Dennis Ross Archives - Florida Politics
Kristen Carlson - CD 15

Shock Poll: Kristen Carlson leads Ross Spano in first poll of CD 15 battle

Florida’s 15th Congressional District was considered a gimme to Republicans not so long ago, but political handicappers and oddsmakers have been shifting the seat away from the GOP in recent weeks.

A new internal poll released by Democratic nominee Kristen Carlson puts some weight behind those shifts — it shows her with a 1-point lead over Dover state Rep. Ross Spano among voters living in CD 15, which covers parts of Hillsborough, Polk and Lake counties.

The poll, released by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, conducted live interviews with 400 CD 15 voters with a sample that was 36 percent Democrat, 42 percent Republican and 22 percent with no party affiliation.

When asked how they would vote generically, respondents favored Republicans 42-36 percent, however, that margin tightened to 48-47 percent in favor of the GOP when respondents were asked how they would vote in a generic congressional race. When the names of the two candidates were revealed, respondents said they preferred Carlson by a point, 48-47 percent with 5 percent undecided.

Also noted by the Carlson campaign was her 10-point lead among unaffiliated voters, who preferred the former prosecutor and General Counsel for the Florida Department of Citrus over Spano, a third term state lawmaker, 54-44 percent.

“Kristen Carlson’s vision of making healthcare more affordable, and protecting Social Security and Medicare is clearly resonating with the hard-working people of Florida’s 15th district,” said campaign manager Conor Hurley. “Kristen is focused on the issues that matter to voters and not the partisan politics of Washington, DC. This district needs a representative that will stand up for working families not special interests, and voters know that Kristen is fighting for them.”

Carlson is leaning on her record as she looks to flip the Republican seat currently held by U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, who announced earlier this year that he would not seek re-election in the fall. To that end, she’s already hit the airwaves with an ad touting her role in exposing companies that added harmful chemicals to juice kids drink in school.

According to the model from FiveThirtyEight, founded by analyst Nate Silver, Carlson has a 25 percent chance of flipping the district. Additionally, University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato rates the seat as “Likely Republican” while the Cook Political Report lists it as “Lean Republican.”

Through Aug. 8, Carlson lead Spano in overall fundraising with about $305,000 raised to his $221,000. Spano leads in cash on hand, however, with $111,000 in the bank compared to $51,000 for Carlson.

Spano earned a resounding victory in the five-way primary for CD 15, defeating his toughest competitor, former state Rep. Neil Combee, 44-34 percent. Carlson, likewise, took a majority of the vote in the three-way primary between her, Andrew Learned and Ray Peña.

CD 15 covers parts of Hillsborough, Lake and Polk counties. It voted plus-10 for President Donald Trump two years ago while Ross scored a 15-point victory over Democratic nominee Jim Lange.

The Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research survey was conducted Sept. 4-8 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.

Carlson and Spano will go head-to-head in the Nov. 6 general election alongside three write-in candidates who also qualified for the election.

Hear Sheriff Grady Judd set record straight about whether he backs Ross Spano

He doesn’t.

Despite a glowing quote on a Ross Spano for Congress mailer, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd hasn’t backed anybody in the open House race in Florida’s 15th Congressional District. And he’s pissed anyone thinks he’s on Spano’s side.

In audio released to Florida Politics, Judd makes clear he never endorsed a candidate in the Republican Congressional primary, but he sure doesn’t favor Spano.

“Hello. I’m Sheriff Grady Judd, and I’m angry,” the audio starts. “Ross Spano is trying to trick you.

“He used my picture and a quote from a press conference, then mailed it to thousands of people, giving the false impression I’m supporting him. I’m not supporting Ross Spano.”

He goes on to reference the District 59 representatives ‘no’ vote on the bill, legislation opposed by the National Rifle Association. His strong critique comes because the Riverview state representative voted against the school safety bill passed in the wake of the Parkland shooting.

