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Not Just A Body Of Water — A briefing on Tampa Bay politics – 5.7.18

It’s time once again to rank Tampa Bay’s most powerful politicians.

I am asking several of the leading political consultants, activists, bloggers, operatives and local lobbyists to provide a list of who they consider the 25 most powerful pols in the region.

For the purposes of this experiment, the Tampa Bay region is defined as Pinellas, Hillsborough, and Pasco, but can also include Hernando, Polk or Sarasota — if the politicians from those counties impact either Pinellas or Hillsborough.

If you are interested in being a panelist, please email me at saintpeter4@gmail.com.

Brandes featured at self-driving demo

St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes will be the featured guest at a three-day event in Tampa showcasing autonomous vehicles. The Society of Automotive Engineers’ inaugural SAE Demo Day, to be held May 9-11, will allow attendees to ride down the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway in a self-driving car outfitted by Virginia-based robotics company Perrone Robotics. The Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority is a partner in the event. “Our residents will be able to experience the future of transportation and provide feedback that will be invaluable to industry leaders and policymakers as we chart a course toward the shared, electric and autonomous future,” Brandes said. In 2018, Brandes sponsored a bill allowing the expansion of self-driving cars in Florida.

Belleair Beach mayor endorses Jacques in HD 66

Republican hopeful Berny Jacques received the endorsement this week of Belleair Beach Mayor Leslie Notaro in his bid for House District 66. “I admire Berny’s conservative values, his commitment to listen and his realization that the American dream can only be achieved through hard work and determination,” Notaro said. Notaro is an attorney based in Belleair Beach and was first elected to the city council in 2010 and also serves as first vice president of the Suncoast League of Cities. Jacques faces Nick DiCeglie in the Republican primary to succeed term-limited Rep. Larry Ahern. Also running for the seat are Democrat Alex Hereen and Reform Party candidate Paul Anthony Bachmann.

Six county judges elected unopposed

Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark confirmed six candidates completed the requirements for County Judge during the qualifying period that ended noon Friday. All candidates qualified by either filing the required documents and/or paying a qualifying fee. The 2018 qualified candidates for County Judge include Cathy Ann McKyton — Group 2; Donald Horrox — Group 5; Myra Scott McNary — Group 7; Joshua Riba — Group 11; Loraine Kelly — Group 16; Susan Bedinghaus — Group 17. Each of these candidates was unopposed, will not appear on a ballot and was re-elected automatically. One judge, Claudia Blackwell of Group 11, did not qualify as of the deadline.

Pinellas County judges divorce

Pinellas County judges Christine and Jack Helinger jointly filed for divorce April 23, saying their 23-year marriage was “irretrievably broken.” Christine Helinger served on the Circuit Court since 2016. Jack Helinger serves in the family division. The Helingers said they did not need the court’s help dividing assets and liabilities because they had already completed that process. Records show that in May 2017, the Helingers sold the home they’d owned since 1992 — two years before they were married — for $690,000. Jack Helinger purchased his current home in March 2017. Two days after filing, in what appears to have been an unusually speedy process, their divorce was granted by Jack Helinger’s colleague, Judge Susan St. John.

Chase named Pinellas SOE’s Comms Director

Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark named former WFTS reporter Dustin Chase as the office’s Communications Director. Chase, 36, brings nearly 14 years of broadcast journalism, editorial, marketing and public relations experience. He has a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communications, a master’s degree in Business Administration, and most recently worked as assignment editor and reporter with WFTS-TV/ABC Action News in Tampa, where he coordinated hurricane coverage. Before that, Chase was a journalist in Ft Myers, Miami, El Paso and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Tampa Downtown Partnership staffs up

The nonprofit Tampa Downtown Partnership named Ivy Niven as event coordinator, a newly created position to give the organization a focus on developing functions for members, stakeholders and the community. Acting CEO & President Lynda Remund said: “We’re excited to have a position that is dedicated to the day-to-day management of our events to ensure they maintain and build on the value our attendees have come to expect.” Niven will handle events and meetings on membership development and community engagement, including the Annual Downtown Development, Annual Luncheon and Meeting, Debriefing Series, Urban Excellence Awards and other member-exclusive events. “It’s an honor to contribute to the community I’ve always called home,” Niven said.

