With two experienced candidates in a district that could go either way, Florida Republican and Democratic leaders are preparing for a battle in a newly drawn Senate seat that cuts across Volusia and Marion counties.
Democrat Frank Bruno, the Volusia County chairman, and Republican state Rep. Dorothy Hukill have already each raised more than $175,000 in contributions, as they effectively seek to replace term-limited Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach.
Senate Republican and Democratic leaders said Friday that winning in the new District 8 will be a priority during the November election.
“Certainly, we think the world of Dorothy, and we’re going to do everything we can to support her,” said Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher, a St. Augustine Republican who is a former chairman of the Florida Republican Party and also represents part of Volusia County.
Incoming Senate Minority Leader Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, said the state Democratic Party has already started providing help to Bruno.
“(In the Bruno race), I have a 50-50 district with a phenomenal candidate,” said Smith, who is helping spearhead the party’s efforts to win Senate seats.
Both candidates have years of political experience in Volusia County. As the elected county chairman since 2004, Bruno is akin to a county mayor and has also been involved in regional issues, such as getting approval of the SunRail commuter-rail system. Hukill held local offices before getting elected in 2004 to the House, where she eventually became chairwoman of the Economic Affairs Committee.
While Bruno has been elected countywide, a large part of the new Senate district also overlaps Hukill’s House district. Other potential candidates have decided against running in the district, including former Rep. Pat Patterson, R-DeLand, who instead plans to seek a seat on the Volusia County Council.
In an interview this week, Hukill, a 65-year-old attorney, touted her experience as chairwoman of the Economic Affairs Committee, where she said she has worked to provide incentives that will help businesses move to the state or expand. She said she also is focused on trying to reduce redundant regulations that affect businesses.
“That’s the area people are most concerned with — people are concerned with the economy and jobs,” said Hukill, who lives in Port Orange.
Bruno, also 65, said he has business experience, running a printing company for 23 years before selling it. He said a top priority is improving the education system, which he said is linked to economic development.
“The number one (issue) is education, education, education,” said Bruno, a Ponce Inlet resident.
The district covers much of Volusia County, including a portion of Daytona Beach and the communities of New Smyrna Beach, DeLand and Pierson. It also includes much of eastern Marion County, stretching into the Ocala area, and picks up a piece of northeast Lake County.
The district boundaries, however, were controversial during a recent Florida Supreme Court review of the Senate map. While the majority of the court approved the map, justices James E.C. Perry and Peggy Quince dissented because the boundaries divided a largely black, Democratic area of Daytona Beach between Senate districts 6 and 8.
“I would find that redrawn District 8 has clearly been drawn with the intent to favor a political party to the detriment of a racial minority community,” Perry wrote in the dissent. “The effect of the Senate plan was to divide a historically black community — which is also a largely Democratic-voting community — into the surrounding community thereby diluting the voting power and even the influence of that historically black community.”
Even with the map splitting that area, which includes neighborhoods around historically black Bethune-Cookman University, registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in District 8 by a margin of 39.5 percent to about 36 percent. But Republican Rick Scott beat Democrat Alex Sink within the new district boundaries during the 2010 gubernatorial election.
With Lynn slated to leave office this year because of term limits, Hukill began raising money for the race in 2010 and had collected $232,404 in cash as of March 31. Bruno began raising money last year and had collected $176,668 as of March 31.
Bruno this week tried to draw a distinction with Hukill by saying he had received much of his support from local residents and businesses, while Hukill has relied more heavily on contributions from businesses and organizations that lobby in Tallahassee. As an example, Bruno pointed to support he has received from Daytona Beach Mayor Glenn Ritchie, a prominent businessman and Republican.
“I have the who’s who of Volusia County supporting my campaign right now,” Bruno said.
But Hukill dismissed the significance of such support. She said she has won races every two years, while Bruno has not appeared on a ballot since 2004 because he did not face opposition for county chairman in 2008.
“The bottom line is, what is important is the vote at the ballot box, not any one particular person who is supporting you,” she said.