After two terms in the Florida House, Brad Drake stepped aside after redistricting in 2012 so fellow Republican Marti Coley could finish her last term. Drake has been running to return to Tallahassee ever since but now he has a major Republican opponent.
Earlier this month, Realtor Jan Hooks filed to run for the seat which covers all of Holmes, Jackson, Walton, Washington counties and part of Bay County. Hooks has been a leading Realtor around the Emerald Coast and Northwest Florida for well over a decade and has dabbled in public service, sitting on the Freeport Zoning and Planning Board.
Hooks is clearly a serious candidate and shes relying on a familiar face to help with her campaign accounts -- Eric Robinson, the longtime accountant, Republican leader and donor based out of Southwest Florida.
Still, Drake will be no easy mark for Hooks. He served two terms in the Florida House and he does have deep roots in the area. Drake also has strong family ties to Florida politics, with his grandfather having served in the Florida House off and on during the 1930s through 1950s, and his cousin Pat Thomas serving almost three decades in the Florida Legislature, including a stint as Senate president in 1994. Closer to home, Drakes father served as superintendent of Walton County Schools in the late 1970s.
Drakes been raising campaign cash and rolled over his earlier bid for a third term into his current operation. While this isnt an expensive part of the state to campaign in, Drakes fundraising hasnt exactly impressed. Since starting his campaign in January 2011, he has raised $95,100 through the end of December. Granted, money goes a long way in Northwest Florida compared to other parts of the state, but Drake has already gone through more than half of what he has taken in. By the end of December, Drake had burned through more than $49,500 of his campaign cash.
Democrats outnumber Republicans here but they are conservatives and the district should be safe for the GOP. While 47 percent of voters here are Democrats and only 41 percent are Republicans, there are no Democrats in the race here. Its pretty telling that Rick Scott took 62 percent of the vote here back in 2010.
Whoever wins the primary will at least face Libertarian Karen Schoen come November. While she had only around $500 in the bank at the end of the year, Schoen does have some experience, remaining active on issues, appearing on the radio and leading efforts against Agenda 21. Shell be an underdog for sure against either Drake or Hooks but, if she is the only other candidate in the general election, she has a great chance to break 10 percent and at least make an impact. Schoen simply wont have her name on the ballot and will at least try to make a campaign of it.
It was widely assumed in Tallahassee that Drake would simply cruise back to the Florida House. Drake still has a good chance of returning to Tallahassee but it wont be a cakewalk by any stretch. This primary battle will be one to watch in August.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson writes exclusively for Sunshine State News.