Republican Traci Koster came to the race late in Florida House District 64. Koster joined the race in August after incumbent James Grant bowed out, taking a job as the state’s Chief Information Officer.
Koster replaced Grant on the ticket just in time to get her name on the ballot, through a process that allows the party clubs in county’s affected by ballot changes to rename a new nominee when one drops out of a race.
So who is Traci Koster and how does she stack up as Grant’s replacement?
Koster grew up in the Tampa Bay area in both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.
“This is the community where we’re raising our family and I feel very strongly connected to this community,” Koster said of her husband and two young children.
She works as a family law attorney, work that drives her as a pro-family, conservative candidate.
One of Koster’s top campaign priorities is protecting and expanding school choice — ideas like charter schools and voucher programs.
“We need to make sure our parents are involved in the education decisions that are made for our children,” Koster said.
Koster is focusing her campaign broadly on traditional conservative values — a strong economy built on fiscal conservatism. But she’s steering away from getting too specific on policy proposals or details — a strategy crucial after entering the race late.
She faces Democrat Jessica Harrington who has been campaigning for the seat for two years. Harrington has amassed nearly $160,000 since filing for the seat in late 2018. Koster has raised just under $56,000, but has done so in just over one month with a significant boost from the Florida GOP, which no doubt is trying to hold the seat.
Prior to Grant’s exit, Harrington seemed a long-shot candidate running against a well-known, well-funded and well-connected incumbent. Now she faces a political outsider who jumped into the race long after the gun.
Still, Koster has an edge in a district that favors Republicans by nearly 12,000 voters, as of the 2018 midterms. And she has all the trappings of a conservative rising star — a soundly conservative platform, a happy family that drives a commitment to family values, a thriving legal career and, perhaps most importantly, help from Grant and the Republican Party.
“He’s been very supportive,” Koster said of Grant’s help in her race. “He’s obviously busy, but he’s supportive.”
“This race is really just about bringing common sense conservative policies and problem solving strategies to Tallahassee,” she said. “That’s what I’m trained to do and I’m going to bring that to Tallahassee.”
If elected, Koster will no doubt face a mountain of challenges related to COVID-19 and he havoc it’s wreaked on the state’s economy. Koster said her priority will be reopening businesses, but in a way that is safe.
“We recognize that needs to be done safely,” Koster said. “Florida is already doing a decent job of that and we want to keep that going. We want to get people back to living their lives.”
Koster also wants to “support and defend” law enforcement.
“I don’t think we can make laws and policies because of one bad actor or a few bad actors,” she said.
Yes, she said, social justice is important.
“But first and foremost, we need to support law enforcement because they keep our cities safe.”
Koster recognizes the deficit she faces entering the race less than three months before Election Day, but it’s a challenge she’s prepared to tackle.
“Her number is bigger than mine,” Koster said referring to Harrington’s fundraising. “But when you look at the amount of time I’ve been running I think it’s pretty clear how much support we have.”
Koster raised nearly $47,000 from Aug. 22-Sept. 4. Of that, $25,000 has come from the Republican Party of Florida. The party donated $2,000 the first day Koster entered the race. Still, that means she’s raised about $28,000 from individual donors and political action committees since Aug. 17, as of Sept. 4.
While Koster appears to have gotten her operation up and running quickly and effectively, Harrington’s campaign has also shifted into overdrive and Democrats have taken notice of what became an unexpected opportunity. The Florida Democratic Party kicked in $8,000 after Koster took over for Grant on the ballot. Pinellas Democrats donated another $5,000.
One thing’s for sure, it’s now a race worth watching.