If you are a political junkie like I am, then the biggest races to watch are not on the national stage but the local ones. Let’s jump right in.
House District 72
The District 72 House race has given me a little bit of whiplash with incumbent Ray Pilon announcing that he is stepping away to run for the open District 28 Senate seat vacated by Senator Nancy Detert. We now have two newcomers: Edward James III (D) and Alex Miller (R). James has been working his campaign for almost a year. I’m worn out just following him on social media as he seems to be everywhere. From supporting actual runners by handing out water bottles with his logo on it, volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, and reading to elementary school children, he has set a new standard of how a race is run. He has made it not just about how much money you can put in your campaign account—$84K—but how many people you can really connect with. Miller just entered the race and loaned her campaign $50K, but has raised another $4K. And while I am told that she will have a lot of financial backing, she is still a huge unknown quantity to the voting public.
House District 73: This is the strangest race yet. Joe Gruters raised $119K for his first fundraiser and is off helping Donald Trump become president. James Golden has run before against Vern Buchanan for the US House; he only has $100.00 in his account. And the only person who appears to be actually working the campaign trail is Steve Vernon, who has $9K in his account. I don’t know what to make of this race. Either Gruters thinks he can just walk into the seat or is secretly hoping to lose. And unless the other two can do what James is doing in the other House race, it won’t be much of a race to watch at all.
House District 74
Incumbent Julio Gonzalez (R) and challenger Manuel Lopez, Jr. (D) have been incredibly quiet compared to the first time Gonzalez ran for office. The Gonzalez/DeNapoli race in 2014 was the most expensive (and bloodiest) battle in the state. Things will start heating up with the summer temperatures, but until then Gonzalez can sit back and enjoy the recognition he earned from his two years in office.
Senate District 23
This race is not going to be easy to call. Let me say that I am told that there will be another Democrat challenger, which will give us two primaries in August. Republicans have produced five candidates; four have run several successful campaigns. As of today, the campaign finances numbers break down like this: Greg Steube (R) $230K, Doug Holder (R) $206K, Ray Pilon (R) $110K, Nora Patterson (R) $100K, Rick Levine (R) 3K, and Frank Cirillo (D) $1K. This would explain why Steube threw the first punch last week at Holder with a negative letter. Where once the two shared rides to Tallahassee as House members, they now see each other as direct competition. Holder has the advantage, terming out of his House seat two years ago and running steady for the Senate ever since. Steube did not decide to leave his seat until just a few months ago, where I believe he would have walked into his final term in the House. His name recognition does not go as far south as Holder’s does. And let’s be honest, that is where votes come from for this race.
Let’s talk about the two who have won countywide: Patterson and Pilon. Both Patterson and Pilon served on the county commission; however, Patterson has the immediate advantage of serving 16 consecutive years before she was termed out in 2014, and before that eight consecutive years on the City Commission. Pilon, a former Sarasota law enforcement officer, served one term on the County Commission, three terms in the House, and years in between working for the Peace River Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority, which puts him in all four counties of the surrounding areas.
The newcomer is Levine. He announced his candidacy long before he ponied up money to qualify and has only recently participated in the debates. With no name recognition, he is a complete unknown.
Now I know I did not include the PAC money rumbling around town. And there are some candidates who technically haven’t filed as of yet. But there is still time, and a lot more to savor. So let’s just sit back and enjoy the show.