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HD 63: Can Mark Danish Beat Shawn Harrison Without Obama's Coattails?

October 15, 2014 - 6:00pm

Democrat Mark Danish upset Republican incumbent Shawn Harrison in HD 63 by less than 750 votes in 2012 and they are now squaring off in a rematch to represent parts of Hillsborough County.

Theres a Democratic edge in this district but Danish underperformed last time out. He beat Harrison by 1 percent while Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney here by 6 percent. Alex Sink held off Rick Scott in this district by 4 percent back in 2010. Still, Democrats make up 40 percent of the district, Republicans 33 percent and independents 27 percent, up from 24 percent in 2012.

Harrison has a big money edge -- but that was the case in 2012 as well. By Oct. 10, Harrison had brought in almost $198,200, spent almost $167,900 of that. Danish, by Oct. 3, had barely raised $119,000 and spent more than $92,500. Both men have relied on in-kind donations, Danish using around $50,350 and Harrison going through more than $48,000 of them.

But Harrison was in excellent financial shape in 2012, only to lose by the skin of his teeth to Danish. In the 2012 election cycle, Harrison spent almost $299,000 and relied on almost $71,700 through in-kind donations. Danish appeared woefully underfunded, spending just over $20,000 -- and around a quarter of that was spent in a competitive Democratic primary. But the Democrat pulled off the upset.

As his primary and general election victories in 2012 showed, Danish is a solid grassroots competitor. Danish had something of a late start to his campaign in 2012, only entering the contest in early April. That still gave him a few weeks over his Democratic rival, attorney Z.J. Hafeez, who entered the race in late May and had run for the Florida House in 2010. Hafeez, who won some press attention due to his youth and Muslim faith, had a strong financial advantage over Danish, raising almost $55,000 and loaning his campaign $8,400. While that was nowhere near the $152,000 Hafeez spent in his 2010 battle, when he came up short against Republican House incumbent Greg Steube, it was certainly enough to think he had the edge on Danish.

When the primary rolled around, it simply did not matter. Danish won 61.8 percent of the vote in a low turnout primary and easily dispatched Hafeez. Shocking even more political observers, Danish would go on to defeat Harrison in November 2012 despite being seriously underfunded.

On many issues, Danish breaks hard to the left and he often leans with his chin. In many ways, his stances and style would seem more at home with Democrats in his old New York City stomping grounds than in the Sunshine State.

Florida has one of the most corrupt state governments in the country, Danishs campaign website claims. Interest groups are purchasing our politicians to give themselves tax loopholes, exemptions, and special favors. The privatization of our state government is simply politicians trying to sell Florida to the highest bidder.

While he rails against Wall Street, the Democrat is often silent on other special interests. A teacher himself, Danish is a favorite of the unions and was active in the teachers union before holding office, even spending more than 15 years as a union representative.

Even in this Democratic district, Harrison will not be a pushover. An attorney who was elected to the House in 2010, Harrison has spent years in Tampa politics, chairing the Tampa Palms Community Development District, winning two terms on the Tampa City Council, leading the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Organization for Transportation. Despite serving only one term in Tallahassee, Harrison was honored by the Florida Fraternal Order of Police as the 2012 legislator of the year for his work on law enforcement issues.

This one looks close, and a survey from St. Pete Poll taken for SaintPetersBlog last month shows Harrison slightly ahead even as Danish runs behind Charlie Crist.Thats a problem for Danish who did the same thing in 2012 when he placed behind Obama. But Danish wont have Obamas coattails this time out. Danish is a strong enough grassroots campaigner to have a shot to win a second term, but Harrison has the slight edge to get some revenge in the rematch.

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

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