resembling an actual race against an incumbent who glided from the Hillsborough County Commission to the Senate like a countrified version of a prince ascending. He did this despite serious ethical questions raised about that lovely lakefront home in Arkansas, the one he insisted was his wife's private "investment" with the late millionaire Ralph Hughes.

But in the end, this did not rise to the level of a federal crime because you could not show anything specific that Hughes, an anti-tax activist and big Norman backer, got from Norman in exchange for that house, and this is the state of the law.

Norman gave his own ham-handed explanation: It was strictly between the missus and Hughes, the house wasn't his, though, well, yes, he did spend time there and all. Note: Making cynics of citizens also is not a crime.

But despite that cloud back when Norman set his sights on Tallahassee, not a single Democrat ran. Not a one.

So with the news of another Republican in the race, I wondered if, glory be, we might get a Democratic choice this time.

Hillsborough Democratic Party chairman Chris Mitchell gave 50-50 odds. "Jim Norman is a target, for the record," he said. "We hope to find a viable candidate to run against him."

One name floating out there: Christopher Cano, 28, a former intern to state Rep. Mike Scionti who ran unsuccessfully for state House in 2010 and is working on his master's degree in public administration. "A lot of local Democrats are upset that Norman walked into that seat," he says. He hasn't made any decisions.

And here's a delicious one: Republican Kevin Ambler, the former lawmaker Norman beat last time, and the very guy who persuaded a judge to boot Norman off the ballot for not reporting that vacation home. (An appeals court later reinstated him.)

No comment from Ambler, except: "There's still a lot of balls up in the air."

Cynical reality check: Everyone's waiting to see what redistricting will bring. And Norman's not-chump-change of nearly $160,000 raised so far with the promise of much more to come, plus the enthusiastic support of his party despite the lingering stink of Arkansasgate, may scare off contenders.

But in the case of a controversial candidate, isn't it nice to think a race could be a race — one with actual choices and everything?