Even though she has a new Democratic opponent, Dorothy Hukill is virtually on cruise control in 2014 as she runs for a second term in the Florida Senate.
Hukill drew a major Democratic foe in 2012 when she squared off against Frank Bruno who was well-regarded in the area for his time on the Volusia County Council. The stakes were high and both sides poured hundreds of thousands into the race while outside groups and the major parites ran TV and radio ads. But, despite Barack Obamas and Bill Nelsons coattails, Bruno couldnt keep it close. Hukill won with 57 percent.
Despite 2013 being her freshman year in the Senate, Hukill was a leading figure in that chamber, especially in regard to pushing the manufacturing sales tax exemption. This ranked as one of Rick Scotts chief legislative priorities in 2013. This also made Hukill the Manufacturers Association of Florida Legislator of the Year in 2013.
In the meantime, Hukill has drawn a familiar foe but not exactly one to cause her to lose sleep at nights. In recent days, Richard Paul Dembinsky announced he would end his bid for the Democratic nomination to challenge Jeff Atwater in order to run against Hukill.
Hukill has faced Dembinsky twice before. In 2004, when she ran for the Florida House for the first time, Hukill was the Republican candidate, Jim Ward was the Democratic nominee while Dembinsky ran as an independent. Hukill won with 50 percent while Ward took 47 percent and Dembinsky mustered almost 2.5 percent. In a rematch in 2010, Dembinksy ran as a write-in candidate and offered Hukill her only opposition in the general election. While Dembinsky got more than 100 write-in votes, Hukill won with almost 99.75 percent of votes counted. To his credit, Dembinsky is pretty irrepressible and clearly likes a good fight but, based on their previous clashes, Hukill will be next to impossible for him to defeat.
In the meantime, Hukill has been putting together an impressive war chest to use against Dembinsky or whoever else emerges to run against her in November. Between early January, when she filed to run again in 2014, and the end of November, Hukill brought in almost $270,900 in cash and spent less than $30,600. So far no other opposition besides Dembinksy has filed to run against her.
With this head start and her impressive win over Bruno last time out, Hukill should cruise to another term in 2014 even if she does represent a swing district. Hukill might be a little to the right of some of her voters but she does have deep ties to the area, rising up in Port Orange politics where she eventually served as mayor.
Its tough to see Hukill setting her eyes on other political opportunities since she is 67 and fellow Republicans are blocking her way up to Congress. But its safe to say, based on her early performance in the Senate and her time in the House, that she should remain a conservative and pro-business force in the Legislature for sometime to come.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.