Sean Shaw has the Edge in Hillsborough County House Race

By: Jeff Henderson | Posted: December 10, 2013 3:55 AM
Shawn Shaw

Shawn Shaw

Democrats might not have much of a chance of picking up the Florida House in 2014 but the stakes are high in Hillsborough County where an intriguing primary contest is shaping up for the seat held currently by the term-limited Betty Reed.

Attorney Sean Shaw, best known for his time as Florida’s insurance consumer advocate and for being the son of former Chief Justice Leander Shaw, has emerged as a serious candidate to replace Reed. But he has a major primary opponent in businessman and community activist Edwin Narain.

Shaw has some solid credentials. Appointed by Alex Sink to serve as insurance consumer advocate back in 2008, Shaw left that post after the 2010 election. Since leaving Tallahassee, he has remained active on insurance issues, handling insurance cases for the Merlin Law Firm and leading Policyholders of Florida. In his role with Policyholders of Florida, he has been a critic of Republican-led efforts to reform Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the state-backed insurer of last resort.

But Narain will be no pushover for Shaw in the Democratic primary. Narain entered the race in early April and he has an impressive background, serving on the Hillsborough County Headstart Policy Council board and the Hillsborough County Community Action board. Narain also served as student body president when he was an undergraduate at the University of South Florida. Narain is currently an area manager for AT&T. On paper, at this early stage in the contest, he is looming as a major obstacle for Shaw’s return to Tallahassee.

Still, Shaw has impressed with his fundraising prowess. At the end of October, Shaw had already brought in more than $112,500 and, spending less than $20,500, he’s kept most of it on hand. Shaw is picking up the pace, raising almost $9,500 in October and he’s also ramping up his spending, going through more than $7,450 in that month.

Narain simply hasn’t been able to keep pace with Shaw though his numbers are nothing to sneeze at. Since entering the race, Narain has raised more than $40,400 and spent less than $6,850. But in the often-expensive Tampa Bay market, Shaw has a clear edge

Community activist Tatiana Denson is also running for the seat. Denson took on Reed in the 2012 Democratic primary. Reed spent more than $26,500 in the four-and-a-half months before the primary, while Denson spent just under $10,000. In the August primary, Reed utterly crushed Denson, winning 81 percent to 19 percent.

Undaunted by being buried in a landslide, Denson is back to run again, though her fundraising so far is nowhere close to what she was bringing in during her 2012 bid. Since entering the race in the middle of February, Denson has done little in the way of fundraising, bringing in less than $425 and spending almost $400 by the end of October. She’s also relied on a loan of $1,000.

Businesswoman Sharon Carter, a longtime Democratic activist who rose to serve as vice chairwoman of the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee, is also in the race but, like Denson, she’s far behind Shaw and Narain. Since getting in the race at the end of April, Carter has raised less than $2,750 and spent more than $1,850.

This is one of the most heavily Democratic legislative seats in the state and whoever emerges with the nomination should be headed to Tallahassee. After routing Denson in the primary, Reed cruised in November with no opposition in the general election.

At this early stage, Shaw has done well with a solid head start. But Narian is not out of it despite Shaw’s edge. Still, at this point, it looks that Shaw should be heading back to Tallahassee in 2015.

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

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