State agencies sued for nonpayment in canal fix

A canal running through property in Plant City leased by 3 Seasons Growers was regularly flooding, impairing the nursery’s business. To correct the problem, 3 Seasons entered a cost-sharing agreement with the Hillsborough Soil and Water Conservation District and Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services: 3 Seasons would pay 25 percent of the cost of cleaning and excavating 500 feet of the canal; agencies would pay the rest. The Department of Agriculture called the project “an example of successful cooperative effort” between government and private parties. A contractor, Centerstate Management, completed the work in November 2016, but the agencies never paid their share of the $68,922 bill. In a lawsuit April 4, Centerstate is seeking the court’s help.

Bayfront fights ‘excessive’ property tax bill

In 2017, the Pinellas County Property Appraiser’s office assessed the value of Bayfront’s St. Petersburg parcel at $65.7-million, which resulted in a $1.45-million property-tax bill. The hospital’s parent company fully paid the bill in November 2017 (minus 4 percent early payment discount). Bayfront then protested the appraisal to the county’s Value Adjustment Board, which agreed to lower the property’s value to $62.3-million. A lawsuit filed April 25, Bayfront says the Board didn’t go far enough. The suit names Pinellas County property appraiser Mike Twitty, tax collector Charles Thomas and Leon Biegalski as executive director of the Florida Department of Revenue. Bayfront is claiming the revised assess is “unlawful and invalid” and exceeds the property’s true market value.

Skyway Marina project hits another snag

In 2016, Tampa-based Phillips Development & Realty announced plans to build a 300-unit, $70-million, mixed-use apartment complex called Sur Club in St. Petersburg’s Skyway Marina District. Several web pages describe the project, and one says Sur Club will open in 2018. In December 2017, project engineer George F. Young Inc. filed a lien against its St. Petersburg property, claiming that Skyway Marina LLC owed $166,313 on a $315,625 bill. In a lawsuit filed April 20, Skyway claims George F. Young Inc. breached their contract, in part by producing “deficient work … that had to be redone by a new civil engineer.” Skyway seeks damages for breach of contract, slander of title and filing a fraudulent lien.

Investors accuse Tampa craft brewery of fraud

Within a year of opening Tampa’s Wild Rover Pub & Brewery in 2013, Derek Wells and son Ricky sought out investors to help move the pub to a larger location and build a larger brewery. From 2015 to 2016, Ami Forte and three other parties loaned Wild Rover $725,000 for a combined 35 percent stake in the company, which allowed the Wells’ to move to a new Tampa location. An April 5 lawsuit accuses the Wells family of fraud by selling brewery equipment to a buyer without authorization, signing the rest to themselves as payment of previously undisclosed debts as well as not making payments on promissory notes. Plaintiffs seek repayment; an order stopping the sale of brewing equipment; a freeze on any bank accounts containing proceeds from equipment sales; and dissolution of the LLC.

More Ruskin pot farm troubles

Medical marijuana entrepreneur John Radick says the Ruskin-based 3 Boys Farm “lured” him from Montana in 2017, promising a “substantial salary and the opportunity to be involved in Florida’s newly approved medical marijuana business.” Months after Radick joined the company as COO, President Robert Tornello left over his “rude, abusive, arrogant, retaliatory and offensive conduct.” But when the firm’s owners agreed to sell their stake in the company in March 2017, Tornello returned as CEO. Radick said Tornello was harassing and intimidating; he also claims Tornello cost the company more than $300,000. Radick was fired April 5. On April 24, Radick filed suit for unpaid wages, breach of employment agreement, negligent hiring, training, supervision and retention.

Midtown Academy jazz fundraiser

Advantage Village Academy, joined by Pinellas County School Board member Rene Flowers, presents “Breakfast with Musical Notes,” a special tribute to the Al Dowling Tampa Bay Jazz Association. The musically-themed fundraiser is Saturday, June 9, from 9-11 a.m. at the St. Petersburg Country Club, 2000 Country Club Way. Tickets are $35 per person and feature a full breakfast buffet. AVA is a nonprofit seeking to making a positive difference in neighborhoods in South St. Petersburg through wellness, education programs and activities that educate and empower. The Jazz Association was founded in 1981 by Al Downing and Ernie Calhoun, renowned saxophonist and Tampa-based humanitarian. For more information, contact Flowers at (727) 657-5680 or AVA founder Toriano Parker at (727) 235-4340.

