ST. PETERSBURG — With the general election barely nine weeks away, Pinellas County’s legislative candidates are hitting the ground running in the days following the primary.
The candidates will join a fiercely competitive governor’s race and the Greenlight Pinellas sales tax referendum on the Nov. 4 ballot. And as the legislative races heat up, some are proving more competitive than others.
Pinellas’ state Senate candidates are starting to volley steady, well-funded streams of campaign messages via advertisement, email blasts and events.
In District 22, Republican State Sen. Jeff Brandes, of St. Petersburg, faces Democrat Judithanne McLauchlan, a political science professor at USF St. Petersburg. Brandes is considered a strong, well-liked incumbent, while McLauchlan’s campaign says it is taking a more grass-roots approach in the Democrat-leaning district.
McLauchlan’s campaign has accused Brandes of catering to monied interests of corporate donors over the needs of individuals in a 30-second video spot released the morning after the primary.
Brandes and his supporters, meanwhile, have touted his leadership on state-level flood insurance reforms, and another ad stresses his support of technological innovation, such as self-driving cars.
So far, McLauchlan’s campaign has raised $239,464, which is dwarfed by Brandes’ $815,871.
In North Pinellas, Republican Jack Latvala will need to fend off Libertarian Tony Caso in District 20. In the State House of Representatives, north county voters will see Republican Chris Sprowls and incumbent Democrat Carl Zimmerman on the ballot in District 65.
A longtime teacher at Countryside High School, Zimmerman, 63, was elected in 2012. Sprowls, 30, is a prosecutor at the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office. Zimmerman is touting his age and experience as a lawmaker.
“To represent you, you have to draw from a wealth of experience,” he said at a Tiger Bay forum in St. Petersburg on Wednesday. “You have to have lived through things. ... We can’t continue to make the same mistakes over and over and over again because we’ve lost that depth of knowledge that the Legislature should have.”
Sprowls countered that, as a member of the majority party with ties to leadership in Tallahassee, he would be able to get more bills passed.
“The person who stands up for you in Tallahassee, who has the microphone on an issue that’s important to you and important to Pinellas County, should be someone who can actually accomplish it,” he said.
The race for House District 67, which covers Clearwater and Largo, features Republican Chris Latvala, 32, the son of Jack Latvala, and Democrat Steve Sarnoff, 61, a longtime party activist and union leader who works for the city of Clearwater. Sarnoff is emphasizing his experience as well.
“We are a product of our life experience, and the trials and tribulations that we go through,” Sarnoff said. “That gives me the ability to relate to people in the district. And that’ll be my campaign as we go forward.”
At the Tiger Bay forum, it was clear Latvala will have to show he is not a carbon copy of his father. Asked how he is different from the elder Latvala, he said his views are probably 95 percent in line with those of his father, but they differ in terms of demeanor.
“I like to think that I maybe yell a little less and smile a little more than he does,” he said.
In District 64, which covers parts of Pinellas and Hillsborough, Republicans incumbent James Grant faces Republican challenger Miriam Steinberg. The race was supposed to be decided on primary day, but a judge ordered a delay because of complications brought by legal questions over the residency of a write-in candidate, who did not qualify. The election is open to all voters.
The battle for House District 68, which encompasses Pinellas Park and much of St. Petersburg, has familiar names. Democratic incumbent Rep. Dwight Dudley faces Bill Young II, son of longtime Republican Congressman C.W. Bill Young, who died last October. The younger Young dropped the “II” from his name for the ballot.
In House District 69, Republican incumbent Kathleen Peters, former mayor of South Pasadena, faces Democratic newcomer Scott Orsini, a lawyer and environmental activist. Meanwhile, incumbent State Rep. Larry Ahern, a Republican, faces Democratic Lorena Grizzle in House District 67, which covers the Seminole and the northern Pinellas Beaches.
Candidates in those races have been quiet so far.
Mail ballots will go out to overseas and military voters by Sept. 20, and to all others starting Sept. 30. Early voting will be Oct. 20 to Nov. 2.