Many political junkies are questioning whether two different entities that support the same goal — a Democrat in Florida’s 15th Congressional District — are backing two different candidates in the primary.
Andrew Learned of Valrico has been a candidate for the post since June 23, 2017, and has the advice and help from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and some well-known Democrats like Congresswoman Kathy Castor of Tampa.
Attorney Kristen Carlson of Lakeland opened her campaign May 2 this year, two days before qualifying deadline for federal office adding that she had been encouraged to run by local Democrats and Emily’s List.
One Democratic candidate, Gregory Pilkington of Indian Lake Estates, pulled out the primary days before federal qualifying for the ballot, accusing the DCCC of supporting Learned in the primary. Learned said he is being given advice from the committee and others, but only after Republican U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross announced he would not run for re-election to the district.
A third candidate in the primary, Raymond Pena Jr. of Lakeland, has been largely quiet since qualifying.
And while Carlson said it was the urging of Emily’s List members that convinced her to jump in the race, she was not listed as being officially recommended among the organization’s 2018 list of 49 women candidates on its website Friday.
The DCCC, as its practice, has not openly endorsed Learned, but Castor’s hosting of a fundraiser for him likely would not have occurred without the tacit approval of the campaign committee.
Carlson sounds like a candidate full of confidence in her run.
“I met with Andrew sometime before I decided to run. I admire him for jumping in the race and the work he has done for a year, but then the gameboard flipped when Dennis announced that he would not run again,” Carlson said. “We have done our work. We have already identified and hired some staff members, but I am not going to release all the names until we have the full staff on board.”
Carlson said she does not believe having three Democrats in the CD 15 race weakens the movement to elect a Democrat there.
“The benefit of having more than one person in a (primary) race is that people get a choice for the primary as well as the general,” she said.
Learned, who began running for the spot more than a year before Ross announced he wouldn’t run said his campaign is perplexed by Carlson’s claim about Emily’s List support because he has seen no official endorsement. Some attending Castor’s Valrico fundraiser for Learned said the campaign expressed upset with the late entry.
“I wouldn’t say upset,” Learned said of his staff’s comments. “It’s just very confusing. If you are claiming (Emily’s List) support, then why isn’t she on the actual endorsement list?”
He said Carlson’s stances were not the same as many he is pushing forward.
“She sat on the bench on Parkland (shooting) and she wants to make the tax cut permanent. She is out of touch with the party of 2018,” he said.
Still, the two candidates’ shadow boxing with each other promises a vigorous Democratic primary for the seat, something lacking for a couple of decades in the heretofore solid-Republican district.