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Amanda Murphy holding Tampa fundraiser for SD 16 bid Thursday

Former Democratic Rep. Amanda Murphy is heading to Tampa Thursday night for a fundraising reception benefiting her run for Pasco and Pinellas-based Senate District 16.

The event will be held at Mise en Place, 442 W Kennedy Blvd. #110, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. The invite lists a suggested minimum contribution of $100, though notes that any donation is welcome.

Included on the host committee are former CFO Alex Sink, former Education Commissioner and former USF President Betty Castor, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, former Congressman and 2006 Democratic nominee for Governor Jim Davis and former state Rep. Ed Narain, among others.

Supporters looking to attend the event can send an RSVP to note Shannon@AmandaMurphy.com or call 727-835-8517.

Murphy, a New Port Richey Democrat, served in the Florida House from 2013 through 2016, when she lost by just a handful of votes despite Donald Trump carrying her district decisively.

In 2018, she is running against former Republican Rep. Ed Hooper of Clearwater for SD 16, which covers northern Pinellas and southwestern Pasco counties.

Though she hasn’t put much of a dent in Hooper’s massive fundraising lead thus far, most polling of the matchup has shown a tight race with her on top despite big spending by Hooper’s campaign.

At the beginning of August, an SEA Polling & Strategic Design survey found Murphy up 2 points, 41-39 percent. That edge falls within the margin of error

As the poll noted at the time: “Amanda Murphy holds a two-point lead despite significant spending on Hooper’s behalf throughout July and early August. Two public polls conducted by St. Pete Polls showed Murphy leading or in a dead heat with Hooper which set off fire alarms in the Senate Majority office and likely led to Hooper’s midsummer panic spending.”

The head-to-head between Murphy and Hooper is Nov. 6.

Murphy’s invitation is below.

Amanda Murphy fundraiser invite

Mike Beltran wins tough GOP primary in HD 57

Attorney Mike Beltran is the Republican nominee in HD 57 after his victory in Tuesday’s primary over challenger Sean McCoy.

HD 57 is currently represented by Lithia Republican Jake Raburn, who announced he was not running for re-election to devote more time to family and business.

Democrat Debbie Katt was running unopposed.

The Republican side of the ballot was quite the scrum, though.

Beltran sued McCoy for defamation following a mailer that accusing him of helping an illegal alien get out of jail and back on the streets.

Beltran, a Harvard Law School alum, called it a “defamatory hit piece” and said he was appointed to defend the client by a judge. Beltran said he asked for a 15-year sentence followed by deportation.

Raburn endorsed McCoy, a West Point graduate and U.S. Army veteran.

“Sean’s record of service to his country and his commitment to our conservative principles makes him the best choice to serve our community in Tallahassee,” Raburn said.

“I know Sean will work tirelessly to fight for the conservative values we hold dear and protect our local agriculture industry to help grow our economy. With Sean McCoy in Tallahassee, District 57 will be in good hands.”

Katt, a software designer from Valrico, is a political newcomer.

Susan Valdes leading in HD 62 Democratic primary

Hillsborough School Board member Susan Valdes appears to have overcome months of sloppy campaigning to eek out a win in the Democratic primary for Hillsborough County’s House District 62.

With 34 of 37 precincts reporting some outstanding mail votes, Valdes is leading Mike Alvarez, U.S. Marine Corps veteran by a few hundred votes with medical marijuana activist Chris Cano running a distant third.

Alvarez, who now works for Westfall Roofing, was the first-in candidate for the seat, which has been held for the past eight years by House Minority Leader Janet Cruz.

For the first year after Alvarez filed in May 2017, the primary was rather sleepy. That all changed when Valdes entered the race in the 11th hour — literally — ahead of the candidate qualifying deadline.

Her decision to give up her School Board seat, effective Election Day, turned Hillsborough races topsy-turvy. As a well-liked, albeit, controversial official who has been in office for more than a decade, Valdes was thought to be far out in front of the competition the moment her candidacy became official.

That perception quickly changed as her campaign made one unforced error after another.

First, there was the controversy surrounding her resign-to-run letter. Next, there was the semi-viral video of her dodging a question about whether she would accept campaign contributions from charter schools. That video spawned another troubling allegation — that her campaign threatened to pull strings and have the man who recorded it fired from his job at the State Attorney’s office.