“He [Spano] voted against protecting our children this year, and he is misleading you,” Judd says in the audio. “I have not endorsed anyone—yet. Now you know the truth.”

So what prompted the angry missive? Spano’s campaign recently sent out a mailer with a picture of himself and the sheriff with a pull quote reading “Ross Spano is a hero in my eyes.”

The content of the mailer comes from an event in which Judd and Spano proposed an alternative set of measures.

But support for this separate proposal from Judd did not translate into opposition to a broader bill ultimately passed and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott. Spano, in contrast, voted against the bill that ultimately passed.

“There was something in that bill for everyone not to like, but at the end of the day I supported it for the sake of the children,” Judd told The Tampa Bay Times.

“I told him [Spano], ‘You cast a political vote.’ You’re saying, ‘My political future’s more important than keeping the children safe.’ “

The header on Ross Spano’s Twitter page at the moment is a picture of Judd and Spano together.

While Judd makes clear he has yet to pick sides in a competitive four-way primary, the audio comes from former state Rep. Neil Combee’s Congressional campaign, a decent indication of Judd’s much friendlier relationship with the Lakeland native.

Construction company owner Sean Harper, Ruskin Chamber leader Danny Kushmer and conservative activist Ed Shoemaker also seek the Republican nomination, which will be decided in a primary on Tuesday. The seat opened up this year after Republican U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross announced his retirement.

Neil Combee takes lead in CD 15 Republican primary, poll shows

Former Auburndale state Rep. Neil Combee isn’t leading by double digits, as indicated by a recent poll commissioned by his campaign, but he does have an outside the margins lead in the Republican primary for Florida’s 15th Congressional District.

According to a new survey from St. Pete Polls, Combee has the support of nearly 36 percent of likely primary voters followed by Dover state Rep. Ross Spano at 30 percent. Another 22 percent of those polled are undecided, while the other three candidates vying for the GOP nom — Sean Harper, Danny Kushmer and Ed Shoemaker — poll in the low single digits.

The new results are the first time Combee has led in a public poll of the race. The last measure from St. Pete Polls, released July 9, showed Spano with a 32-20 percent lead over Combee, which itself was a breakaway for the one-time Attorney General candidate compared to a late May survey from the same pollster, when he led 29-23 percent.

Combee’s current 6-point lead mainly comes from running up the score among the two-thirds of Republicans who said they plan to vote in the primary but haven’t cast their ballot yet. Among the third who have already sent in their mail ballots, his lead over Spano tightens to 36-35 percent followed by Shoemaker at 9 percent, Kushmer at 7 percent and Harper at 3 percent.

Among the other subset, where there’s still two weeks left to duke it out, Combee leads Spano 37-26 with 28 percent undecided and none of the other three breaching 5 percent support.

Standouts in the date include Combee’s large lead among women, who prefer him over Spano by a margin of 36-27 percent. Among men, however, that 9-point gap is halved. Similarly, Combee holds a large lead among voters over 70, while Spano leads by 8 points among middle-aged voters and ties with Combee in the 30-49 crowd. Young Republicans, a very small subset in the poll, prefer Spano by a margin of 3-to-1.

Spano’s slippage in the polls can likely be partially attributed to the “mild cardiac event” he suffered late last month — the health scare followed an intense workout and the campaign said at the time that the 52-year-old lawmaker was “expected to make a full and complete recovery.”

Still, that kept him grounded from campaigning for at least a week during the critical leadup to primary Election Day, and but according to a new interview with Florida Daily, Spano is back on the campaign trail. He also had some positive words for President Donald Trump, who carried CD 15 by 10 points two years ago, saying the Commander in Chief has exceeded his expectations since taking over as President and expressing support for some of Trump’s cornerstone politicies.

“People want a wall built,” Spano said. “They want to be safe in their communities. They want to know that certainly criminal illegal aliens that they are picked up by local authorities that they are turned over to the federal government to be deported. That is an important thing.”

