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Wednesday, Aug 20, 2014

Rooney, Arnold vie in new District 17

Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 11:42 PM

Age: 37

Education: Associate's degree, Indian River Community College; bachelor's degree in microbiology, University of Florida

Family: Married, three children

City of residence_ Okeechobee

Professional experience: Chemistry teacher; conference center specialist; owner of small cattle ranch

Political experience: Okeechobee County school board member since 2002

Campaign website: www.arnoldforcongress.com

Age: 41

Education: Bachelor's degree in English, Washington & Jefferson College; master's degree in political science, University of Florida; law degree, University of Miami

Family: Married; three children

City of residence_ Tequesta

Professional experience: Army prosecutor, constitutional and criminal law professor; attorney, chief executive officer

Political experience: Elected to U.S. House in 2009; Florida assistant attorney general, 2004; aide to Sen. Connie Mack, 1993

Campaign website: www.tomrooney.com

The two Republicans vying to represent congressional District 17 couldn't be more different, giving voters a clear choice in next week's primary.

Joe Arnold, 37, a small cattle ranch owner and school board member from Okeechobee, is taking on Tom Rooney, first elected to Congress in 2009 to represent District 16, which takes in several communities along the South Florida coast and stretches across the state to Charlotte County.

Congress redrew the district lines, based on the 2010 census, so some incumbents find themselves running for different seats. Rooney, who lives with his family in Palm Beach County's Tequesta Village, says he would move into the district, if elected.

The redrawn District 17 is mostly rural and spans 10 counties. It starts in southern Hillsborough County and takes in parts of Manatee and Polk counties, then stretches down to Lee County on the Gulf Coast and into Glades and Okeechobee counties.

In Hillsborough, 111,680 voters living in southern Riverview, Balm, Wimauma, Sun City Center and a slice of eastern Ruskin are included in the district.

Building on his years in Congress, Rooney had raised nearly $1 million and had more than $500,000 in the bank at the end of July, according to federal campaign records. Arnold had raised slightly less than $14,000 and had little more than $700 in his campaign account.

Rooney's resume reads like that of someone who was groomed for a political career. With a master's degree in political science from the University of Florida and a law degree from the University of Miami, Rooney has worked as a JAG Corps prosecutor, a constitutional and criminal law professor at West Point, an aide for former Florida Republican U.S. Sen. Connie Mack III and an assistant attorney general.

Arnold has a bachelor's degree in microbiology from the University of Florida and taught chemistry for six and a half 61/2 years before being elected to the Okeechobee School Board in 2002. He currently works as a conference center specialist at Indian River State College and owns a small cattle ranch.

Despite the advantages Rooney enjoys, Arnold remains cautiously optimistic.

"Close to 70 percent of voters in this race are new," Arnold said. "If it's about getting out and meeting people face-to-face, we may have an advantage. If it's about money, then I would certainly be the underdog."

Both candidates say they will work to reduce the national debt and creating more jobs.

Arnold said all federal agencies should cut their budgets by 10 percent. Once spending is under control, he promises to tackle the national debt, in part, by bringing jobs back to America and eliminating sales tax on U.S. products for several years.

In an email, Rooney said he would continue working on job creation by reforming the tax code, getting rid of costly, unnecessary regulations and promoting American energy production, including offshore drilling. Entitlement programs should be reformed to ensure their future viability, he said.

Rooney carries the endorsements of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, Florida Republican U.S. Reps. Allen West and Dennis Ross and the National Rifle Association.

Arnold is endorsed by Tea Party Manatee and Take Our Country Back.

The winner will face Democrat William Bronson and write-in candidate Tom Baumann in the November general election.

lkindle@tampatrib.com (813) 731-8138