After a brief respite, Valdes was back in the news, this time being admonished by U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor for a campaign mailer that insinuated the congresswoman had endorsed her in the state House race. Another mailer, this one paid for by a group connected to charter schools, led Cruz — a personal friend of Valdes for 20 years — to publicly rescind her endorsement.

Whether Alvarez would have gotten as much attention without Valdes’ repeated gaffes is an interesting ‘what if.’

The way it played out, however, saw the young first-time candidate reel in one major endorsement after another. First up was the Florida AFL-CIO, followed by the Florida Education Association, Castor, and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

Despite weeks of what more closely resembled a Dumpster fire than a campaign, Valdes still had a few supporters in her corner, namely the Florida Realtors PAC, and county Property Appraiser Bob Henriquez as well as the editorial boards of the Tampa Bay Times and La Gaceta.

In the end, it seems that Valdes’ loyal supporters and her name recognition were enough to get her across the finish line in the primary. If her lead is cemented once all votes are counted, her ticket to Tallahassee is all but booked — she’ll be only nominally opposed by a write-in candidate in November.

Todd Marks wins Republican primary for Hillsborough Commission

After spending months revving up to face off for the District 1 seat on the Hillsborough County Commission, Republicans Todd Marks and Aakash Patel found themselves making ambitious first-time bids for the countywide District 7 seat held by exiting Commissioner Al Higginbotham.

The race was an expensive one, and it wasn’t without its fair share of mudslinging but in the end Marks defeated Patel in a landslide, netting more than two-thirds of the vote in the two-way race.

Patel, a Tampa businessman, had built a massive war chest — five days out from the Tuesday’s election he had raised nearly $575,000 between his campaign account and affiliated political committee, Elevate Tampa. Marks, meanwhile, raised about $158,000 for his bid, with much of it coming from his own checking account.

Though Patel’s fundraising efforts were impressive, so was was his ability to pull in big-name endorsements — U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, Attorney General Pam BondiHouse Speaker Richard Corcoran, former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, former House Speaker Will Weatherford, to name a few.

Though Marks wasn’t as flashy or well-funded, he had a few major backers behind him, including Tampa Sen. Dana Young and state Reps. Jackie Toledo and Lawrence McClure. His biggest get, however, was likely the nod from Commissioner Sandy Murman, whose seat he and Patel were competing for before entering the District 7 race.

Patel beat Marks to the airwaves with an ad highlighting his vision for “A Better Hillsborough,” but it didn’t take long for Marks to remix the positive message displayed in Patel’s 30-second spot into a hit piece highlighting some past donations Patel had made to Democratic politicians — while a dive into finance reports did show $1,853 in contributions to Democratic campaigns, it also uncovered $21,875 in donations to Republican candidates.

Rather than dumping oppo on Marks, Patel responded with an ad promising to keep it clean and not shift his message away from the issues facing Hillsborough voters. That move didn’t pay off.

Marks will appear on the November ballot alongside Kimberly Overman, who emerged from the four-way Democratic primary Tuesday. Also contending in the general election is Green Party candidate Kim “KLARC” O’Connor.

Election Day is Nov. 6.

Joe Wicker cruises past Ronda Storms in GOP HD 59

Joe Wicker cruised to a solid victory Tuesday night over long-time political face Ronda Storms to secure the Republican nomination in HD 59.

Wicker had 54 percent of the vote to Storms’ 46 percent.

Storms called Wicker to concede, saying she congratulated him and adding, “Obviously this is not the result I wanted, but God is good.”

HD 59 covers most of Brandon, as well as Valrico, Dover, Seffner, Riverview, Palm River and Clair-Mel City.

Wicker, a Brandon businessman and Army veteran, filed for the seat a day after incumbent Ross Spano announced his Attorney General bid, which he abandoned after deciding to run for the U.S. House of Representatives.

Storms, who served in the Hillsborough County Commission from 1998-2006, and later in the state Senate, was a surprise entrant into this race. She didn’t jump in until several months after Wicker’s announcement.

The race turned dirty down the stretch, with mailers attacking Storms that she said wildly misrepresented her views and actions.

One charge was that Storms voted to approve President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus package, which she vehemently denied in a video on her Facebook page, later repeating that in an interview with Florida Politics.

“That is patently false,” she said. “I never – no, never – voted for President Obama’s stimulus package.”

She repeated that denial for another mailer that said she didn’t do anything about illegal immigration while in office.

“That is also patently false,” she said.