Pay up: Joe Redner seeks costs after winning ‘home grow’ lawsuit

Joe Redner now wants a court to order the state to reimburse his legal costs — including $16,000 for PowerPoint presentations — after he won a lawsuit to start growing and juicing his own medical marijuana.

The Tampa strip club mogul last week filed a motion with Circuit Judge Karen Gievers, seeking more than $45,000 to pay for court fees, transcripts, and travel and lodging, among other things. 

The PowerPoint displays used at trial should be reimbursable, attorney Luke Lirot argued in the motion, because they “were admitted into evidence.”

“All requested costs are within reasonable bounds,” he added.

In a decision now under appeal, Gievers last month ruled that Redner — a 77-year-old lung cancer survivor — has an immediate right to ‘home grow.’ 

His doctors say juiced marijuana is the best way to keep Redner’s cancer in remission. The owner of the Mons Venus nightclub also is a vegan.

Gievers’ order limits Redner to no more than eight ounces or raw marijuana daily, based on his doctors’ recommendations. It applies only to Redner and allows him to “possess, grow and use marijuana” only for juicing.

The 1st District Court of Appeal later reinstated a delay of the effect of the ruling while the case is under review there. Redner has asked that court to expedite the appeal.

The Department of Health regulates medicinal cannabis through its Office of Medical Marijuana Use. Spokesman Devin Galetta again on Monday said the agency “fully expects Judge Giever’s ruling to be reversed on appeal.” 

Alex Heeren adds trio of endorsements for HD 66 bid

Seminole Democrat Alex Heeren announced Monday that a trio of local elected officials is endorsing his campaign for Pinellas-based House District 66.

The new endorsements came in from Belleair Beach City Councilmember Wanda Schwerer and Belleair Bluffs City Commissioners Joe Barkley and Jack Nazario.

“I support Alex Heeren because we need new leadership in the capitol,” Schwerer said in a press release. “Alex has the right priorities – his focus is on the people of our district – and I know that our communities can count on him to stand up for us against special interests.”

Barkley said he was backing Heeren, an educator working for Pinellas County Schools, “because now more than ever, we need more teachers in Tallahassee.”

Nazario added that Heeren “understands the importance of working with the cities and towns in his district to achieve the best possible outcome for our citizens.”

Barkley, Nazario and Schwerer join Pinellas County Commissioner Pat Gerard in endorsing Heeren, who filed for HD 66 at the beginning of the year. He is currently the only Democrat running for the seat.

“I’m honored to have the endorsement of these hardworking public servants,” he said. “I look forward to working collaboratively with all the elected officials in District 66 to improve the lives of the people who live and work here.”

HD 66 covers part of western Pinellas County, including Clearwater, Belleair, Indian Rocks Beach and Indian Shores. It has currently held by Republican Rep. Larry Ahern, who is not running for re-election due to term limits.

HD 66 is a safe Republican seat. In 2016, the district voted plus-14 for Donald Trump. Ahern ran a few points ahead of the top of the ticket, scoring a 17-point win over Democratic challenger Lorena Grizzle.

Heeren will face the winner of the Republican Primary between Pinellas GOP chair Nick DiCeglie and attorney Berny Jacques, each of whom has crossed the six-figure mark in campaign fundraising. Also running is Reform Party candidate Paul Anthony Bachmann.

ardian zika family

Ardian Zika adds two major endorsements for HD 37 campaign

Land O’ Lakes Republican Ardian Zika announced Monday that Pasco Tax Collector Mike Fasano and Sheriff Chris Nocco have endorsed his campaign to succeed House Speaker Richard Corcoran in House District 37.

“Ardian Zika left a civil war-torn country to seek freedom and opportunity in the United States. I’ve represented the people of Pasco County, as their Tax Collector, as their State Senator and as their State Representative and I know what it takes to stand up and fight hard for the little guy and gal,” Fasano said. “I believe Ardian Zika has what it takes to fight hard for the residents of Pasco in our state capitol. Ardian’s integrity, character and faith guide his life and I know he will fight hard for us and represent us well as our State Representative.”

Nocco’s endorsement also touched on Zika’s roots. The Pasco businessman immigrated to the United States from Kosovo in 1997, when the now-independent nation was steeped in conflict.

