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Safe Now Maybe, But ... John Wood's House Seat a Target

April 22, 2013 - 6:00pm

As the 2013 legislative session draws to a close, Rep. John Wood, R-Winter Haven, is in the thick of things, pushing major reforms to property insurance in Florida. But a familiar face is seeking a rematch for this House seat representing parts of Polk County.

While Wood is looking for his bills to reach the finish line, he drew a primary opponent at the end of last week -- conservative activist John Lindsey, who challenged Wood in 2012 and took on Dennis Ross for an open congressional seat back in 2010.

Wood held off Lindsey in the August 2012 primary, taking 65 percent while Lindsey recorded 35 percent in the primary. While Wood spent almost $229,000 in the 2012 election cycle, most of that went toward defeating Democratic challenger Karen Cooper Welzel in the general election. Before the primary, Wood spent around $66,500 while Lindsey spent around $5,400.

As he ramps up for 2014, Lindsey can expect to be outspent again. But he should be used to it. When he ran against Ross in 2010, he was vastly outspent yet still managed to gain 31 percent of the vote.

Lindsey will look to challenge Wood from the right, hammering the incumbent on immigration and for being part of the political establishment. But Wood has conservative credentials of his own to point to, including a perfect 100 score from the American Conservative Union (ACU) for his voting record in 2012. Wood has also been a favorite of the business community, winning high marks from the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Associated Industries of Florida.

An attorney and a businessman, Wood has decades of ties to Polk County, having been born in Lakeland. Currently chairing the Health Innovation Subcommittee, Wood was elected to the House in 2008.

Wood is a favorite to win again in 2014 before facing term limits in 2016, but this is not the most secure seat for Republicans and should not be considered a lock for the GOP at this early stage in the election cycle. While Rick Scott took 51 percent of the vote against Democrat Alex Sink, who garnered 43 percent in the 2010 gubernatorial election, Democrats have a slight numeric edge here. Democrats make up 42 percent of the district; 37 percent of the voters here are registered Republicans.

When she challenged him in 2012, Welzel was seriously underfunded, spending less than $14,500 in the total election cycle. Wood, meanwhile, spent almost $229,000 in the primary and general elections. Despite that heavy financial advantage, Wood won by the skin of his teeth, beating Welzel by only 3 percent in the general election.

Wood starts out the favorite, but an ambitious Democrat could make some political hay here in 2014 -- even if as a precursor to 2016, when the Republican incumbent faces term limits.

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

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