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Joe Henderson: Kevin Beckner has uphill climb against Pat Frank in Hillsborough County Clerk race

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

A recent poll showed incumbent Pat Frank with what amounts to a blowout lead over county commissioner Kevin Beckner for the Democratic nomination to the Hillsborough County Clerk of Courts.

Frank held a 49-29 percent lead over Beckner in the poll commissioned by political strategist Barry Edwards of St. Petersburg. He is not affiliated with either campaign.

If that number is true – and there is no reason to believe it isn’t – then saying Beckner faces uphill climb understates the situation. At least he is trying; give him that much. Frank ran without opposition in 2008 and 2012.

To win, Beckner needs something that could convince voters he would do a better job. So far, he doesn’t seem to have found one.

The only real issue that appears to be surrounding Frank is the fact she will be 87 before her next term would begin. Voters so far don’t seem to mind, which means the bright and upwardly mobile Beckner may have made a major political miscalculation.

There are only two reasons people like Frank lose jobs like the one she has held since 2004: She either decides not to run again, or voters throw her out because of some scandal.

Beckner’s problem is that Frank has done a good job at the clerk’s office, so if she wants to stay voters most likely will see no reason to change. The poll reinforced that notion by giving Frank a 57/17 favorable/unfavorable ranking.

Of course, in the same poll 26 percent of respondents said they were uncertain whether they liked Frank or not. If history holds, though, and it usually does, most of those voters will go with the familiar name and that again is Frank.

This is not a little job. Frank oversees 730 employees and likes to say the clerk’s office affects people’s lives “from the cradle to the grave.”

When I interviewed Frank in mid-April, she had just been honored with the prestigious Florida Excellence Award for public service. She was sharp, focused and confident the extreme. She doesn’t even think about the possibility of losing.

With the Democratic primary only about six weeks away (the winner faces Republican Eric Seidel in November), it would take some headline-grabbing event for Beckner to turn those poll numbers around. If he does lose, my guess it will be only a momentary stumble. At age 45, he has plenty of time and ambition.

He is smart, tenacious and fearless. As Hillsborough’s first openly gay commissioner, he led the fight to overturn the county’s prohibition against official involvement in the Gay Pride parade. He is forward-thinking on transportation and social issues.

If he was running for a different office on those issues, I think he would win. But he isn’t. Therein lies the problem.

Joe Henderson has had a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. He covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also including hard news. The two intertwined in the decade-long search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. Henderson was also City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. He served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. Henderson has numerous local, state and national writing awards. He has been married to his wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and has two grown sons – Ben and Patrick.

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