Combee’s lead appears to have grown during Spano’s downtime, which came just a few days after Combee released his first TV ad touting his connections to Trump — he resigned from House District 39 last year to accept a presidential appointment at the USDA.

But, as of Monday, Federal Communications Commission filings don’t list any media buys to back up Combee’s ad and it’s unclear when or if he plans to get it on the air. Spano, the fundraising leader on the Republican side, announced his first 30-second spot on Friday and already has media buys in place throughout the district, making him the first of the five GOP contenders to truly hit the airwaves.

CD 15 is split between Hillsborough and Polk counties, with about 10 percent of the district’s voters living in Lake County.

Though the seat had been considered a Republican lock, the retirement of current U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross combined with strong fundraising from Democratic candidates caused the political handicappers at the Cook Political Report to shift their assessment from of the seat from “Likely Republican” to “Lean Republican.”

CD 15 is still rated “likely Republican” by Sabato’s Crystal Ball, the prediction newsletter from University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato.

The winner of the Republican primary will face whomever emerges from the three-way contest for the Democratic nomination between former Citrus Commission general counsel Kristin Carlson of Lakeland, Navy veteran Andrew Learned of Valrico and aviation instructor and retired police detective Ray Pena of Lakeland.

Carlson leads the overall field in fundraising and started hitting TV on July 26. Learned has nearly matched her in fundraising, though he’s been in the race a good deal longer. He announced a TV ad on Aug. 6, though no media buy has been made by his campaign according to FCC records.

Both primary elections are Aug. 28. The general election is Nov. 6.

The St. Pete Polls survey was conducted Aug. 11 and Aug. 12 and polled 360 registered Republicans who said they planned to vote in the CD 15 primary election. The results has a margin of error of plus or minus 5.2 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.

Poll puts Neil Combee up big in CD 15 primary

A new poll shows former state Rep. Neil Combee has a monster lead in the primary contest for Florida’s 15th Congressional District.

The Strategic Government Consulting poll, conducted Aug. 7 and Aug. 8, the Auburndale Republican is the pick for 31 percent of primary voters while Dover state Rep. Ross Spano, who had a double-digit lead in an early July measure from St. Pete Polls, is in a distant second place with 17 percent support.

The other three GOP contenders — Lakeland contractor Sean Harper, Brandon agribusinessman Danny Kushmer and Lakeland mental health practitioner Ed Shoemaker — showed up in the low single digits.

Despite the strong showing for Combee, two-fifths of Republican voters said they were still undecided three weeks out from the Aug. 28 primary election.

One thing voters were in near universal agreement on was their love of President Donald Trump. According to the poll, a full 87 percent of Republican primary voters in the district gave the president a positive assessment, including nearly three-quarters who said they “strongly approved” of him. Just 10 percent said they disapproved of him 19-months into his presidency.

Interestingly, voters were also asked whether they would vote for Trump’s preferred candidate come Election Day. Voters answered that question in the affirmative by a 58-12 margin, with 30 percent saying a presidential nod would not sway them one way or the other.

Though Trump has weighed in on the Governor’s race and a couple congressional races, he hasn’t issued an endorsement in CD 15. If he were to do so, however, Combee would be the likely recipient considering he gave up his seat in the state House last year to accept a presidential appointment at the USDA.

CD 15 is split between Hillsborough and Polk counties, with about 10 percent of the district’s voters living in Lake County. The district, which voted for Trump by double digits two years ago, is open in 2018 due to the retirement of current U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross.

Though previously considered a Republican lock, the lack of an incumbent combined with strong fundraising by Democratic candidates Kristen Carlson and Andrew Learned have caused political handicappers to shift their assessments of the seat from “likely Republican” to “lean Republican.”

SCG automated phone poll collected 508 responses from likely Republican voters. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.


