GOP Primary Battle to Take on Carl Zimmerman is One to Watch in 2014

By: Jeff Henderson | Posted: December 23, 2013 3:55 AM
Debbie Ann Faulkner, Carl Zimmerman, Chris Sprowls

Debbie Ann Faulkner, Carl Zimmerman, Chris Sprowls

Republicans are feeling good about challenger Chris Sprowls' chances of picking up a Florida House seat by taking down freshman Democrat Carl Zimmerman, but a new GOP hopeful could complicate things in attorney Debbie Ann Faulkner.

While he had run against Peter Nehr before and came close to beating him in 2006 and 2008, Zimmerman finally defeated the Republican incumbent in 2012 after racy photos of Nehr surfaced on the Internet. Despite his win in November, Zimmerman now ranks as one of the Republicans’ top targets for 2014.

On paper, Zimmerman’s Pinellas County district should be a Republican bastion in the Tampa Bay region, with 42 percent of voters registered with the GOP while 32 percent are Democrats. In 2010, Rick Scott took 50 percent of the vote in this district; Alex Sink claimed 45 percent.

But with more than a quarter of voters in the district -- 26 percent -- registered as independents or with other parties, Democrats have a chance to win this seat as Zimmerman’s victory in 2012 clearly shows. He took 53 percent in November while Nehr pulled 47 percent.

But Zimmerman had a united party behind him. Despite being an incumbent, Nehr, on the other hand, faced three primary challengers -- Marg Baker, Tony Perfetti and Philip Tropea. Nehr went on to win the primary in August with 53 percent, a sign of weakness for such an established incumbent taking on a field of poorly financed challengers.

One Republican who took a pass at taking Nehr on in the 2012 primaries was Sprowls. Despite first jumping into the race against Nehr, Sprowls quickly headed to the sidelines to focus on running in 2014, when Nehr would face term limits.

Sprowls has an impressive background despite not yet celebrating his 30th birthday until next month. The son of a New York homicide detective, Sprowls was raised in the Tampa Bay area. In high school, he was diagnosed with cancer. After chemotherapy he headed to the University of South Florida and, eventually, Stetson Law School. During his time in law school, he was elected to the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates and served as national chairman of the ABA’s Law Student Division.

Sprowls later served as an assistant state attorney, prosecuting cases in Pasco and Pinellas counties. His last assignment was serving as a special prosecutor in the Gang Unit of the state attorney’s office, once again focusing on Pasco and Pinellas counties.

To his credit, Sprowls spent 2013 reeling in the support of some big-name Florida Republicans including the likes of Jeff Atwater, Gus Bilirakis, Pam Bondi, Jeff Brandes and Mike Fasano. After spiking his 2012 campaign for 2014, Sprowls has continued raising money, bringing in almost $97,250 and loaning his campaign $2,000 by the end of November. So far, Sprowls has kept his powder dry, spending less than $10,350.

Sprowls has started with an impressive haul, especially considering, by the end of November, Zimmerman raised less than $43,900 and spent around $900 of it.

But, despite this head start, Sprowls has a primary opponent. Faulkner, an attorney based out of Palm Harbor, jumped in the race earlier this month.

Like Sprowls, Faulkner has an impressive background. A local product, she graduated cum laude from Stetson at the ripe old age of 19 before heading off to Cornell for law school. She served as an assistant state attorney in Pasco and Pinellas counties before going into the private sector earlier this year. Right before she entered, Faulkner was recognized as an “Up and Comer” by the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She certainly won’t be a pushover for Sprowls despite his impressive 2013.

It’s an interesting Republican primary battle to say the least, with two rising stars battling it out to take on Zimmerman. This is setting up as one of the more interesting legislative primaries and general elections in Florida.

Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this story exclusively for Sunshine State News.

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