Joe Henderson: Andrew Learned knows about the extra mile - Florida Politics

Joe Henderson: Andrew Learned knows about the extra mile

Andrew Learned took time off Sunday from his campaign represent Florida’s 15th Congressional District.

Instead of hanging out or lounging around the house though, Learned competed in the Siesta Key Triathlon. He finished 13th overall.

Supporters shouldn’t fret though. He was back on the trail by midafternoon, tweeting his disdain for President Trump and other political matters.

I mention this because he is a Democrat and the district he wants to represent covers largely conservative parts of eastern Hillsborough and Polk counties and has generally regarded as reliably Republican.

Conventional wisdom says that a Democrat can’t win there.

If politics has shown us nothing else in the last couple of years though, that seems to matter less and less.

For the last year he has been essentially going door-to-door throughout the district, accepting every invitation to meet with civic groups, attending house parties, and building relationships the old-fashioned way — making time, listening, and when asked a question choosing direct answers over talking points.

He is personable, just 32 years old, confident, he has a compelling personal story, too.

He grew up in Valrico and graduated from the University of Tampa, and later interned for a pair of Hillsborough County Commissioners — Republican Mark Sharpe and Democrat Kevin Beckner.

“The first time I met him, I was really impressed,” Sharpe said. “He is a very sharp young man, and I’m not the least bit surprised that he is running for Congress. I’ve been really impressed with him. He has run a very smart campaign. I definitely think he can win.”

Learned was a Republican as a student majoring in economics and political science, but converted because, he said, “the Republican Party left me a long time ago” by its policies on public education, health care, women’s issues, immigration and tax policies that he says hurts the middle class and makes rich guys richer.

“All that money is flying off to the Caymans,” he said.

On his website, he addresses immigration like this:

”Besides the obvious policy of deporting Donald Trump and Stephen Miller, we need a new generation of leaders capable of adding some sanity and common sense to our country’s immigration policy.

“Ripping children from the arms of their parents as a deterrent is abhorrent. We should be striving to keep families together, welcoming our new neighbors, and helping them get on their feet so we can get them to work in our high-demand labor economy.”

That stance might make the hair stand up on the back of the necks of immigration hawks but Learned doesn’t care. If they want to accuse him of being soft on that subject, they should first understand that he is a Navy veteran who had three deployments to the Middle East.

While there, he led small teams on confrontations with Somali pirates. He was the Navy’s surface planner in Bahrain. And as he wryly notes, “It will be hard to beat me because I’m the only person with military experience in this race.”

And as he said to me with a big smile when we met recently at a Valrico Starbucks, “I got an F-rating from the NRA!”

He also has the support of several Democratic Party officials, including U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, who has helped him in fundraising.

Even so, winning the nomination in the Aug. 28 primary won’t be easy.

Lakeland attorney Kristen Carlson jumped into the race just before the filing deadline in May. She has been endorsed by EMILY’S List, a group pushing for women to be elected to Congress and state legislatures, and that helped her jump into the fundraising lead. The Cook Political Report has tabbed her as the favorite among Democrats.

And while it said the district could go blue this fall, the report said it is still leaning Republican.

But Learned is not deterred.

He talks about his army of volunteers, contacting each eligible voter in the primary to tell his story. While we were talking, people were stopping by the outdoor table where we sat to shake his hand and just say hello.

Will it be enough?

We won’t know that until Aug. 28.

Here’s what we do know though. Even in a district that has been represented by Republican Dennis Ross, skeptics better beware before jumping to conclusions and thinking things can’t change.

Learned is in this race to win, and he knows something about going the extra mile.

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

4 Comments

  1. Andrew Learned has the passion and drive to represent us well in Washington. He has my vote. His main openent is the most republican democrat I have ever met. by 6/30/18 47% of her contributors were republicans, 40% of her money came from republicans. She has contributed to anti-choice republicans for the past 10 years.

    Andrew Learned belives in feeding the hungry, treating people fairly, and Medicare for all. We need Andrew Learned in Washing fighting our fight. Again he has the passion and drive to get the job done.

  2. I think it’s despicable that Carlson and EMILY’S list are trying to poach on Learned’s hardwork over the last year of rallying the democratic constituents of district 15. It is not lost on voters that Learned and his supporter’s efforts are why Ross decided not to run for re-election. He’s been in the community for over a year, bringing us together and focusing on change in Washington. Carlson is another example of the dinosaurs in Washington leadership trying to keep the good ol boy mentality alive. She’s funded by major money and will work for major money, not the people. If she was really FOR the people of FL15 she would be working with the people’s candidate and not trying to divide the party and waste financial resources before a tough midterm.

  3. I think it’s despicable that Carlson and EMILY’S list are trying to poach on Learned’s hardwork over the last year of rallying the democratic constituents of district 15. It is not lost on voters that Learned and his supporter’s efforts are why Ross decided not to run for re-election. He’s been in the community for over a year, bringing us together and focusing on change in Washington. Carlson is another example of the dinosaurs in Washington leadership trying to keep the good ol boy mentality alive. She’s funded by major money and will work for major money, not the people. If she was really FOR the people of FL15 she would be working with the people’s candidate and not trying to divide the party and waste financial resources before a tough midterm.

  4. Andrew Learned is the true grassroots, Democratic candidate. He has been spreading his message of inclusion and community, bringing people together with hope for a brighter future, and truly caring about feeding the hungry among us. I fully support Andrew Learned and am grateful for his hard work and tenacity to flip 15.

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