CD 15 Republican Primary poll by Andrew Wilson on Scribd

Andrew Learned says ‘dark money’ fueling Kristen Carlson’s CD 15 bid

Valrico Democrat Andrew Learned attacked his primary opponent in Florida’s 15th Congressional District on Wednesday over recent spending by a so-called “dark money” group.

The Learned campaign pointed to recent Federal Elections Commission filings showing that a super PAC by the name of “REINVESTING IN AMERICA” had tossed $19,487 to Washington-based Resonance Campaigns for a data file and a direct mail campaign in support of Lakeland Democrat Kristen Carlson.

Resonance Campaigns says it creates “direct mail and digital content for labor unions, Democratic candidates and progressive organizations.” The shop’s website shows off work completed for public employee union AFSCME, labor union SEIU and a Democratic state senator in Virginia, among other clients.

REINVESTING IN AMERICA, however, is a little more secretive about its work.

Documents available on the FEC website show the committee was opened in mid-July by Lauren E. Leonard, a former federal employee who most recently worked as the White House liaison at the U.S. Department of Commerce during the Obama Administration.

The committee has not yet filed a finance report, though the spending reports it has turned in indicate it has also spent about $75,000 on direct mail campaigns backing Detroit Democrat Haley Stevens, a former Obama Administration official who on Tuesday won the primary for Michigan’s 11th Congressional District.

The Learned campaign said the lack of transparency in who is funding REINVESTING IN AMERICA is troubling while also hitting Carlson for past campaign contributions to Republican politicians, most recently a $50 check to Bartow Republican Jennifer Spath, who lost the special primary for House District 39.

“Dark money is coming in at the last minute to help Carlson, after she wrote thousands of dollars in checks to Republicans,” said campaign manager Jaden Slagle. “There is no place for this in the Democratic Party. This is shameful and Kristen Carlson needs to disavow this group.”

Learned’s team then reiterated the candidate’s vow to not accept contributions from corporate PACs and to end Citizens United.

While that commitment is becoming more common among Democratic politicians, it’s important to note that independent expenditures — what REINVESTING IN AMERICA’s spending is classified as — must be made without consulting or communicating with candidates, otherwise such expenditures are considered campaign contributions and subject to limitations.

Carlson and Learned are running alongside Ray Pena in the Aug. 28 Democratic primary for CD 15, which is open due to the retirement of Republican U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross.

The winner of the Democratic nomination will face one of five Republicans, likely Dover state Rep. Ross Spano or former Auburndale Rep. Neil Combee, in the Nov. 6 general election.

CD 15 is split between Hillsborough and Polk counties, with about 10 percent of the district’s voters living in Lake County. The district voted plus-10 for Donald Trump two years ago and had been considered a Republican lock, but the combination of Ross’ retirement and strong fundraising numbers from the Democratic candidates caused the political handicappers at the Cook Political Report to shift their assessment from of the seat from “Likely Republican” to “Lean Republican.”

Ross Spano

Family Research Council backs Ross Spano for CD 15

The political arm of the Family Research Council announced Wednesday that it’s backing Dover state Rep. Ross Spano’s campaign for Congress.

Spano, currently in his third term representing Hillsborough County’s HD 59, is one of five candidates seeking the Republican nomination in Florida’s 15th Congressional District. When it comes to championing “individual liberties” and “strong family values,” FRC Action PAC said Spano was the top pick.

“As a native Floridian, you have a unique understanding of the issues facing your district and the values important to your constituents. As a small businessman, you have been an advocate for family-friendly tax reform,” FRC Action PAC executive vice president William Boykin wrote in an endorsement letter.

“You have also demonstrated a strong commitment to life, family, and religious freedom, championing religious freedom by voting to protect churches and adoption agencies from being forced to provide services that might violate their deeply held religious convictions,” he continued.

The Family Research Council is a staunchly Christian conservative group that takes hard line stances against abortion and LGBTQ rights and is in favor of increasing the role of Christianity in public life. In addition to endorsements U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Attorney General Pam Bondi and numerous other Republican politicians, Spano has received the recommendation of another pro-life group, Florida Right to Life.

