Bruce Rector backs ‘conservative outsider’ Vincent Nowicki for Pinellas County Commission

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'He is a conservative outsider who will keep taxes low and stand up for the tourism community.'

Clearwater Mayor Bruce Rector is endorsing Vincent Nowicki in his race for District 3 on the Pinellas County Commission.

Nowicki, a Republican, is running to replace Democrat Charlie Justice on the dais. But he faces a Primary first, against conservative influencer David Leatherwood.

Rector, also a Republican, brings a bit of star power to Nowicki’s campaign. Rector earlier this year defeated Clearwater City Council member Kathleen Beckman in the city’s mayoral race, part of a conservative sweep that saw GOP-backed candidates win every race on the nonpartisan ballot.

“Mayor Rector has quickly established himself as a conservative star in Pinellas County,” Nowicki said of Rector’s endorsement. “His recent election shows that he has a clear mandate to lead Clearwater and I look forward to working with him while I serve on the County Commission. I am honored to have his support.”

Rector said he’s backing Nowicki because he’ll “be a great advocate for Clearwater on the County Commission.”

“He is a conservative outsider who will keep taxes low and stand up for the tourism community. He has my full support and endorsement,” Rector said.

Nowicki will likely have the advantage in the GOP Primary, with several local conservatives already backing him, including Rep. Kim Berfield; Redington Shores Mayor Lisa Hendrickson; St. Pete Beach Mayor Adrian Petrila; Redington Beach Mayor David Will; Belleair Beach Mayor Dave Gattis; Madeira Beach Mayor Jim Rostek; Treasure Island City Commissioner John Doctor; Gulfport City Council member Christine Brown; Gulfport City Council member Ian O’Hara; Redington Beach City Commissioner Rich Cariello; and former Madeira Beach Mayor John Hendricks.

Nowicki has also secured endorsements from former St. Pete Mayor Rick Baker; former St. Pete City Council member Robert Blackmon; School Board members Stephanie Meyer and Dawn Peters; Largo City Commissioner Curtis Holmes; Seminole Mayor Leslie Waters; and the late former St. Pete Council member and School Board member Bill Dudley. A local Fraternal Order of Police chapter has also endorsed Nowicki.

Republicans now hold a nearly 20,000-voter registration advantage in Pinellas County, with 245,003 voters compared to just 226,063 Democrats. That’s a sizable lead, especially considering that Republicans historically turn out in greater numbers than Democrats. While Justice’s seat includes parts of west St. Pete and Lealman, it is elected countywide.

The GOP voter registration advantage also means no-party or third-party voters will play a big role in election outcomes next year. There are nearly 193,000 voters not affiliated with a major party.

That could be a big deal, at least in the Primary against Leatherwood. Nowicki’s latest endorsement came just as Leatherwood rolled out a package of endorsements including several people in former President Donald Trump’s orbit, including former advisor Roger Stone, who was convicted on felony charges related to Russian interference in the 2016 election. Trump ultimately pardoned Stone and commuted his 40-month sentence.

The Primary could be a boon for Justice, who remains at a slight funding disadvantage against Nowicki, with Justice raising just under $48,000 as of the most recently available financial reports, compared to Nowicki’s nearly $65,000. Leatherwood has raised less than $7,000, though has only been in the race since mid-June. With a Primary challenger on the ballot, Nowicki will have to use resources to clear that hurdle before he can take on Justice.

Democrats lost ground on the County Commission in the 2022 cycle, with Gerard losing her seat and Republicans claiming a 4-3 advantage. They are now looking to expand that advantage, with Republicans running against Justice and in the open race for countywide District 1, which Democrat Janet Long is vacating.

It’s widely believed that if the GOP picks up either seat, it will be next to impossible for Democrats to win back their advantage in less than 10 years. If they manage to keep both seats blue, party operatives are hopeful the pendulum will swing back in Democrats’ favor within the next two or three election cycles.

Justice narrowly held onto his seat the last time he was up for re-election, with barely more than 50% of the vote against GOP challenger Tammy Sue Vasquez.

Janelle Irwin Taylor

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 [email protected].

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