Only Republican candidates signed up to run for the House District 31 race, which means the GOP primary is open to all voters, regardless of party affiliation. Five candidates qualified for the Aug. 26 Republican primary and the winner will bypass a November election to become a member of the Florida Legislature.
House District 31 stretches across northeast Orange County into north Lake County and takes in Apopka, Mount Dora and Tavares. A Democratic House candidate here is as rare as a sighting of Big Foot. Term-limited Rep. Bryan Nelson, R-Apopka, ran unopposed in 2012. His opposition in 2010 was a Tea Party candidate who received 18 percent of the vote. Democrats haven’t fielded a candidate since 2008.
The district favors the GOP; Republicans enjoy a 45 percent to 33 percent voter registration edge. Gov. Rick Scott carried the district with 55 percent of the vote in 2010 and President Barack Obama received 41 percent in 2012.
A 2007 survey of Central Florida residents, which included the district and the Orlando and Tampa metro areas, by geographers Ary Lamme and Raymond Oldakowski found that 52 percent of residents described themselves as politically moderate, 41 percent conservative and 7 percent liberal.
The five HD 31 candidates are targeting the conservative vote with the only disagreement being which issue to emphasize, not necessarily the policy addressing the issue.
Randy Glisson has the longest list of contributors and has raised the most money in the race. Glisson, 53, is a chiropractor and the son of a former state legislator. Glisson’s father, Jim, served in the House and Senate and in 1978 ran as the lieutenant governor running mate of Robert Shevin in the Democratic primary.
Glisson is running as a small-business conservative. He employs 19 at the Lake Health Care Center, a multi-specialty clinic in Eustis founded by his father. Glisson tells voters he wants to reduce taxes and expand vocational education.
He has collected $156,500 from more than 730 contributors with at least 116 donations affiliated with the health-care industry including at least 14 coming from chiropractor-related PACs, which chipped in $7,000. Glisson has $43,117 on hand, according to campaign finance reports.
Terri Seefeldt, 52, is the pro-business conservative in the race. The insurance executive is focused on reducing regulations and tort reform. She also includes “attracting” more venture capital to “create better paying jobs.”
Campaign finance records show Seefeldt has raised $95,138 from 435 contributors. About $20,000 of Seefeldt’s war chest has come from 28 donations from PACs associated with the insurance and banking industries. Seefeldt has just under $7,700 on hand for the final weeks of the campaign.
Belita Grassel, 66, is a former president of the Lake County Education Association and now works as a nurse. Grassel is running as a moderate conservative who will advocate a “paradigm shift” on teaching and learning. Grassel tells voters the Legislature is merely applying bandages to a broken public-education system.
Like her opponents, Grassel is opposed to Common Core education standards.
Grassel has raised $38,758 on 283 contributions, mostly from people who know her, including Rep. Karen Castor-Dentel who pitched in $100. Sixty-six teachers, 13 nurses and 81 retirees show up on Grassel’s list of contributors. Grassel reports $7,050 from PACs, many of them education related. Her latest campaign finance report indicates she has $18,800 on hand.
Jennifer Sullivan, 22, said she grew up in an active household. As a teenager she organized a charity that provided peanut butter to food banks. Running as a young conservative, Sullivan tells voters she is offering “a fresh voice.”
Sullivan has received more than 566 contributions with an overwhelmingly majority of the money coming from zip codes within the district. She has $28,000 on hand to persuade voters.
Joseph Stephens, 51, is running as a Second Amendment conservative. His Facebook page touts his commitment to being a “true defender of our Constitutional rights and a true supporter of our right to keep and bear ample arms and ammunition.”
Stephens has $1,850 on hand to wage his campaign.
All five candidates qualified for the ballot via the petition method, which may or may not signify a level of grass-roots support that could tilt the outcome of a five-candidate race.
Discussing grass-roots campaigns in general, political consultant Screven Watson said the appearance of grass-roots support can be done with “smoke and mirrors.” Any candidate still “buy” a ballot slot by hiring a mail-order house to send out petitions instead of paying the $1,700 filing fee.
Watson said small local campaign contributions can be a better indicator of support in terms of collecting votes.
“If you write a $25 check then you are committed, by God. You’re telling other people about that and you have people who feel it, believe and knock on doors (for you),” said Watson, again speaking in general about campaigns and not one particular race.