“I could not be more honored to receive this endorsement from an organization that prioritizes the protection of our shared Conservative values,” Spano said in a press release. “I look forward to continuing this fight on behalf of the constituents in CD15.”

Spano faces former Auburndale state Rep. Neil Combee, Lakeland contractor Sean Harper, Brandon agribusinessman Danny Kushmer and Lakeland mental health practitioner Ed Shoemaker in the primary race. A St. Pete Polls survey released early last month showed him in the lead with nearly 32 percent support.

Spano also leads the primary field in fundraising with $157,068 raised including loans through the end of the second quarter. He had $108,275 banked and $88,025 in campaign debt at the end of that reporting period.

CD 15 is split between Hillsborough and Polk counties, with about 10 percent of the district’s voters living in Lake County. The district voted plus-10 for Donald Trump two years ago and had been considered a safe Republican seat until Ross’ retirement announcement and the subsequent fundraising successes of the Democratic candidates in the race — with the help of self-funding, Lakeland Democrat Kristen Carlson topped the field with nearly $250,000 raised in Q2, while Andrew Learned has raised $223,618 since filing for the seat prior to Ross’ announcement.

That led the political handicappers of at the Cook Political Report to shift their assessment of the race from “likely Republican” to “lean Republican.” Sabato’s Crystal Ball, the prediction newsletter from University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato, still lists the district as “likely Republican.

The primary election is Aug. 28.

Andrew Learned pitches ‘Medicare for All’ in first CD 15 ad

Valrico Democrat Andrew Learned is out with his first TV ad in the crowded race for Florida’s 15th Congressional District, saying he’ll fight for “Medicare for All” if elected to fill the open seat currently held by retiring U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross.

The 15-second spot, titled “Human Right,” features the Navy veteran shaking hands with his would-be constituents and throwing shade at U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as he vows to support the aforementioned health care solution championed by independent U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

The short script for the ad: “In Congress I’ll fight for ‘Medicare for All,’ because health care is a human right,” Learned says. “We need to protect our health care from Republican attacks. I’m Andrew Learned Democrat for Congress — it’s time for a new generation of leadership.”

In a press release announcing the new ad, Learned reached across the aisle with a personal anecdote as he said health care was the most important issue of the 2018 cycle and that “Medicare for All” was a solution people of all political persuasions could get behind.

“If anyone tells you this election is about anything other than health care, they haven’t been paying attention,” he said. “My mom is a lifelong Republican, but she has been a hospice nurse for decades and she supports Medicare for All. In the richest country in the world, no one should die because they can’t afford treatment. That’s why I am fighting for Medicare for All and a new generation of leadership — one that puts principles over politics and will fight for what is right.”

Proponents of “Medicare for All,” analogous to single-payer, would bring health care access to all Americans regardless of their income. A recent study from a Koch Brothers-funded conservative think tank found the proposal could save Americans up to $2 trillion over the next decade, however, the study’s principal author claimed that was a misrepresentation after Democrats, including gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum, seized on that figure.

Learned’s ad comes a couple weeks after his chief opponent in the CD 15 Democratic primary, Kristen Carlson of Lakeland, started hitting the airwaves with a 30-second spot touting her role in exposing and stopping out-of-state orange juice manufacturers tampering of Florida products.

Learned and Carlson are running alongside Coast Guard veteran and former police officer Ray Pena to become the CD 15 Democratic nominee. Until recently, the seat was considered safely Republican, but the political handicappers at the Cook Political Report recently shifted their assessment from “Likely Republican” to “Lean Republican.”

CD 15 is split between Hillsborough and Polk counties, with about 10 percent of the district’s voters living in Lake County. The district voted plus-10 for Donald Trump two years ago.