“Ardian Zika has seen firsthand what happens when people are not safe and secure in their own homes and communities. Ardian fled a country torn by terror and fear, to seek hope and opportunity in the United States,” Nocco said. “Ardian’s path to freedom hasn’t been easy, but his dedication and perseverance led him to earn a degree, become a community banker and operate his own small business. Ardian’s commitment to his family and to his community shines through.  His dedication to seeing each and every person reach their goals is evident. This election, Ardian Zika has my strong support and I hope he can count on your support too.”

Zika, who runs Guardian Street, said he was “humbled” in a statement accepting the endorsements from Fasano and Nocco.

“Both of these men have given selflessly to serve Pasco County and make our community a better place to live and work. I am deeply grateful for their commitment to our community and to each and every resident in Pasco County. I am honored to have received their joint endorsement and am truly appreciative of their support and their endorsement this election,” Zika said.

Past endorsements for Zika’s campaign have come in from St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes, Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson and former House Speaker Will Weatherford. Zika’s campaign announced last week that it had gathered enough signatures to make the HD 37 ballot by petition.

He faces Ryan Patrick BoneyBill Gunter and Elle Rudisill in the Republican Primary, while Tammy Garcia and Denise Mestanza-Taylor are competing for the Democratic nomination.

Through the end of March, he was far ahead of his competition in fundraising with $166,578 raised and $155,117 in the bank. Rudisill had next-best fundraising total, with $13,628 raised and $13,384 on hand.

HD 37 covers the majority of inland Pasco County, including the communities of Land O’ Lakes, Odessa, Heritage Pines, Shady Hills, Meadow Oaks and Moon Lake.

The electorate is about 43 percent Republican, and 29 percent Democrat with 24 percent belonging to no party. Corcoran hasn’t faced a major-party challenger in the Republican stronghold since it was redrawn in 2012.

Aakash Patel

Aakash Patel’s latest big-name endorser? Carlos Lopez-Cantera

Tampa businessman Aakash Patel announced Monday that Lieutenant Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera has endorsed his campaign for Hillsborough County Commission District 1.

“I had the opportunity to get to know Aakash Patel through his work with Leadership Tampa Bay and his service on their Board of Directors since 2014. Aakash has impressed me with his drive, ambition and ability to apply his conservative ideals to encourage and mentor others in the business community and leadership roles,” Lopez-Cantera said.

“I strongly support his effort to become a member of the Hillsborough County Commission where I am certain he will work to consistently apply his solid conservative principals in all that he does. I wholeheartedly endorse Aakash Patel, in his campaign to become the next Hillsborough County Commissioner for District 1.”

Patel, a Republican, is a 2011 graduate and current member of the Board of Directors of Leadership Tampa Bay, a non-profit organization that educates and trains its members on issues facing the Tampa Bay region.

“I am extremely honored to have the support of such a true conservative friend as Carlos Lopez-Cantera,” Patel said. “Having spent time advancing individuals in leadership roles beside the Lt. Governor, I sincerely admire his strength and guidance across the State of Florida. I sincerely thank Lt. Governor Lopez-Cantera for his endorsement of my campaign for Hillsborough County Commission.”

CLC’s endorsement is the latest in a long string of Republican elected officials who’ve lined up to back Patel. Two weeks ago, Zephyrhills Republican Rep. Danny Burgess announced his support, and prior endorsements include Tarpon Springs U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, Panhandle U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, former House Speaker Will Weatherford and Sarasota state Rep. Joe Gruters.

Patel faces fellow Republican C. Todd Marks and Democrat Jen McDonald in the race for District 1, the seat currently held by Republican Commissioner Sandra Murman, who has filed to run for the countywide District 7 seat in 2018.

Patel leads the field in fundraising with more than $433,000 raised and $267,000 on hand through the end of April. Marks has not filed his April report, but had about $76,000 in the bank at the end of March. McDonald filed last month and has not yet filed her first campaign finance report.

Jane Castor has already raised $250K for Tampa mayoral bid

Former Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor has brought in some serious coin since she announced her run for Tampa Mayor in mid-April.

The 31-year TPD veteran has now brought in nearly $250,000 from more than 300 donors.

“The numbers are humbling,” Castor said. “When I kicked off my campaign in April—only two weeks ago—I said that our citizens are our city’s strongest asset. This show of support only reaffirms that conviction for me.”

