HD 30 primary preview: There for the taking?

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The number crunchers say Florida House District 30 is there for the taking. It takes in parts of Orange and Seminole counties and the Democratic incumbent was first elected in a presidential election year, making her vulnerable in an off-year election when Democratic turnout is traditionally lower.

Voter registration is split 37 percent Republican and 37 percent Democratic. District 30 leans toward the Democrats; it went for both Alex Sink and President Barack Obama. Gov. Rick Scott received 48 percent of the vote in 2010; Obama got 50 percent in 2012.

Longwood Mayor Bob Cortes and Seminole County Soil and Water Commissioner Scott Sturgill are competing for the Republican nomination and the opportunity to challenge incumbent Rep. Karen Castor-Dentel, D-Maitland.

Both are small business owners executing contrasting strategies. Cortes tosses anti-Washington bromides to grass-roots conservatives and Sturgill said he’s engaging voters at their front door to discuss state government. Cortes has a bevy of elected officials standing with him. Sturgill has a cadre of door-knockers walking neighborhoods.

Cortes appears to have the Republican establishment backing him. Several regional House members, including Sanford’s Jason Brodeur, Deltona’s David Santiago and Melbourne Beach’s Ritch Workman and Seminole County Sheriff Don Eslinger have endorsed him.

Sturgill is challenging the establishment. He supports Medicaid expansion to get an additional $500 million in federal money injected annually into the Florida economy.

“I would be willing to sponsor a House version of the Negron plan,” said Sturgill, a member of the Florida Hospital Foundation board, about a compromise proposal crafted by Senate Appropriation Chairman Joe Negron to expand Medicaid.

“We are losing millions of dollars in providing free care and our non-profits need to be able to recoup some of that,” Sturgill explained. “The reality is non-profits have to pay doctors, their staffs and buy equipment.”

Sturgill and campaign volunteers have knocked on nearly 10,000 doors by the end of July as part of a conversation he said he is carrying on with district voters. He described the tactic as an opportunity to explain what he thinks he can do and voters to tell him what they think are important issues.

“We’re talking about issues that can actually be addressed in the Legislature,” said Sturgill. “Not social issues, not PAC agenda items, but issues that are going to help put food on the table.”

Sturgill’s pragmatism may have caused him to stumble during a recent debate. He said he is pro-life and supported traditional marriage but then added that people, “should not judge and impose our beliefs” on others, according to the Seminole County Post.

A couple of days later the Conservative Ministers of Central Florida endorsed Cortes.

Sturgill has raised $60,000 on 259 contributions with 10 donations coming from PACs, three from lobbyists and 21 from people identifying themselves as consultants.

“If you take away the money Bob loaned to his campaign, were about even,” said Sturgill. “But all of my money has come from the district.”

Cortes has raised more than $108,000 from 477 contributions including 23 contributions from PACs and people identifying their occupation as a consultant.

Cortes promises to “challenge run-away government interaction” and “to be a part of the generation of leaders that transferred responsibility for the safety net from Washington back to the states,” according to his website.

When asked how he can keep a pledge to keep taxes low and “create quality schools” and “a quality health care system,” he said he wanted to speak to his campaign consultant before doing an interview with an out-of-district reporter.

“Things are going pretty good right now,” Cortes said. “Let me talk to my people. If they say OK, I’ll call you back.” He’s hired Front Line Strategies as his consultant.

Repeated calls were not returned by deadline. Cortes has hired Front Line Strategies to advise his campaign.

The winner of the primary will face Castor-Dentel in November. She has raised $116,000 and has $97,000 on han

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.