George Soros and an Ousted Congressman Were Some the Highlights of a Memorable Primary Day in Central Florida

Lots to mull over in Central Florida politics after the primaries on Tuesday.

Should we be surprised that U.S. Rep. Ross Spano, R-Fla., is out after losing to Lakeland Commissioner Scott Franklin in the Republican primary? I’m much more surprised about what happened on the other side of the aisle where state Rep. Adam Hattersley, D-Riverview, was beaten by former journalist Alan Cohen in the Democratic primary. Cohen is now set to take on Franklin in November.

Cohen ran hard and had a smart campaign while Hattersley was increasingly quiet after the coronavirus took its grip. Looking ahead to November, Cohen has resources left over from his primary run and will get more from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) which desperately wants to flip this seat that encompasses east Tampa and most of Polk County. Now the former investigative reporter will have to take his shot at Franklin.

The Lakeland commissioner pulled ahead of Spano with a series of late endorsements from respected players in the GOP like Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd and U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla. Franklin’s win comes as a huge relief for the GOP and the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) which did not want to spend precious resources defending a congressman with ethics issues from his last campaign in a district that Democrats think they can win. Franklin will get resources both locally and nationally and should go into November as a slight favorite.

In some races, money still matters–big time. The state attorney’s race in Orange and Osceola Counties offered a reminder of that lesson. Monique Worrell won a crowded primary after getting a huge ad boost from George Soros-backed political committees. This is the second time in a row Soros helped decide this contest. Outgoing State Attorney Aramis Ayala was also a beneficiary of Soros and his dollars but she decided not to run for reelection.

What makes this primary even more shocking is that Worrell beat a well-respected candidate in Belvin Perry, the former chief judge in the Ninth District who is best known as the judge during the Casey Anthony murder trial.

The airwaves were flooded with ads painting Worrell as a progressive interested in social justice and hitting Perry as a former Republican that is part of the “lock ’em up” school of punishment. These ads helped push Worrell to an easy victory. Her victory should mean a continuation of Ayala’s policies. Ayala endorsed Worrell late in the contest after originally supporting Deb Barra, the number two person in her office. What can we expect from Worrell in practice? Several of the people arrested at protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death have already had their charges dropped. Worrell does have a write-in opponent in November but it’s impossible to see her being defeated.

In another key race, Orange County Property Appraiser Rick Singh lost his bid for reelection to state Rep. Amy Mercado, D-Orlando. Mercado was bolstered by money from the theme parks which did not care for the incumbents. Singh had been fighting the parks, especially Disney, in court after evaluating their properties at a much higher level than had been done by previous property appraisers. Other matters also helped bring Singh down. He created his own problems by being sued by former employees, including a criminal investigation that eventually garnered no charges. In the end, though, Mercado’s name recognition and her support from the PACs to get on television pushed her over the top.

There was a lot on the line in Seminole County, most importantly the rural boundary on the east side of the county voters that approved more than a decade ago. When former state Rep. Chris Dorworth could not get more than 1,000 new homes approved east of that boundary that was designed to keep out development. First, Dorworth sued and then he put up two Seminole County Commission candidates of his own, in Longwood Commissioner Ben Paris and Longwood Mayor Matt Morgan, getting them to take on two sitting commissioners that voted against the project. Both incumbents–former state Sen. Lee Constantine and Commissioner Bob Dallari–won easily, showing Seminole Republicans are paying close attention to what is happening in their own community.

Being embattled does not always equal losing an election as Republican Fred Hawkins proved in an Osceola County state House race. Hawkins, an Osceola County commissioner, was suspended from office by Gov. Ron DeSantis after being arrested for impersonating a law enforcement officer just weeks ago over a November 2019 homeowner’s association election incident.

Hawkins easily beat three other candidates in the Republican primary to replace state Rep. Mike La Rosa, R-St. Cloud. Hawkins now faces Democrat Barbara Cady even as his court date looms. Needless to say, Hawkins did not touch on the incident after his primary win.

“Thank you to the voters of House District 42 for their unwavering support of my candidacy, and to our campaign team in Osceola and Polk County for their tireless efforts. Together, we will continue to run an issues-based campaign working toward protecting Florida’s water and natural resources, public safety and education. I appreciate your continued support as we head toward the November general election,” Hawkins said.

Finally, Volusia County offered something as a surprise where county Councilwoman Deb Denys struggled in her bid to take the county chair seat, losing in the first round to anti-growth opponent Jeff Brower.

Brower ran an upstart campaign, relying heavily on social media as opposed to television. He took 45 percent of the vote while Denys pulled in 40 percent. Those two now head to a November runoff in what should be a very contentious race.

 

Mike Synan wrote this analysis. He can be reached at mike.synan@floridadaily.com.

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