Two Democrats appear to lead challenge of Dennis Ross

Published Aug. 18, 2017

Half a dozen Democrats have filed for the primary to challenge U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, but so far, only two have mounted substantial financial campaigns — Andrew Learned of Bloomingdale and James Gregory "Greg" Pilkington of Indian Lake Estates in Polk County.

Both are first-time candidates while Ross is a former state House member in his fourth term as congressman from the GOP-leaning 15th District in northwestern Polk and eastern Hillsborough counties.

Learned and Pilkington both say they're running in part because of Ross's support for GOP attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Learned, 30 and single, is University of Tampa graduate recently returned from overseas Navy deployments. He grew up in Valrico and runs a tutoring franchise there, Grade Power Learning.

Learned had raised $22,289 through June, including $2,000 from himself. He's hired the Pinellas County-based Blue Ticket political consulting firm plus a campaign manager, and has made digital ads he plans to distribute through social media, including on his Facebook page.

Pilkington, 54, is a business consultant, married with three grown children and a master's degree from the University of South Carolina.

He worked until recently for the World Customs Organization in Brussels, an international body that coordinates customs practices for member nations including the United States. Previously, he worked in customs for U.S. shipping firms.

Originally from Charlotte, Pilkington moved here in May 2016 after leaving Brussels.

He has funded his own campaign so far with a $25,000 loan accounting for the $26,338 total raised. He also has hired campaign staff including a manager and communications director.

His home is just outside the district. He said he's looking into moving into District 15 even though it's not legally required for a House member.

Both candidates said they intend to run grass-roots campaigns in hope of catching a wave of Democratic resistance to the administration of President Donald Trump.

"Dennis Ross is closely aligned with the current administration," Pilkington said. "If ever there was a time that we could flip this district it is now."

A third Democrat, insurance broker and Brandon native Cameron Magnuson, recently returned to Brandon from the Washington, D.C., area after filing in February. Three others— Ray Pena and Greg Williams of Lakeland and Jeffrey Rabinowitz of Clermont — haven't yet filed any campaign finance reports.