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2020

Cindy Stuart takes out Kevin Beckner in winner take all battle for Hillsborough Clerk of Court

Stuart claimed the Democrat-only race after claiming the conservative lane.

Cindy Stuart will replace Hillsborough County Clerk of Court Pat Frank after defeating School Board member Kevin Beckner with 53% of the vote in Tuesday’s Democratic primary.

Only Democrats were running, opening the Primary Election to all voters and securing the win without a General Election. Frank endorsed Stuart.

“That helped a lot.” Stuart said. “I knew it would depend on the turnout. Right now, I’m focusing on my work at the (school) district. I’m still working for the school district. But I will take a week off. I’m very excited.”

The open primary created an interesting dynamic with Beckner carving out the left lane in the race while Stuart courted GOP support, a strategy that appears to have been successful Tuesday.

Chris Mitchell, an Orlando-based Democratic operative, used the Impact Florida PAC to distribute mailers attacking Beckner as a tax-and-spend liberal and for his 2016 race against Frank, a beloved incumbent, in which Beckner infamously went negative. According to the Tampa Bay Times, the mailers appeared to target GOP voters, which makes sense considering references to increasing taxes.

Stuart embraced the strategy in an interview with Florida Politics’ Joe Henderson.

“It’s an open primary. I don’t understand why anyone thinks that’s an unusual strategy,” she said. “Most people who know me know I’m a Democrat, but they also know I’m a moderate Democrat. I talk to both sides. I can come to the table and have a commonsense conversation about what’s best for our community.”

And she needed the support.

Beckner raised nearly $160,000 as of the most recent campaign reports filed with the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections. Stuart trailed six figures in campaign funding. Heading into August, Beckner still had about $48,000 left to spend in the home stretch while Stuart retained just about $23,000.

Stuart also faced criticism from some within her own party in early August when she was one of only two School Board members to vote against delaying reopening brick and mortar schools for nine weeks.

She said she voted to support children from disadvantaged backgrounds who rely on school not only for education but for social services schools provide that often go unnoticed. Those students also face a higher likelihood of falling behind in a distance learning setting.

But with Democrats more likely to support continued distance learning as a public health precaution and Republicans more likely to support full reopening with parental choice, it looked to some like Stuart was playing to conservative voters, a claim she denies.

Meanwhile, Beckner ran a markedly different style of campaign this cycle, a move that could have won him support from those who may have otherwise been reluctant.

Four years ago, Beckner made Frank’s age, which was 86 at the time, and her work record an issue. Frank’s supporters took that as a rallying cry and helped usher her to an overwhelming victory.

But in this race, Beckner seemed to be trying to make amends for that campaign cycle, often going out of his way to praise Frank, who is now retiring after serving 16 years heading the Clerk’s office.

Stuart’s election is likely welcomed news for Frank, a fellow Democrat, who said she forgives Beckner, but endorsed Stuart.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as senior reporter for WMNF News. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at Janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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