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HD 65: Can Carl Zimmerman Overcome GOP District to Beat Chris Sprowls?

October 21, 2014 - 6:00pm

The third time proved to be the charm for Carl Zimmerman in 2012 but his luck could run out in November.

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.

One Republican who took a pass at taking Nehr on in the 2012 primaries was Chris 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 his youth. 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 Associations House of Delegates and served as national chairman of the ABAs Law Student Division.

Later, as an assistant state attorney, Sprowls prosecuted cases in Pasco and Pinellas counties. His last assignment was serving as a special prosecutor in the Gang Unit of the state attorneys office, once again focusing on Pasco and Pinellas counties.

On paper, Zimmermans Pinellas County district should be a Republican bastion in the Tampa Bay region, with 42 percent of voters registered with the GOP while 31 percent are Democrats. In 2010, Rick Scott took 50 percent of the vote in this district; Alex Sink claimed 45 percent. Mitt Romney did even better than Scott in this district, besting Barack Obama by 8 percent in 2012.

But that wasnt enough to save Nehr and Zimmerman pulled in some of the Republicans and won over independents. More than a quarter of voters in the district -- 28 percent -- registered as independents or with other parties and this gives Democrats a chance to win this seat as Zimmermans victory in 2012 clearly shows. He took 53 percent in November while Nehr pulled 47 percent. For Zimmerman to keep his seat, he will need to decisively beat Sprowls with these voters.

Zimmerman hopes he can appeal to these voters with his focus on education (no surprise, considering hes a teacher) while trying to win over fiscal moderates with his vote for the Republican budget. But Sprowls is highlighting his own fiscal conservatism and his public safety credentials.

Polls show this race will be close. St. Pete Polls released a poll last week which showed Sprowls up by 4 percent, 50 percent to 46 percent.

Sprowls does have an edge in the money chase on paper but there is more to it beyond first glance. By Oct. 10, Sprowls had raised almost $267,500, spent more than $206,000 of it and relied on more than $65,000 of in-kind donations. But much of that was spent in a primary battle against Debbie Faulkner. Less than $14,000 was used by Sprowls after the primary.

Still, Zimmerman simply has not raised anywhere near as much as Sprowls, bringing in $114,000 by Oct. 10 and using almost $91,300 of it and relying on $32,000 of in-kind donations. But to his credit, Zimmerman was smart enough to keep his cash in the bank and has spent more than $75,000 since the August primary.

Despite Zimmerman keeping his powder dry until the final weeks of the election, this district leans Republican. Sprowls simply isnt as easy a target as Nehr was in 2012. The districts Republican tilt should help Sprowls but this one will be close.

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

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