Elizabeth Fetterhoff, Patrick Henry stress bipartisan messaging in battleground HD 26
Patrick Henry, Elizabeth Fetterhoff..

Both have crossover appeal on things like mental health.

Rep. Elizabeth Fetterhoff never had any reason to think reelection would be easy. Former Rep. Patrick Henry knows first hand that’s never the case in House District 26..

After Fetterhoff unseated Henry by 61 votes in 2018, it became all the more clear this jurisdiction remains one of Florida’s hottest battlegrounds. With a rematch in November, the now-incumbent believes her record will stand up with voters and help her win by a larger margin.

“We’ve done a great job over the past two years, and we were obviously more effective than Patrick Henry his two years,” she said.

But the Democrat feels confident as he looks to retake his office.

“She’s more afraid of me than I am of her,” he said.

Fetterhoff said she focused her efforts on bipartisan issues, like health benefits for firefighters and preservation of private property rights. The DeLand Republican secured $17 million in recurring funding for Bethune-Cookman University, working across the aisle with Democratic Sen. Randolph Bracy.

Meanwhile, Henry will focus on pocketbook issues like raising minimum wage and increasing access to health insurance. His website paraphrases former President Barack Obama with a declaration “no one should go broke because they get sick.”

He also promises to tackle some of the issues he worked on his last time in the House like easing traffic congestion and improving resiliency to stop flooding.

The Democrat said it’s no secret appealing to the middle could be what determines the outcome of the race in the fall.

“It depends how we turn out in the Democrats, and also how the NPAs turn out,” he said.

Fetterhoff acknowledges challenges there.

“I know this district is very bipartisan, with 39% Democrats, 32% Republicans and a large portion of NPAs,” she said.

Book closings before the August primary show that boils down to an 8,973-voter advantage for the Democrats. But the 29,886 no-party voters represent a challenge to both sides.

Fetterhoff is focusing on issues like mental health that will be of high priority to voters across the board. That overlaps with other issues like criminal justice reform. She notes almost a third of inmates in state prisons suffer from mental illness and often have no access to medication and services when they get out. Those without continued treatment are more likely to reoffend and land back in jail.

Fetterhoff wants to continue support for those returning to society, something that will help individuals become productive citizens and, in the long run, save on the cost of imprisoning individuals. There are now pilot programs in Miami that have helped reduce jail populations substantially and she’d like to see wide implementation of those efforts.

“We want to get people back into society, to their life and their families,” she said.

Henry, a mental health professional, also touches on the topic, and stresses crossover appeal with issues like support for the Second Amendment and gun rights.

Meanwhile, he’s pretty sure the failures of Republican leadership on full display in the pandemic will undercut the message anything got better for the district under Fetterhoff.

“We’ve got to do something about the unemployment system,” he said. “If Amazon can put out millions of packages — during a pandemic — we should be able to process unemployment benefits.”

Heading into a presidential election, Fetterhoff has her eye on turnout. She hopes more Republican voters come to the polls, but also that independents will feel satisfied with the job she’s done.

While Henry has seen a surge in fundraising this month, Fetterhoff still holds a substantial advantage in terms of cash on hand— $139,393 as of Sept. 4 compared to Henry’s $44,434.

He’s not too concerned about the dollars difference though. Democratic turnout should be up in November, though Henry believes he can’t rely on Joe Biden to win the race for him. But he does believe his own supporters are mobilized.

“She’s raised four or five times more money than I have,” he said. “But we will work hard and try and keep up. We’re just going to try and outwork the other side.”

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


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