The winner of the Democratic primary will face one of five Republican candidates seeking their party’s nomination for the post. The best known among them are former state Rep. Neil Combee and current state Rep. Ross Spano, who led the primary field by double digits in a recent poll.

Learned’s ad is below.

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.

Ross Spano

National Realtors back Ross Spano for Congress

The National Association of Realtors Political Action Committee jumped into a crowded pool of candidates in Florida’s 15th Congressional District and backed Republican Ross Spano for the seat.

The Florida Realtors PAC announced the endorsement on Friday.

“Florida Realtors PAC recognizes Ross Spano’s record of supporting homeownership and private property rights in the Florida Legislature and we look forward to his continued leadership on key real estate issues in the 116th Congress,” said Ann DeFries, chair of Florida Realtors PAC Trustees.

“Ross will be a strong voice for Florida Realtors and property owners.”

The national Realtors PAC bases its endorsements on recommendations from the Florida group.

Spano, a Dover Republican, has served in the state House since 2012. He enjoyed the support of Florida Realtors before. The association and members heavily supported his 2016 re-election campaign, according to Follow The Money.

Spano is one of five Republicans and 11 candidates overall looking to succeed retiring Rep. Dennis Ross, a Lakeland Republican.

To date, Spano leads the Republican field in fundraising, with more than $108,000 in cash on hand as of second quarter financial reports. Neil Combee, Florida director of the USDA Farm Service Agency, has more than $86,000. International Responsible Farming Council leader Danny Kushmer has upward of $54,000. Construction business owner Sean Harper has more than $43,000. Conservative activist Ed Shoemaker has about $3,000.

But Democrat Kristen Carlson, a Lakeland attorney, actually holds the lead in fundraising for this seat, with almost $192,000 in cash on hand. She’s one of three candidates running in a Democratic primary in a district the party hopes to flip this year. Business owner Andrew Learned also has more than $65,000. Raymond Pena also will appear on the primary ballot but has no cash on hand.

The national and state Realtor PACs historically have contributed outside spending in races, which could provide Spano with an added boost. And fundraising situations could change significantly after nominees emerge from the Aug. 28 primary.

Cook Political Report lists the open House seat as “Leans Republican,” Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball counts it as “Likely Republican.”

Cook Political Report puts CD 15 in play for Democrats

An open seat in Florida’s 15th Congressional District, held by a Republican since 1984, could be in play for Democrats and Kristen Carlson is the front-runner in the Democrats’ primary, according to the latest assessment by the authoritative Cook Political Report.

The report, which analyses congressional elections, has lowered its assessment of the race in the district, from “Likely Republican” to “Lean Republican.”

Part of the reason is the disarray and competition among Republicans, the report indicates.

Five Republicans are competing for their party’s nomination for the general election to replace U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross of Lakeland, who is not running for re-election.

But the report narrows the front-runners for the GOP to Rep. Ross Spano of Tampa and former Rep. Neil Combee of Polk City.

Left unsaid is that the race of the two front-runners mirrors the competition in the party between Polk County, which has had control of the district for decades and Hillsborough County, which after the last redistricting, has the most voters in the district.

Carlson, a former general counsel for the Citrus Commission and current counsel for citrus juice producers, joined the race two days before the qualifying deadline. She is running against Navy veteran Andrew Learned of Valrico and aviation instructor and retired police detective Ray Pena of Lakeland, both of whom have been in the race for more than a year.

She has been endorsed by EMILY’s List, a national organization that promotes and supports the election of women to Congress and state legislatures. In part, because of the endorsement, she has amassed a campaign war chest of almost a quarter of a million dollars, larger than any Democrat or Republican in the race.

Learned has also acquired campaign funds close to $200,000. The primary might also be a Hillsborough-Polk race on the Democratic side too.

However, the Cook Political Report notes:

“This district is well within the strike zone of plausible Democratic targets, and Carlson’s experience with citrus could make her formidable in November, particularly if Republicans struggle to unite.”

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