Wicker had to take a break from campaigning a week before the primary after his wife gave birth to what Wicker called on his Facebook page “our newest constituent” – 10-pound, 14-ounce Savannah Leigh Wicker.

Wicker explained his momentary absence by saying, “A man that cannot serve his family cannot serve the community.”

He had the endorsement of the Florida Chamber of Commerce and was endorsed by the Tampa Bay Times.

Robert Doyel defeats Ricardo Rangel in SD 22 Democratic primary

Retired Circuit Judge Robert Doyel of Winter Haven defeated former state Rep. Ricardo Rangel of Osceola County to win the Democratic Party’s nomination for Florida Senate District 22.

The unofficial vote tally was 20,770 for Doyel, or 66 percent of votes cast, to 10,672, or 34 percent, for Rangel.

“I am happy with the outcome, but not resting,” the Doyle said. ” I will continue to run 12 hours a day, seven days a week until I get to Tallahassee.”

The Doyel campaign early on had broadcast that he collected the required signatures from 3,321 voters in Senate District 22 to qualify for the ballot without having to pay a filing fee.

The exercise was not so much to avoid the filing fee but to show he had a wide range of support, a consultant said.

Doyel did not campaign specifically against Rangel. In fact, he ignored him and instead campaigned heatedly against incumbent Republican State Sen. Kelli Stargel of Lakeland, who he now will meet in the general election Nov. 6.

The state Democratic Party has listed Senate District 22 as “viable” and sent assistance down for Doyel.

An internal poll conducted earlier this month showed Doyel with a 5-percentage point lead over Stargel. A Democratic Party official working with the campaign said they didn’t bother with tallies in a head-to-head with Rangel because his recognition factor from those surveyed never went above 20 percent.

Doyel served 16 years on the 10th Judicial Circuit bench before retiring in 2010. But has remained involved with social issues and family issues. He is the author of “The Baby Mama Syndrome,” a book dealing with the problems of unwed teenage mothers.

Rangel, who like Doyel is a military veteran had listed an Auburndale address for his campaign headquarters but would not confirm where he lived. He represented northern Osceola County for a two-year term 2012-2014.

Florida Senate District 22 covers most of northern Polk and southern half of Lake counties.

Senate President-designate Bill Galvano congratulates Ed Hooper on big SD16 win

Senate President-designate Bill Galvano is cheering Ed Hooper on his victory in Senate District 16, which consists of parts of Pasco and Pinellas counties.

Hooper, a former state legislator from Clearwater, handily defeated Palm Harbor restaurateur Leo Karruli in the Republican primary, 79 to 21 percent.

“I would like to extend my congratulations to Ed Hooper tonight for his victory in Senate District 16,” Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, said in a statement. “Ed is a proven, dedicated public servant and community leader, and the Florida Senate will welcome his commitment.”

Galvano continued: “In addition to being an advocate fighting for lower taxes and responsible spending, Ed is committed to stronger measures against criminals, ensuring Floridians have access to more affordable health care, encouraging the presence of law enforcement at schools to protect our students and protecting the financial security of seniors.”

Hooper next faces former Democratic Rep. Amanda Murphy, who currently enjoys a slight two-point advantage in a recent poll of SD 16 voters.

Dianne “Ms. Dee” Hart wins Democratic primary in HD 61

Business owner and activist Dianne “Ms. Dee” Hart has won the Democratic primary for Florida’s House District 61.

As a safely Democratic district, which comprises parts of eastern, central and northern Tampa, HD 61 had no incumbent seeking re-election — as state Rep. Sean Shaw vacated the seat to run for Attorney General.

That meant the primary drew several serious contenders. Hart took the race with 44 percent of the vote.

Other Democrats in the race included teacher Sharon Carter, attorney Norman Harris and attorney Karen Skyers.

The clear fundraising winner, Skyers raised more than $70,000 in support of her run and scored endorsements from Shaw, Ruth’s List Florida and the Hillsborough County LGBTA Democratic Caucus.

Hart, who touts decades of civic engagement and neighborhood activism, lost the 2016 primary for the seat to Shaw by just 101 votes. With $51,000, she was the fundraising runner-up. Her years of experience as a civic leader won her a nod from the Tampa Bay Times editorial board.

As relative newcomers, Harris and Carter trailed in fundraising, pulling in around $22,000 and $4,000, respectively.

All four candidates demonstrated the drive to make a change in Tallahassee, namely on public education, health care and transportation.