Castor has spent the past few weeks spreading a “Tampa Strong” message, with the pillars being “a strong foundation, stronger neighborhoods, and a strong economy.”

Her fundraising numbers instantly turn her into a leading candidate in the race to replace Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who is leaving office next year due to term limits.

Castor, 58, was Tampa’s first female police chief, as well it’s first openly LGBTQ police chief. Though the Mayoral race is nonpartisan Castor’s longtime partner, Tampa-based lobbyist and political analyst Ana Cruz, is the daughter of House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz.

The $250,000 total puts her ahead of the next closest candidate, Ed Turanchik, who had raised about $155,000 as of March 31. He announced he would again run for mayor in 2019 in early February.

Of the other four candidates in the race, only Christopher “Topher” Morrison has posted fundraising numbers of any significance – about $16,000 over three months – though a couple of major candidates yet to announce their first fundraising numbers.

District 4 City Councilmember Harry Cohen, a prolific fundraiser, filed in the last few days of March and has not yet shown his April numbers. District 1 Councilmember Mike Suarez made his candidacy official on May 1, so his first report won’t show up until June.

The mayoral election will be held March 5, 2019, when Tampa holds its municipal elections. Also slated for the ballot are the district 1, 3, 4, 5 and 7 city council seats. The new mayor and councilmembers will take office on April 1, 2019.

Fundraiser for Ed Hooper this Wednesday in Palm Harbor

Clearwater Republican Ed Hooper announced a fundraiser for his Senate campaign next week in Palm Harbor.

The May 9 event will be held from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm at Catcher and the Rye, 917 11th St.

More than two dozen names are listed on the host committee, including attorney Ed Armstrong, accountant Steve Bunch, auto dealer Scott Fink, Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, developer Brent Sembler and lobbyist Alan Suskey.

Supporters can get more information on the event or join the host committee by sending a not to Mari Riba at Mari@Hooper4Senate.com.

Hooper is running for Senate District 16, which was vacated earlier this year with the resignation of Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala. Hooper faces restauranteur Leo Karruli in the primary, while Bernie Fensterwald is the only Democrat running for the Pinellas County seat.

Through the end of March, Hooper led the money race with nearly $250,000 on hand in his campaign account and another $95,000 on hand in his political committee, Friends of Ed Hooper.

Fensterwald, through the same date, has brought in nearly $60,000 for his campaign and has about $27,000 on hand. His total includes $44,000 in loans. Karruli has raised $100 in outside money and has loaned his campaign about $4,000. He has $656 in the bank.

Hooper served in the Florida House from 2006 to 2014. Prior to elected office, Hooper worked for 24 years as a firefighter in Clearwater.

Among his endorsements for state Senate are the local branch of the Fraternal Order of Police, Senate President-designate Bill Galvano, Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and former House Speaker Will Weatherford.

The Republican-leaning district covers the communities of Clearwater, Dunedin, Safety Harbor, Palm Harbor, New Port Richey and Oldsmar.

Hooper’s invite is below.

Hooper fundraiser 5.9.2018

Jeff Brandes

Jeff Brandes launches first TV ad of re-election campaign

St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes released his first ad of the 2018 election cycle Monday, touting his military service and accomplishments during the eight years he’s been a member of the Florida Legislature.

The ad, “Oath,” begins with Brandes in a park with his wife and children.

“He took an oath to protect us at home and defend us overseas. Jeff Brandes – U.S. Army veteran, caring family man, successful businessman,” the ad narrator states. “Jeff Brandes has served our country and community with honor and integrity.”

The 30-second spot then shows the SD 24 incumbent speaking with people at a construction site, in a neighborhood, at a diner and at a school.

“Lieutenant Jeff Brandes led over 75 convoys while deployed in the war on Iraq. A leader who brings people together, Jeff Brandes cut taxes, reduced job-killing regulations and worked to create schools of excellence. Jeff Brandes, serving country and community.”

The closing frames of the campaign ad show it was paid for by the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee and includes thumbnails of Tampa Republican Sen. Dana Young and Gainesville Republican Sen. Keith Perry.

“The Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee endorses and urges you to vote for Jeff Brandes, Dana Young and Keith Perry,” the text reads.

