Mark Danish-Shawn Harrison Rematch Complicated by Newcomer

By: Jeff Henderson | Posted: December 16, 2013 3:55 AM
Shawn Harrison, Mark Danish, Bret Wedding

Shawn Harrison, Mark Danish, Bret Wedding

Shawn Harrison wants a rematch with Mark Danish for a Florida House seat representing parts of Hillsborough County but a new Republican candidate could complicate things.

Danish and Harrison duked it out in one of the closest legislative races of the last election cycle. When the smoke cleared, Danish had won by 800 votes, taking 50.5 percent while the Republican incumbent took 49.5 percent.

On paper, this is a district that leans slightly Democratic. In the 2010 gubernatorial campaign, Democrat Alex Sink took 50 percent of the vote in this Hillsborough County district while Republican Rick Scott mustered 46 percent. Democrats make up 41 percent of the voters in this district while 35 percent are Republicans.

With Republicans controlling Tallahassee, expect Harrison -- or whichever Republican emerges -- to be well-funded. 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 as his primary victory 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.

Danish filed to run for another term in the middle of December 2012. Between then and Nov. 30, Danish did not exactly impress with fundraising -- not that it mattered in 2012 when he lagged behind Harrison and Hafeez in the money chase. Danish has raised more than $35,800 and spent almost $6,650. Not bad but not exactly big numbers for a House member. To his credit, Danish has shown twice that he can overcome financial disadvantages to win.

Harrison is beating out Danish in the money race. Since getting in at the end of April, Harrison has brought in more than $50,100 and spent more than $13,250. With Republicans controlling the House, Harrison can expect to get some help from Tallahassee if he gets the nomination.

But Harrison now has a major opponent in the Republican primary. Maj. Bret Wedding filed to run for the Republican nomination in early November after he finished his deployment in Afghanistan. Wedding has an impressive background, including five deployments and commanding the 927th Logistics Readiness Squadron at MacDill Air Force Base since 2010. 

Despite his lack of political experience, Wedding has started out of the gate strong. In the three weeks in November he was in the race, Wedding raised more than $8,000. Harrison is the favorite for the Republican nomination but Wedding is going to be more than a speed bump in his attempts to return to Tallahassee.

With a competitive Republican primary shaping up and an edge in the district, Danish has to feel better about his chances even if he won’t have Barack Obama’s and Bill Nelson’s coattails like he did in 2012. This is increasingly a race to watch.

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

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