ST PETERSBURG — While the governor’s race and the medical marijuana amendment drew much attention Tuesday, a handful of state legislative races played out in Pinellas County. Some were predictable contests between incumbents and lesser-known newcomers. Others were highly competitive jousts where the drama didn’t end until the polls closed.
In the end, in a county where all legislative seats up for election were contested, Republicans had by far the most victories — though Democrats managed to hold onto two House seats.
Many candidates waved signs at polling places on Election Day, hoping to catch the attention of still-undecided voters.
At the Sunken Gardens polling site in St. Petersburg, state Rep. Dwight Dudley, a Democrat, and his sons stood near the entrance flagging down voters. Like most candidates Dudley said he didn’t want to miss any potential votes.
Dudley defeats Young
That last-minute hustle probably was a good move. Dudley, a St. Petersburg lawyer elected to the House in 2012, bested his challenger, newcomer Bill Young, the son of the former congressman of the same name who died about one year ago. Young, a Republican, raised more money than Dudley in a bid to represent the southeastern Pinellas district. Voters ultimately chose Dudley.
Sprowls bests Zimmermann
For North county incumbent Rep. Carl Zimmermann, a Democrat facing a challenge from Republican first-time candidate Chris Sprowls, the opposite happened.
Sprowls, a prosecutor with the Pinellas County State Attorney’s Office, and Zimmermann, a teacher at Countryside High School, had similar positions when it came to Duke Energy and the condominium conversion law. But they differed on Medicaid expansion. Sprowls was against it; Zimmermann was for it. Sprowls managed to outraise Zimmermann, and ultimately voters went with the newcomer.
Rouson keeps House seat
The other Democrat who held his seat was state Rep. Darryl Rouson, who first won in this overwhelmingly Democratic district in 2008. With a no-party candidate and a write-in contender running against him, he was a shoo-in. Term limits will make this his last term in the House.
Jack Latvala re-elected
Also walking into another term is Republican state Sen. Jack Latvala. Heavily Republican Senate District 20 chose him over Tony Caso, a tea party conservative running as a Libertarian.
Brandes rebuffs McLauchlan
His neighbor to the south, District 22 state Sen. Jeff Brandes, had a tougher time but was able to fend off a challenge from Democratic political science professor Judithanne McLauchlan with the help of a million-dollar war chest and money from a state party political action committee.
That race was considered one to watch among Florida politicos, given the area is considered a swing district. While McLauchlan launched an aggressive campaign hammering Brandes on the issues early on, her opponent prevailed with help from outside groups.
“It was a great opportunity, I think, to be able to draw attention to issues that really needed to be discussed,” McLauchlan said.
Peters wins over Orsini
Another race pitted the southwestern Pinellas district’s incumbent, GOP Rep. Kathleen Peters, and Democratic newcomer Scott Orsini. Peters, who significantly outraised Orsini, won handily after a contest in which the candidates sparred about late-night robocalls made on Peters’ behalf.
As was the case in most state legislative races, both candidates criticized Duke Energy’s billing practices.
Chris Latvala wins too
In the contest for this mid-county seat, Republican Chris Latvala, the senator’s son, defeated Democrat Steve Sarnoff. Latvala outraised Sarnoff, a longtime union activist who had extensive support from unions.
“It feels a bit surreal,” Latvala said Tuesday. “We worked very hard. Tonight we celebrate but tomorrow we get to work.”
Both said they would be an independent voice in the Legislature, but Sarnoff on Tuesday said he is skeptical and will watch to see if Latvala will, for example, hold Duke Energy accountable as promised.
Ahern withstands Grizzle
Another Republican incumbent, state Rep. Larry Ahern, held onto his seat despite a challenge from schoolteacher Lorena Grizzle, a Democrat and the daughter of longtime state lawmaker Mary Grizzle. Both campaigns for the Largo seat were low-key compared with some other legislative races in the county, but the two candidates tried to distinguish themselves on the issues. For Grizzle, public education funding was key, as was transit-friendly infrastructure. For Ahern, it was creating a more business-friendly climate without damaging the state’s environment.