As Senate District 24 candidate Tom Lee, R-Brandon, continues to rack up high-profile endorsements, opponent state Rep. Rachel Burgin, R-Riverview, has turned to social media to seek support for her grassroots campaign for the seat.
Lee, the former president of the Florida Senate, and Burgin, who is in her second term as a state representative of District 56, which covers Riverview, Bloomingdale and Lithia, will face off in the Primary Aug. 14. The winner will face Elizabeth Belcher, D-Seffner, in November.
"I know I'm not the favorite," said Burgin at a political form at Bell Shoals Baptist Church last week. Lee has more money and more endorsements, she said.
However, in a message to Facebook fans, Burgin urged voters to weigh the issues rather than the personalities.
As of the July 6 recording period, Burgin has raised $122,223 for her campaign, compared to Lee's $199,585.
More importantly, Lee has parlayed endorsements from former House Speaker Allan Bense, Senate President-designate Don Gaetz, state Senators Andy Gardiner, John Thrasher, Joe Negron and Jack Latvala.
Lee also received the endorsement of The Tampa Tribune's editorial board, an endorsement that didn't surprise Burgin.
"Tampa Bay-area newspaper editorial boards have never been particularly supportive of my conservative approach over the years, so it wasn’t a surprise when The Tampa Tribune endorsed my opponent for state Senate," said Burgin.
"What was surprising was The Tampa Tribune’s false claim in its endorsement that my opponent had received the support of former Gov. Jeb Bush," she continued.
In fact, according Jaryn Emhof, a spokesmen for Bush, Bush hasn't endorsed either candidate.
Burgin has requested a retraction from the Tribune.
"Earlier in this race, I reached out to Gov. Bush to discuss this campaign, and requested he remain neutral," said Burgin. "I felt District 24 voters should come to their own conclusions about who to vote for without flashy mailers and political ads featuring his likeness. In the professional and straight-talking manner in which he is known for, he confirmed he would stay neutral, writing in an email, 'I will stay out of the race. Jeb'"
Nevertheless, Burgin lamented that Lee has used photos and video clips in mail and TV ads to imply his endorsement.
Burgin's comments are the latest salvo in a race that has quickly turned ugly.
This week a mailer was circulated in the district alleging marital infidelity by Lee during his previous legislative tenure, prompting Lee call the race the "dirtiest campaign I’ve ever been a part of in 20 years in public office."
The mailer by The American People Committee, whose chairwoman is Tallahassee lobbyist Keyna Corey, prompted Republican Party of Florida chairman Lenny Curry to step in to denounce the personal attacks.
Burgin has said she was unaware of the mailer.
She appealed to voters to weigh the accomplishments of the candidates and their stands on the issues rather than "allow the political elite to pick our next state senator."
"Hillsborough County voters deserve an issue-oriented debate that addresses candidates’ values, records and vision for our community and our state," said Burgin. "Unfortunately, the Tallahassee insiders, deep-pocket special interests and the liberal media would rather ignore the voters and anoint their chosen candidate. I urge all my Hillsborough County neighbors to come to their own conclusions."
Those issues, she said, include the need for reforms to bring jobs back to Florida, the need to streamline state government and eliminate bureaucratic barriers to job creation in Florida.
For his part, Lee said he's running on his reputation and conservative values including his Senate record that includes voting to ban partial birth abortions in Florida, co-sponsoring Florida's first parental notification bill, voting to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman, sponsoring bills to repeal the intangibles tax on savings and investments and helping to pass the landmark "Stand Your Ground" law.
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