Two faces quite familiar to New Tampa voters — Republican Hillsborough County commissioners s Ken Hagan and Victor Crist — both easily won their primary elections Aug. 28, officially kicking off campaigns which, if successful, would result in them exchanging seats on the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners. Meanwhile, Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum pulled off a shocker statewide that reverberated nationally.
Gillum shocked almost everyone with a win in Florida’s Democratic gubernatorial primary, to set up a showdown with Donald Trump-endorsed Republican Ron DeSantis to replace Rick Scott as Florida’s governor.
Both gubernatorial candidates defeated establishment-backed candidates, setting the stage for an interesting fall battle that will match contenders from what many believe to be the party’s bases.
With his victory, Gillum, a progressive candidate backed by U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, becomes Florida’s first black gubernatorial candidate, after he defeated favored Gwen Graham, the daughter of popular former Florida governor and U.S. senator Bob Graham.
Although he was fourth in many polls leading up to the primary vote and was outspent by Graham $13 million to $2.5 million, there was talk of a Gillum surge in the final days, which turned out to be prescient.
Gillum captured 34.3 percent of the state-wide Democratic vote (or 517,834 votes of the 1,509,794 cast). Graham finished second with 31.3 percent, while Phillip Levine (20.3 percent) and Jeff Greene (10 percent) rounded out the top candidates in the Democratic field.
“People didn’t think we had a chance, but we did,” Gillum told CNN shortly after being declared the winner. “I think voters have had enough with the status quo.”
DeSantis, first elected to Congress in 2012, represents the Daytona Beach area and originally ran for the U.S. Senate in 2016, when it appeared that Marco Rubio, coming off an unsuccessful presidential campaign, was not going to run. Once Rubio re-entered the Senate race, DeSantis exited.
Running behind former Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam at the time, DeSantis fully embraced an endorsement from President Trump in the spring and it shot him into a lead he never relinquished. DeSantis was the choice of 913,955 Republican voters out of 1,618,372 who cast ballots in the primary, or 56.4 percent. Putnam was a distant second with 36.5 percent.
President Trump congratulated DeSantis on the win the night of the primaries, and the next morning, he attacked Gillum, calling him DeSantis’ “biggest dream…a failed Socialist Mayor named Andrew Gillum who has allowed crime and & other problems to flourish in his city.”
In New Tampa’s voting precincts, DeSantis beat Putnam by a smaller but still decisive 50-43 percent margin. Putnam won only three precincts — 357 and 358 in Tampa Palms, and 671, which primarily encompasses Pebble Creek — but only by a combined 13 votes.
Gillum was much more popular in New Tampa than in the state in general, winning 45 percent of the vote in our precincts to just 32 percent for Graham. In votes cast just for Gillum or Graham, Gillum was the choice 58 percent of the time.
Locally, Hagan, a former New Tampa resident now residing in Carrollwood who previously served in New Tampa’s District 2 before being elected to represent countywide District 5, defeated Chris Paradies 72.4 percent to 27.6 percent in the Republican primary race for the District 2 seat.
Currently the longest current serving county commissioner, Hagan has raised $485,574 and barely touched his war chest to beat Paradies, spending $98,773 (which is almost twice as much as Paradies and Hagan’s November 6 opponent, Democrat Angela Birdsong, have raised combined).
Birdsong was the only Democrat to file for District 2, which is currently the seat held by Comm. Crist.
Crist is running for Hagan’s soon-to-be-vacated District 5 seat (both are term-limited out of their current positions), and defeated Angel S. Urbina Capo for the Republican nomination with 81 percent of the vote.
Crist’s Democratic opponent in November is expected to pose a much stiffer challenge. Mariella Smith, a local businesswoman, is a first-time Democratic candidate but has the backing of U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor and other state Democratic leaders.
Smith garnered 83 percent of the ballots cast, or 77,228 votes, to 15,904 for her opponent in the primary, Elvin Piggott.
She has shown the kind of fund-raising prowess that could help her overcome Crist’s money and name recognition, with $81,423 raised and just 14,007.14 spent.
Crist has raised $129,080 but has spent $88,814. “When I fund-raise, I do it to benefit the nonprofit organizations I support (like the University Area Community Center),” Crist said. “I don’t spend any time fund-raising for my campaign.”
In District 7, another countywide seat currently held by outgoing commissioner Al Higginbotham, Todd Marks defeated Aakash Patel in a bitterly fought Republican primary.
Patel spent more than $400,000 trying to the win the nomination, and boasted endorsements from Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, State House Speaker Richard Corcoran, former Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford and U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis.
However, Marks, who spent only about a third of what Patel did, picked up 68 percent of the vote in a surprisingly decisive win.
Marks will face Democrat Kimberly Overman for the District 7 seat in the fall. Overman, a financial planner, took 47 percent of the vote in a four-person field, finishing well ahead of second-place Sky White, who had 20 percent.
In Hillsborough School Board elections, New Tampa’s District 3 seat, currently held by Cindy Stuart, was not on the ballot this year, but a countywide seat in District 6 (to replace April Griffin) was up for grabs, as a field of six candidates battled, with Henry “Shake” Washington (32.7 percent) and Karen Perez (28 percent) advancing to a November runoff.
In what will be another hotly-contested local race on Nov. 6, District 63 State Rep. Shawn Harrison, a Republican, will try to hold onto his seat against Democrat candidate Fentrice Driskell. Neither candidate faced a primary opponent on Aug. 28..