Brandes’ Senate District 24 seat, along with Young’s SD 18 and Perry’s SD 8, are top targets for Florida Democrats in the fall. Trial lawyer Carrie Pilon filed paperwork last month to challenge Brandes in his final re-election campaign.

SD 24 is competitive on paper, though Brandes is likely the safest of those incumbents.

Young won SD 18, a Clinton plus-5 seat, with a plurality of the vote two years ago. Perry outperformed the top of the ticket in 2016, winning SD 8 by 5 points while the district voted for Donald Trump by less than a point. Their 2018 opponents are also more intimidating.

Brandes didn’t even face a challenger two years ago, when Trump carried the district by 7 points. Also, unlike SD 8 and SD 18, Republicans have a healthy lead over Democrats in voter registrations, 37-33.

After rumors of Pilon’s entry leaked in March, he flexed his fundraising muscle and boosted his campaign with a $300,000 self-contribution.

He’s also been pulling in endorsements. Notably, he rolled out an endorsement from former Sarasota Republican Rep. Ray Pilon – Carrie Pilon’s father-in-law – the same day she announced her campaign.

Brandes’ ad is below:

Neil Combee launching CD 15 campaign May 12

Former Republican state Rep. Neil Combee is kicking off his campaign for Florida’s 15th Congressional District with an event in Polk City next week.

The May 12 fundraiser will run from 5:30 pm to 9:30 pm at Sunny Acres Lodge, owned by the family of Josie Tomkow. Combee was an avid supporter of Tomkow during her successful campaign to succeed him in House District 39.

The invite bills the event as a low country boil and barbecue, with deep fried frog legs, smoked Alabama sausage and “award winning deserts” making the menu. Dr. Chet Taylor of Dade City will be manning the pit, and supporters can also expect some live entertainment from homegrown country music star Justin Grimes.

The suggested contribution is listed as $100 per couple. Those looking to attend can let the Combee campaign know by sending a message to Neil@NeilCombee.com.

Combee left the Florida House around Thanksgiving to accept a presidential appointment at the USDA, but he was quick to put his name down for CD 15 after current U.S. Rep. Dennis Rossretirement announcement.

He faces several opponents in the Republican Primary, including Dover state Rep. Ross Spano, Sean HarperCurt Rogers and Ed Shoemaker. Thonotosassa Sen. Tom Lee was rumored to run, but announced Thursday that he’d stay on the sidelines.

CD 15 covers Lake County, northwestern Polk County and Northeastern Hillsborough County. It’s a safe Republican seat that voted plus-17 for Donald Trump in 2016.

The invite is below.

She’s back: Amanda Murphy to square off against Ed Hooper for north Pinellas state Senate seat

Amanda Murphy is back.

The Pasco Democrat on Friday told Florida Politics she is running for the state Senate.

The former state Representative said she was “sick and tired” of what’s happening in Tallahassee and that she wants to be back there to “fight the good fight.”

Look for her to file as soon as Monday.

The move comes one week after sources close to Murphy, a Democrat, said she wouldn’t challenge former Republican Rep. Ed Hooper in Senate District 16, the seat vacated by Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala earlier this year.

Murphy held Pasco-based House District 36 from 2013 through 2016, when she lost her seat to Republican Rep. Amber Mariano by 691 votes.

Mariano’s victory was considered an upset by some despite Murphy coming within a half point of re-election in a seat Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton lost by double digits.

In late March, Florida Politics reported that Florida Democrats were actively recruiting Murphy for the SD 16 race as they look to expand their map in the 2018 elections.

Murphy joins Hooper, Democrat Bernie Fensterwald and Republican Leo Karruli in the race. So far, only Hooper has made significant headway in fundraising.

Through the end of March, Hooper had nearly $250,000 in his campaign account and another $95,000 in his political committee, Friends of Ed Hooper.

Fensterwald, through the same date, had brought in about $60,000 and had $27,000 on hand, though his total includes $44,000 in loans. Karruli has raised $100 in outside money and has loaned his campaign about $4,000. He has $656 in the bank.

SD 16 covers northern Pinellas County and southwestern Pasco County, including Clearwater, Dunedin, Safety Harbor, Palm Harbor, New Port Richey and Oldsmar.

Republicans make up about 38 percent of the district’s electorate, while Democrats make up about a third. President Donald Trump carried the seat by 12 points in 2016.

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