Hart will face write-in candidate and FSU student Valion Joyce in November, though it’s unlikely to be much of a contest.

Had Joyce not filed, the race would have been on the November general ballot, which would have allowed thousands more voters to weigh in, not just the district’s Democrats, as was the case Tuesday. Roughly 35,000 of the district’s 95,000 registered voters are not registered as Democrats.

GOP conflict plays out, as Kathleen Peters wins Pinellas Commission primary

If there were a local proxy for the national GOP’s intraparty conflict, it would be Pinellas County Commission District 6.

This three-way race pitted Larry Ahern, a Trump Republican legislator from Seminole, against a St. Petersburg activist with Tea Party roots (Barbara Haselden) and a moderate Republican lawmaker, state Rep. Kathleen Peters of Treasure Island.

In the end, moderation won out: With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Peters has 48 percent of the vote; Ahern is in second place with 36 percent, while Haselden managed to get 16 percent.

The District 6 seat became open upon the passing of Commissioner John Morroni, a moderate Republican who held the seat since 2000.

Although she had yet to term out, Peters eschewed re-election to the House District 69 seat and voiced frustration over the legislature’s efforts to stifle local governments in their ability to pass local regulations on a variety of matters. She was an early and passionate supporter of investing in mental health and addiction and vowed to do so at the county level.

Polling suggested Peters was ahead of her opponents, and she won the recommendation of the Tampa Bay Times.

Ahern, meanwhile, is termed out of his seat.

Arguably the most conservative lawmaker in the Pinellas Legislative Delegation, Ahern was an early supporter of then-candidate Donald Trump. He has generally sided with ultraconservative House leadership, and as a Pinellas County Commission candidate has promised to lower taxes and promote limited government as well as public safety.

A first-time commission candidate, Haselden cited as one of her biggest accomplishments her role in fighting the Greenlight Pinellas initiative, which would have funded expanded transit in Pinellas County via a sales tax increase. A Tea Party activist since around the time President Barack Obama took office, she has also expressed a desire to limit the power of government and impose term limits on commissioners.

Newcomer Amy Kedron, a Democrat who did not face a primary challenge, will also be on the ballot for this seat in November.

Wengay Newton proves incumbency has advantages in HD 70

Incumbency has distinct advantages, as Wengay “Newt” Newton won another term in House District 70 – despite a serious challenge from aggrieved St. Petersburg Democrats.

Given that there are no contenders from any other party, the primary decided who will serve the heavily Democratic district seat.

Yet, if there was a primary for St. Petersburg politicos to watch, it was this.

With echoes of the bitter 2017 mayoral contest, a big question was whether Newton, a Democrat, had a liability on his hands after vocally supporting former Mayor Rick Baker, a Republican, over current Mayor Rick Kriseman, a Democrat.

Challenging Newton were first-time candidate Keisha Bell and Vito Sheeley, who had served as an aide to Democratic U.S. Reps. Cathy Castor of Tampa and Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg, as well as Crist’s predecessor, former Republican U.S. Rep. David Jolly of Indian Shores.

In the end, incumbency won out: Newton took 51 percent of the vote, compared to 34 percent for Bell and 15 percent for Sheeley.

When it comes to core Democratic issues, the candidates weren’t exactly on opposite ends of the spectrum. All were in support of boosting education as well as public housing funding, expanding Medicaid and challenging pro-gun legislation like “Stand Your Ground.” A lawyer and St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce member, Bell added reproductive rights to the list and vowed to make anti-discrimination legislation a priority if elected.

Still, Kriseman allies appeared to go all-in for Sheeley. He landed endorsements from Kriseman as well as Pinellas County Commission Chair Ken Welch, St. Petersburg City Council Chair Lisa Wheeler-Bowman and School Board Member René Flowers.

Newton, meanwhile, scored a recommendation from the Tampa Bay Times.

Newton ended up with around $79,000 in the bank, while Sheeley and Bell raised about $27,000 and $13,300, respectively.

Newton was elected to his seat in 2016. HD 70 comprises parts of Hillsborough, Manatee, Pinellas and Sarasota counties.

It’s a predominantly African-American district that votes overwhelmingly Democratic (Newton beat out a Republican opponent for the seat in 2016 with more than 75 percent of the vote). The lack of an opponent from any other party opened up the District 70 primary to all voters within its boundaries, though it’s unclear whether that would have had much impact on the outcome of this particular race.

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