Joe Henderson: Hillsborough’s blue trend likely to continue

In this election, Democrats look to solidify their hold on the County Commission.

Hillsborough County used to be two distinctly different places politically. It was solid blue inside the Tampa city limits, but once you ventured into the county’s unincorporated areas, it became increasingly red.

The demarcation line led to Republican control of the County Commission for 14 years until 2018. That ended when Democrats Kimberly Overman and Mariella Smith won elections and gave their party 4-3 control. Smith solidly won her countywide race against long-time GOP Commissioner Victor Crist.

Local observers had predicted that Hillsborough’s suburbs were turning purple and even light blue. We saw that play out in 2016 when Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by 7 points in the county.

Hillsborough also chose Andrew Gillum over Ron DeSantis.

As they say, though, all politics is local. Those 2018 Commission races were the strongest evidence things have indeed changed.

That makeover could continue in this election as prospects look good for Democrats. The District 6 Commission race will tell us if Dems can land the knockout punch.

That’s where incumbent Democrat Pat Kemp is running against Republican Sandra Murman, a fixture in the Hillsborough political scene for many years. Murman has to leave her District 1 seat because of term limits. We’ll get to that in a minute.

A recent St. Pete Polls survey has Kemp leading 46%-41% with 14% undecided. That’s despite a significant fund-raising edge for Murman.

If Kemp wins, it potentially leaves Republicans looking at a 5-2 deficit on the Commission. Democrat Harry Cohen is the likely favorite to beat Republican political neophyte Scott Levinson for Murman’s District 1 seat.

In District 3, all signs point to Democrat Gwen Myers having an easy time against Republican Maura Cruz Lanz. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans more than 3-to-1 in the district that covers East Tampa and extends north into the University area.

With a bulletproof margin, the Commission can move ahead on traffic, zoning, growth management, impact fees, and mass transit. With predictions for skyrocketing growth over the next 20 years, those issues are critical for Hillsborough’s future.

The numbers seem lined up for Democrats to move ahead.

They already outnumber Republicans by more than 73,000 in the county.

They’re showing up, too. More than 63% of Hillsborough’s registered voters already have cast a ballot. Of those, about 47,000 more votes came from Democrats than Republicans.

Interestingly, 25,100 voters cast their ballots at the Bloomingdale Regional Public Library in Brandon, a suburb that once was solid red. That’s changing, though, and the early vote total there was easily the highest of any location in the county.

With such a high early vote total, Hillsborough’s final count will likely eclipse the 71% who turned out in 2016.

And if the outcome follows recent trends, Republicans may find it hard to pry Democrats’ hands off the controls of power for years to come.

Joe Henderson

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.


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