Local Democrats Eye Republican Opponents

Democrats running for office, including Gail Gottlieb, Mark Nash, Bruce Barnett and Elizabeth Belcher, face a more-focused race now that their Republican opponents have been decided with votes cast at the 2012 Primary Election.

While much of the media’s attention over the past month was on the Republican candidates in a closed-primary state, local Democrats have been quietly organizing their own campaigns for the fall, free of the distractions of party primaries.

Republicans like Tom Lee and Jake Raburn had to fight for the right to represent the GOP in sometimes contentious and expensive primaries. Those races grabbed the bulk of headlines in newspapers and on TV.

Local Democrats have kept their powder dry, running mostly unopposed in primaries, making few headlines but also not tapping campaign coffers they will need in the fall.

Now that the dust has settled after the 2012 Primary Election on Aug. 14, naming for each party its local standard-bearer, the race is on toward the finish-line vote in November's General Election.

Florida State House District 59

Brandon’s Gail Gottlieb will carry the Democratic banner in her race against Riverview's Ross Spano in a district which includes Brandon, Riverview and Seffner.

Spano beat out three candidates for the Republican nomination, edging Joe Wicker by just 179 votes. The Riverview attorney believes in “creating an environment where small business can create the jobs we need, returning to the founding principles of limited, efficient government and ensuring that our children and their education is our priority.”

Building a thriving economy, quality education, ethics in government and access to health care for all Floridians, are among Gottlieb’s priorities if elected.

“I congratulate Ross Spano on winning the Republican primary and look forward to the general election campaign,” Gottlieb said. “While I know we both care about Florida and Floridians, he and I differ in our approaches to moving Florida forward. For our state to prosper, our government must help create the conditions that allow our communities and businesses to thrive.

“For this, we need a first-class public education system for a skilled workforce, an ethical government, a fair economy that benefits all, and a state that is appealing to business and employees. I believe that good government that serves our communities well can make our state an even greater place to live, do business and raise families.

Florida State House District 57

Valrico resident Bruce Barnett is standing for the Democrats in this district which covers southeast Hillsborough. Barnett, a U.S. Army veteran and businessman, ran unopposed for the Democratic nomination. He will face Republican Jake Raburn of Plant City in the fall. Among Raburn’s priorities are jobs, improving education and public safety.

“I hope to be part of the solution in Tallahassee, helping to get our economy back on track,” Raburn says.

Barnett wants to restore funding to education, revive the economy through investment in the community “instead of corporations” and believes in more equitable taxation.

Barnett, a Florida native, is a U.S. Army veteran with a master's degree in business.

“I spent four years in Military Intelligence and hold a bachelor’s degree in economics as well as an MBA. I have over 20 years of experience in the business world,” Barnett said.

“This mantra of cutting regulations and lowering regulations for business is all puppy dogs and rainbows stuff.  It sounds all nice, but the Republican Party has been in charge for over a dozen years and they have been saying the same thing. Where has that gotten us?”

Florida State Senate District 24

Democrat Elizabeth Belcher faces off against Tom Lee for the right to represent Senate District 24, which includes Brandon, Riverview and Bloomingdale, in November. Lee is a former Florida Senate president and beat out Rep. Rachel Burgin, R-Riverview, in a bruising primary.

Lee is running because “Tallahassee needs determined reformers and problem solvers, not more politicians looking to play games.” Lee believes state government needs “commonsense, determined conservative leadership.”

Belcher is running on the “Four E’s: ethics, economy, education and the environment.”

“When I saw Senate District 24 had only two Republicans running, I knew I had to run,” Belcher said. “I cannot sit idly by and watch as the voters in this district are not given a choice to get off the downward spiral Florida is following and has followed for the last 14 years with the Republicans in charge.”

Belcher cares little who won the Republican primary; it won’t change her campaign, she said.

“I’ve been out campaigning and when I come across someone who says they are a Republican, I ask ‘are you happy with the way Florida is going?’ and are they aware the state has been controlled by Republicans for the last 14 years. Then you see a light bulb go off and people realize 14 years is enough.”

While many Republicans see District 24 as a safe seat, Belcher said they are in for a surprise in the fall.

“The boundary lines of this district have changed (as a result of redistricting). This district now has a different demographic with 36 percent Democrats, 38 Republicans and 21 Independents, and I think my message is resonating with those voters.”

Hillsborough County Commission District 4

Republican Al Higginbotham and Democrat Mark Nash are courting voters in District 4, which includes not only much of Eastern Hillsborough but the southernmost neighborhoods along Tampa Bay, including Sun City. The district also covers Brandon south of State Road 60, Valrico and Bloomingdale.

Nash believes Tuesday’s Republican primary elections helped create stark choices for voters in the fall.

“Voters created very clear choices; there are not a lot of wishy-washy options. I believe it’s a good thing as a candidate,” Nash said. “In my race it’s always been a clear choice.”

Higginbotham is banking on winning another term to a seat he won easily in 2006 because “I’ve paid attention to detail, acted with integrity, kept my word and responded to citizen’s concerns.”

Nash believes his “vision for future of this community with better job opportunities, expanded transportation options and smarter growth management decisions” will win him a majority at the polls.

“Of course I want voters to see things in my favor but more than anything I want voters to have that clarity and see that there are options. We haven’t had options in past,” said Nash who believes the 2006 campaign between Higginbotham and Democrat Lisa Rodriguez was too “kind.”


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