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Saturday, Nov 18, 2017
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Republicans face primary in whirlwind special election for Plant City-area House seat

PLANT CITY — With qualifying completed this week, the field is set in a whirlwind special election to replace state Rep. Dan Raulerson, R-Plant City — and the race could come down to two candidates in a Republican primary, Yvonne Fry and Lawrence McClure.

Three other candidates, all less well-known, qualified by the deadline this week: Democrat Jose Vazquez, Libertarian Bryan Zemina and no-party candidate Ahmad Hussam Saadaldin.

The primary election between McClure and Fry will be Oct. 10 and the general election, Dec. 19.

The winner will have to seek re-election on the 2018 regular election ballot, but will run with the advantages of incumbency.

But for now, the action will be between the two Republicans, both of whom qualified by gathering petitions rather than paying a qualifying fee.

McClure surprised the field by announcing an impressive start to campaign fundraising, more than $90,000 in the week or so after he filed. The total and sources aren't yet publicly recorded because the candidates haven't yet filed campaign finance reports.

McClure, who has said he has the ability to self-fund much of the race if necessary, said that total includes no loans and no contributions from himself so far, and came from "family and friends."

Fry is countering with a raft of endorsements from her base in Plant City, the center of the northeast Hills-borough County district — County Commissioner Al Higginbotham; school board member Melissa Snively of Brandon, who represents the Plant City area; all five members of the Plant City Commission and former Commissioner Billy Keel.

Fry hasn't announced any fundraising figures, but said, "We're on track with what we feel like we need to raise in this race."

Both Fry and McClure represent long-time Plant City families.

McClure, 30, is originally from Tampa, where his business, an environmental cleanup and consulting firm, is located, but he has lived in Dover for about five years and is married to the former Courtney Newsome, who's from a multi-generation Plant City family.

McClure is a member of the Hillsborough County Farm Bureau board.

Fry was born and grew up in Plant City, daughter of a chicken and strawberry farming family, and has started several businesses in telecommunications and marketing.

She has a long history of civic activity in Plant City, as chairwoman of the local Chamber of Commerce board, past chairwoman of both the state and county commissions on the status of women and The Spring of Tampa Bay, and as a member of several other boards including the city Board of Adjustment.

One potential Republican candidate, Colton Curry, son of well-known East Hillsborough conservative political activist Clif Curry, decided at the last minute not to run. Curry said he backs McClure.

The lone Democrat in the race, Jose Vazquez, 43, has run frequently for local office, including mayor of Tampa. He lost to Raulerson for the same House seat in 2016 by 58-42 percent.

Vazquez, 43, divorced with six grown children, is from Puerto Rico, where he was a campaign operative for high-level candidates in Puerto Rico's New Progressive Party. He moved to the United States in 1999, has worked as a security guard and is now self-employed in an auto recycling business.

In 2007-09, Vazquez served time in prison for repeatedly driving with a suspended license. His civil rights were restored in 2009.

Vazquez, who lives just outside the district in the East Lake-Orient Park area, has also filed to run for the state House in 2018 in District 62.

He said he had hoped another, more prominent Democrat would run in the special election, but decided to qualify when that didn't happen.

John Dicks, a former Plant City mayor and Democrat, had been considered the party's best hope of competing in the race, but opted out.

Zemina, 30, is a mechanical engineer from Temple Terrace married to surgeon Chrissy Jokisch-Zemina. He's a first-time candidate who said he chose to run because of a long interest in politics, and hopes to further the Libertarian philosophy of smaller, less-intrusive government, but also advocates stricter limits on money in politics.

"I don't have a solution right now, but when we get mega-donations from special interest groups and corporations, there are favors to be owed," he said.

Saadaldin, 26 and single, lives in Temple Terrace. His family originally is from Iraq. He graduated from the University of South Florida in 2014 in public relations, and now works as a documentary film producer focusing on human rights causes.

Since his time at USF, he's been involved in a movement to urge public institutions including the university to shed investments in companies that he believes violate human rights, including private prison companies, fossil fuel companies and companies doing business with Israel, which he said are complicit in Israeli violations of Palestinian rights.

Raulerson, in the midst of his third term in the House District 58 seat, resigned unexpectedly from the state House last month citing business and health reasons.

He's said he's staying neutral in the race, but Fry said he showed up Thursday at a fundraiser for her at Johnson Barbecue at Fred's Market, a popular political gathering spot in Plant City.

Contact William March at [email protected]

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